Surveying the Landscape of English Education in the
In the late 1300s the poet Geoffrey Chaucer championed the cause of the peasants of
Ironically, however, even as English has increasingly become the lingua franca worldwide, Filipinos' general level of proficiency in it has declined progressively over the past decades. A second irony is that the age of technology, which has otherwise speeded up and facilitated communication, has in fact further contributed to the decline in the quality of spoken and written English in the
"Before the advent of the Internet, students could pay greater attention to the teacher and the lesson because there were fewer distractions," says Marjorie Gutierez-Tangog, Assistant Professor in English, Music and Arts at the University of the Philippines Integrated School (UPIS). "Our teachers didn't have to compete with the computer and the television, and when a reading assignment was given, we really had to read-the book."
Gutierez-Tangog points out that Filipinos had no choice but to learn English "because it was our second language and the medium of communication in schools and everywhere else." She notes that up to the 1980s when she was still a student, the predominant language in the mass media was English. "News programs were delivered in English; while a good number of primetime television shows were English programs."
Nowadays, the mass media for the most part use either Filipino or the vernacular as a medium. The importation and re-dubbing in Filipino of foreign-made telenovelas, movies and cartoons, as well as the production of television shows in Filipino, has to all intents and purposes made Filipino the official medium of communication.
"Our creativity is also manifested in Filipino as we now have a lot of publications in Filipino, including paperback romance novels, which are selling like hotcakes," Gutierez-Tangog adds.
Lourdes Lozano, Cluster Head of the Grade School Department of Bloomfield Academy in Las Piņas and English teacher for 27 years, laments that one of the main causes of the decline in communication skills in English is the reduced exposure to the language. She concurs with Gutierez-Tangog that the Philippine mass media, particularly television, have somehow lessened the exposure of Filipino children to English.
"Children nowadays are reared in a society where the mediocre use of English is tolerated. Whereas in the past, Taglish or pidgin English was scorned, it seems that because the media tolerates it, there is an impression that it is acceptable and can be used to communicate," says Lozano.
"It is also difficult to compete with present-day distractions," Lozano adds. "When a teacher gives students a reading assignment, they ask if there is a movie version or book notes or even websites that will give them the summary of the story. Our shortcut mentality has been reinforced by technology, which, in the first place, should not be abused but should be used in consonance with our objectives as language teachers."
Millet Baygan, Subject Area Head of English at
"Language is better learned spoken because it is a communicative skill," she points out. If the student does not have the facility to speak, how can he translate what is visually represented into words?"
Lozano gives three reasons for the decline in the degree of proficiency in English. First, students have stopped using the language in its pure form. Second, they have limited exposure to the language. Third, a wrong concept of Filipinization has reduced English, once the medium of instruction in all subject areas, to just another foreign language to learn.
(EDITORIAL CARTOON: the decline of English education. Two students speaking broken English.)
Gutierez-Tangog explains the reason for the shift in the medium of instruction in the public schools from English to Filipino and back to English. "There was an unconscious effort in the past to 'intellectualize' Filipino, the way Geoffrey Chaucer 'intellectualized' the peasant English language in the Middle Ages. This was the reason for the directive to make Filipino a medium of instruction in the early '90s. With the advent of globalization, and our need to be globally competitive, on the other hand, the Department of Education under the administration of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo decided to restore English as the medium of instruction.
The problem does not seem to lie in the changes in the curriculum, since all the teachers of English interviewed for this article agree that English grammar has been taught the same way it was taught decades ago. It seems that the changes have occurred in the learner.
"Even if the teachers have the best methods [and] strategies and are the most competent in the land, if the student is not motivated to learn, then he will not learn," says Viola Caringal, English I teacher of
Caringal says, however, that parents can-and should-impose limits on these distractions. She says parents and teachers should work together. One activity she employs is mounting a regular exhibition of her students' works during the schoolyear and inviting parents to view the works. Her purpose is to make the parents partners in their children's education. She hopes that viewing their children's work will move them to encourage their children to do better.
