Seminars won't solve language problem

DepEd has embarked on a retraining program for English teachers. This is a good move, one which is long overdue. Perhaps alarmed by the deteriorating command of the language by both teachers and students the department is now trying to direct its attention on English teaching and learning in both levels of basic education.

Language teaching and learning, however, is such a complicated matter that a mere weeklong seminar is not sufficient. Even if the concentration is only on language teaching, which is basically concerned with strategies and techniques, little can be gained by the participants. Consider the possible coverage: Characteristics of the target language, cultural factors affecting language acquisition, motivational factors, research on language teaching, methods and techniques, curriculum framework, materials selection and production, co-curricular activities, and a host of others. Can these be learned in just a few days?

DepEd leadership, however, cannot be faulted for taking a haphazard step to solve a serious problem. Gathering more than a thousand teachers in such out-of-the-way place as Baguio City requires a big amount of money, and that department, as always, has been short of funds.

But that department can be taken to task for its failure to come up with a comprehensive blueprint to improve English teaching and learning. For years it has busied itself on this and that concern the type of which depends on the temper of the incumbent secretary. For instance, Juan Laya had the DECS financial program as his baby; Lourdes Quisumbing had values education; Isidro Casino, school building construction; Ricardo Gloria, school beautification; Andrew Gonzales, transactional transparency; Raul Roco, Makabayan; while Edilberto de Jesus and Geminiano Abad, both of whom had brief tenures, spent their times trying to diagnose the department.

Who was the secretary in the last three decades who came up with a creditable English program? None. For some reasons, DepEd leadership has always taken for granted the importance of mastering the language as a key to effective learning. As a result, no serious efforts have been taken towards this end - never mind if schools are turning out half-literate graduates who could barely recognize a sensible sentence, nor spell a simple word; never mind if teachers were using obsolete approaches in teaching the language.

On the other hand, DepEd leadership adopted a number of curricular restructuring damaging to the English program. One of these is the bilingual education program. Initiated in 1975, this program has mandated the use of Pilipino (actually, Tagalog) as a medium of instruction in six subject areas - social studies, livelihood education, physical education, and health education in addition to Pilipino as a subject. Carried out as a policy in the last 35 years, this initiative is the one single factor that has contributed to the deterioration of English teaching and learning as well as to the quality of education itself.

In language learning exposure is crucial. The more hours the learner is exposed to the target language, the more effective is his learning. Conversely, the fewer hours the learner spends the less effective is his language grasp. And this is exactly what is happening in our schools. There's more ado in Pilipino than in English. Are we surprised if our young men and women are more adept in Tagalog than in English?

Now the laments are becoming loud and clear. Filipino workers are losing their edge in the global market while in the home front multinational companies are whining over the miserable language command of local workers. This situation of course is a set back to the country's development effort. Too late have our educators realized that their myopic view on the country's language policy have become counterproductive to development.

Too late have these people seen the negative fallout of their continuing neglect of English instruction. No wonder until now English is taught by teachers whose knowledge of it does not go beyond sentence level, and even in this, they blunder along in the most basic elements - tenses, subject-verb agreement, spelling and others. Of course, ignorance begets ignorance. The result: Students come out of their classrooms with only a cloudy idea of what is good English.

More seminars will not solve our language calvary. These are band-aid interventions. Even assuming we can train all our English teachers intensively, niggardly impacts can be expected. As long as bilingual education remains the gospel in the system, our schools will continue to produce English-handicapped graduates.












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