vol 17 / no 4 / June-August 2008 / issn 0118-3931


English as a Medium of Instruction in the Philippines
By Associate Professor Romeo Y. Martin, English Department
College of Arts and Sciences-Manila

 

The need to be proficient in the use of English among non-native speakers has become a global phenomenon. Today, educators are faced with the challenge of addressing the needs of the growing number of students whose primary language is not English (Gibson, 2003). While mastering other skills and content in other subject areas, there is the necessity for these learners to gain proficiency in English.

Since the Philippines embraced the English language from the American colonizers, the Philippines today is the fifth largest English-speaking country in the world and second in the continent of Asia (Wikipedia). Filipinos should be proud of this because English is the “world language,” the lingua franca of the modern era. But the question is, how will the Philippine government maintain and improve the standard and the competitiveness of its people in the use of English, which is highly needed in the emerging, fast-growing local and international industries?

A study made by Amamio (2000) on the attitudes of students, teachers and parents toward English and Filipino as media of instruction provided an interesting comparison. According to the result of the study, students and teachers prefer the use of English as the medium of instruction, with the teachers finding English a more comfortable language for explaining ideas and concepts. Teachers further noted that English is an “intellectualized language” and a valuable tool to source information technology. However, parents preferred Filipino because “it is the language in which they can think and express themselves” and it is the language that they understand and through which they themselves are better understood.

According to Bernardo Villegas, the youth have all the chances to speak and listen to the Filipino language in their day-to-day lives such as in conversation with members of the family, friends, going to the movies, et cetera. The majority of the youth, however, do not have enough occasions in their normal lives to speak nothing but English.

With the goal of increasing the number of English-proficient Filipinos, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo implemented Executive Order 210 Series of 2003, which established the policy to strengthen English as a Medium of Instruction in educational system in the Philippines. The President’s intention in implementing EO 210 is motivated by a concern to keep Filipinos competitive and to make them well-educated.

Those who support EO 210 argue that doing away with English as the medium of instruction will inevitably hurt the country and our people, because they believe that a less competitive workforce will emerge. In addition to that, Lourdes Villanueva has stated that learning to speak and write in English in this age of globalization is necessary especially if we would want to compete in the knowledge-based world (Villanueva, 2007, Filipino vs. English as a Medium of Instruction).

As we in the Philippines recognize the need to establish the national language, Filipino, English has remained an absolutely popular language. In fact, Cruz (2004) stated in a relatively recent newspaper column that even at this time, most of the official notices, laws, court decisions, bar and board examinations and even the Constitution, are mostly in English. At some point, English seems to be more official than Filipino, as the latter is still in the process of establishing its status after having been established just recently to include some words from major regional dialects all over the country. What is clear, though, is that English is a language that continuously enjoys a more privileged status in the Philippines.

Education Undersecretary Ramon Bacani still sides with the implementation of EO 210 in schools due to his belief that it will help increase the number of English-proficient students in the Philippines. However, some of the educators still believe that the use of English in schools will only put the poor students at a disadvantage, because:

1. English will slow their intellectual development;

2. It will alienate the students from their cultural heritage;

3. It will weaken their emotional security and self-worth; and

4. Inferiority complex may emerge in the lower class.

But these possible results didn’t affect the beliefs of those who support EO 210, especially when news from the Kalinga district emerged showing the 300 percent improvement of the students after using English as a second language in teaching. Some followers of EO 210 believe that removing English in the teaching system will only cause some bad effects like:

1. Lower-income students will never learn to speak the language;

2. Only the children of well-to-do families could find other alternative ways to learn; and

3. The economic growth will suffer due to the shrinking number of people who are proficient in English.

Using English as medium of instruction in the Philippines doesn’t mean that we have to forget our native language. Though English is given much time, focus and priority, Filipino is still considered essential. The argument of whether or not English should be the medium of instruction may seem endless, but in some countries like Japan, teaching English has become a billion-dollar industry and this same scenario is also happening in other East Asian countries.

References:

Amamio L. (2000). “Attitudes of Students, Teachers, and Parents of RVM Schools in Metro

Manila Toward English and Filipino as Media of Instruction.” (Unpublished thesis)

Presented to the UST Graduate School. Manila, Philippines.

Cruz, Isagani (2004). “English in the Philippines.” Philippine Daily Inquirer.

Villegas, Bernardo (2000, May 26). Why English Should be the Medium of Instruction.

http//www.mb.com.ph/oped/villegas/2000.