Lozano notes that in the past, family members made time for one another, and familial activities such as prayer, worship, reading and studying were part of the daily routine of every member of the family. Unfortunately, times have changed and earning a living has taken top priority over the essentials. She observes that in the past, most parents spent time helping their children with schoolwork. Nowadays, earning a living has eaten significantly into that time, if not consumed it altogether.
"I remember when my parents had 'reading' time inserted in our daily schedules especially on weekends, when we could discuss what we read," Lozano adds. "In fact, our homework was supervised by my mother after oracion or the Angelus."
Of course, other factors have contributed to the decline. If the learner has evolved throughout the years, so has the teacher.
"We cannot discount the fact that some of the graduates we produce, particularly in Education, have not reached our expectations," says Fatima Campaņer, Head of the English Department at
Nowadays it is difficult to find teachers who are highly proficient in the language. The irony is that often, those who are proficient in the language are not education majors. As a result, until the recent past, schools were left in a quandary choosing between applicant teachers who were proficient in English but were not Education majors and those that majored in Education but had poor communicative skills in English. The situation led to the present phenomenon in which a great number of non-education majors are taking up certificate courses in teaching and passing the Licensure Examinations for Teachers (LET) at a higher rate than Education majors do. This appears to confirm the long-held belief that teaching is really a calling. On the other hand, researchers should look into the correlation (as obvious as this may seem) between examinees' degree of proficiency in English and their performance in examinations in which questions and instructions are in English.
Approaches in teaching English abound and it takes the discriminating teacher to determine which one is applicable to her classroom.
"The Communicative Language Teacher (CLT) approach is a better approach because it focuses on the integration of the macro-skills and the basic functions of language," says Campaņer.
Under the CLT approach, the teacher focuses on the use of the language in practical terms, such as on the way it can be used in conversation. This approach connects the study of grammar to its ultimate function-for communicative purposes.
Another approach is English for Specific Purposes (ESP), in which students are taught the language in the context of their chosen field once they reach the tertiary level. It must be highly emphasized, however, that the fundamentals of teaching English should still be addressed at the grade school level and reinforced at the high school level, except that at the latter level, the focus should shift from the language structure to its practical uses.
There was a time when Filipino children learned their ABCs and conversational English (and Spanish) from watching
Today, however, Philippine TV network owners not only use Filipino in public affairs programs, sitcoms, drama anthologies and other shows, they also re-dub imported cartoons in Filipino. The purpose, it is said, is to reach the masses, which, after all, constitute the majority of the viewers and consumers. Unfortunately, the practice wastes the precious opportunity to teach children a second language in their early years. What is not immediately apparent is that this contributes to the decline of communicative skills in English because of reduced exposure to the language. This effect will become manifest in the future when these tots enter the classroom.
Ironically, in the past the Filipino masses, who are the intended 'beneficiary' of the 'Filipinization' of television and media, learned English from watching newscasts and shows or reading newspapers and literature in English. Thus, your average Juan de la Cruz could easily communicate in the language even without education. The learning of the language occurred sporadically, at no given age or period in one's life, and was borne out of the need to understand and be able to communicate in English. Now, since everything is translated in Filipino, there is no obvious need to learn English.
Proficiency in English once gave Filipino overseas workers an edge over Singaporeans, Thais, Malaysians, Indonesians, Indians, and the Chinese. But these countries have caught up with us, because over the decades they have accorded priority to learning English as a second language, the way the
Whether the media as an institution agrees or not, it must reassess its role in the education of the young, especially in English. It is evident that the way English is spoken, written and read is the responsibility not only of the academe, which lays the foundation, but also of the media and of the captains of commerce. Educators can only do so much in teaching the language in the classroom and within the school grounds, since a large part of the learning process also occurs outside the school.
On the other hand, educational institutions must definitely reassess their objectives in teaching English. The learners' needs must surely take precedence over making the grade.