In 2004, then-Cebu Rep. Eduardo Gullas (he was reelected in the 2019 elections as Representative of the First District of Cebu) filed a bill that sought to mandate the use of English as medium of instruction in all curriculum levels in Philippine schools, as well as in examinations for admission, accreditation, acceleration and promotion.
The bill’s intention was quite clear: to increase English proficiency among Filipinos.
Gullas, a lawyer and educator whose family owns the University of the Visayas in Cebu, lobbied for stronger English education since English proficiency has always been of paramount importance to whatever success the Philippine economy enjoys, or so he argued.
Indeed, our facility, with the language of our former American colonizers, has always been one of our prized assets in luring foreign investments into the country.
Proficiency in the English language is considered an advantage in the global market. A lot of American and foreign companies have set up their operations here and employed Filipinos because our workers speak English.
For instance, the country’s contact center industry employs 2.2 million people and has been the fastest-growing source of new jobs for many years now.
In December, the Cebu Provincial School Board (PSB) passed a resolution that sought to resume using English as a medium of instruction, at least for all the public schools in the 44 towns under its Provincial Schools Division.
Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia, who sits as cochairman of the PSB, said the resolution is intended to partly address the country’s “dismal and embarrassing” rating in the 2018 Programme for International Student Assessment, where the Philippines scored the lowest in reading comprehension, and also placed second lowest in math and science.
Since the K to 12 curriculum change, seven of the 12 major local languages in the country have been used as medium of instruction for core subjects for kindergarten and Grades 1 to 3 pupils, under a program called the Mother Tongue-Based Multi-Lingual Education (MTB-MLE).
The PSB resolution seeks a moratorium on the use of Cebuano and Filipino in teaching the core subjects beginning June 2020.
In an ANC interview in December, Education Secretary Leonor Magtolis Briones said the Department of Education (DepEd) is also considering the move to revert to English as medium of instruction.
“It’s an ongoing debate: others want to continue the mother tongue policy while there are also those who say we should start with English since it is the language of the rest of the world. We are looking into this,” Briones told ANC.
However, if DepEd is to readopt English as its medium of instruction, what kind of English should be used?
In her article, “My Issue on the Issue of English as Medium of Instruction,” Dr. Louie Agnir-Paraan discusses the many aspects of English language learning.
Agnir-Paraan was chairman of the English department of St. Scholastica’s College-Manila before her retirement in 2016. She once wrote articles for this paper’s special feature many years ago, called Planet English, which was sponsored by PRU Life. She is now director for communications programs of the Center for Global Best Practices, and will soon take over as president of Northern Christian College in Laoag in August.
“It used to be that English automatically assumed to ‘belong’ to its native speakers, and so, therefore, it was they who set the standard for competence, among other things. As such, it was not uncommon for non-native speakers of English [like us] to ape the ‘accent’ of the native speaker because sounding like an American or Englishman was equated with proficiency,” Agnir-Paraan wrote.
She said that while this was not problematic in the beginning, today it is a widely contested view since “there may well be more non-native speakers of English than there are native speakers in the world.”
Agnir-Paraan believes that the No. 1 criterion of English language teaching and learning should be intelligibility. She says the reality is that our local English teachers “are actually teaching varieties of English other than the standard [Standard American English] whether knowingly or unknowingly.”
“It is unrealistic and inappropriate for teachers in the far-flung areas to teach English sounding like native speakers. They can and should, however, learn to approximate what is called Standard Philippine English. Even in the cities, where accessibility to native-type English is greater, the use of the standard Philippine English is the norm,” she said.
“As long as we understand and can make ourselves understood, then we are using the language for what it was meant to do—communicate.”