ENGLISH AS THE MEDIUM OF INSTRUCTION FOR SCIENCE AND ITS EFFECTS ON THE LANGUAGES OF THE PHILIPPINES
Jerzy Smolicz, Iluminado Nical and Margaret Secombe
Graduate School of Education
University of Adelaide
The Philippines enjoys particular linguistic advantages in the South-East Asian region, as a country where English is not only an official language but also widely spoken among the population. Historically, English was introduced into the Philippines in 1898 at the time of the imposition of American rule on the islands. Over the twentieth century, which established the domination of English as a world language, it has preserved its status as one of the two official languages of the Philippines and has continued as a language of schooling, although in the last quarter of the century, it has been used as a medium of instruction alongside the national language, now known as Filipino.
Despite this access to the learning of English and its powers of attraction as the language of American affluence, global influence, scientific development and technical advance, the Philippines has remained a multilingual country. In the course of their daily living, every Filipino speaks at least two, often three, and sometimes even four languages. According to Gonzales (1998, 489), at least 84% of the present population can speak Filipino, the national language developed from Tagalog, and 56% speak some form of English, while 74% report being able to understand spoken English.
The indepth small scale study reported in this paper sought to investigate the emerging generation’s use and evaluation of the English language vis a vis Filipino/Tagalog and Philippine languages other than Tagalog (referred to in this paper as PLOT). The participants were groups of Filipino young people, in their last year of secondary school, who came from three non-Tagalog speaking communities in the Philippines.
The multilayered lingusitic heritage of the Philippines
Throughout its history, the Philippines has been a country of cultural and linguistic complexity with a heritage which includes the infusion of a variety of cultures upon the Indo-Malay base (Bowering 1863; Zialcita 1995)). Although the many islands which make it up are small in terms of geographical area (116, 220 sq. miles in all), the Philippines is a pluralistic and multilingual society. The multi-ethnic population speaks ten major and many other numerically smaller languages, mainly belonging to the Austronesian family. Although they constitute separate languages, in that they are not mutually intelligible and have many subordinate dialects, they are clearly related to one another and regarded as belonging to the “Philippine type” (Gonzales 1998:493).
The indigenous pre-colonial past of the Filipino cultural stream had been infiltrated by other peoples, long before the country was conquered by Spain in the sixteenth century. Cultural tributaries came originally from India, and later there arrived Chinese traders, many of whom settled in the Philippines, mainly after the coming of the Spaniards. In the South, Islamic influences had begun to spread, bringing with them Arabic and Persian infusions. Over the three centuries of hispanic rule, Spanish became established as the language of government and the small ruling elite. When the Spaniards were finally forced to leave the Philippines, the Americans who replaced them overpowered the emerging indigenous independence movement and introduced English as the language of government and education (Bautista 1981)
In the Philippines today Chinese racial and cultural influences abound (Sin 1995), but Spain and United States can be seen to have left the most striking heritage in terms of religion and language. As an independent republic since 1946, the Philippines has successfully transmuted all the cultural inputs of its neighbours and former imperial powers to constitute a cultural blend that is uniquely Filipino, while still showing the imprint of the various imported cultural values (Smolicz 1986; 1990). It can be argued, however, that the double exposure to colonial linguistic domination, first in Spanish and then in English, has delayed the literary development of all the major indigenous languages of the country.
The Spanish members of the religious orders in the Philippines learned the indigenous languages in order to spread the Catholic faith to the masses. Their approach was successful to the extent that they succeeded in making the Philippines one of the most Christian countries of Asia. At the same time, their efforts helped the indigenous languages of the Philippines to acquire their first written records (De la Costa 1961). Their literary development was, however, slow due to the restriction of literacy to a small elite, with literature mainly confined to religious subjects and many aspects of indigenous culture excluded as pagan. In practice, the Spanish colonizers showed much more preoccupation with the inculcation of Christianity than with the imposition of Spanish and, in fact, limited education at higher levels to Spaniards alone until 1863. Decrees of the Spanish court advocating the more widespread use of Spanish were largely ignored by the members of the four religious orders which virtually ran the country and whose members preferred to use the indigenous languages in their missionary work. Only the elite was linguistically hispanised over the latter half of the nineteenth century. Hence, the great Filipino patriot and hero, Jose Rizal, executed by the Spaniards in 1896, wrote his call to Filipino independence in Spanish.
With the imposition of American rule, however, came the promulgation of compulsory education in English for all Filipinos. Three factors can be seen to have favourably predisposed the Filipino people toward the learning of this new colonial language: the positive attitudes of Filipinos towards the Americans who were widely seen as liberating them from rigid Spanish rule; the system of public instruction in English which they established; and the incentives given to those Filipinos who successfully learned English, in terms of career opportunities, government service and participation in politics.
While the American English language initiatives were initially directed mainly against Spanish, they were almost equally hostile to the indigenous languages of the country, with penalties imposed upon pupils using their home languages on the school premises (Manhit 1980, 1981). Throughout the period of American rule, indigenous languages were excluded from schools and universities and most forms of public life. Yet they continued to thrive in the homes and hearts of the people until just before the Second World War, when the emerging demand for political independence was paralleled by a movement demanding the recognition of the right of Filipinos to their own national language(s).
Independence was conceptualised in terms of the European model of the monolingual nation-state (Smolicz and Nical, 1997). When the search for one national language through the fusion of the ten major indigenous languages failed (Gonzales 1974), the adoption of Tagalog, the dominant language of the Manila area, as the basis for developing a national tongue, was perceived as the only way to prevent total domination by the colonial language, English. In general, this move was interpreted by native Tagalog speakers, as an advantageous and inevitable outcome, while most of the elite members of other language groups were eventually reconciled to accepting such a compromise, provided that English remained dominant in government, universities and business life. Those who supported the adoption of an “intellectualised” version of Tagalog as the national language entitled “Pilipino”, and eventually renamed Filipino, often pointed to the negative impact of English on Philippines society (Sibayan 1994). The imposition of English by the colonial regimes in Asia and Africa, it has been claimed, led to the colonised people internalising the norms and ideology of the colonisers and becoming alienated from their own linguistic and cultural heritage (Phillipson 1992:27). In the context of the Philippines, education became negatively affected in that the time spent learning English most often meant not only that the standard reached in other subjects was inadequate but that the learning of indigenous languages was neglected (Constantino 1982).
The introduction of bilingual education
The struggle between the advocates of English and Filipino was resolved in 1974 through the adoption of the Bilingual Education Program, which aimed to develop a nation competent in both English and Filipino (Manuel 1974). Despite difficulties in its implementation over the next decade, the Bilingual Education Program was re-affirmed in the democratic transformation that succeeded the Marcos regime. The 1987 guidelines of the Department of Education, Culture and Sport (DECS) stated that English and Filipino were to be taught in all grades of elementary and secondary schools. Filipino was to be the medium of instruction in Social Studies/Social Science, Character Education, Work Education, Health Education, and Physical Education; English was to be the medium of instruction in all other areas, in particular, Science and Mathematics. The 1987 guidelines contained an additional provision in relation to Muslim regions of the country, in that “Arabic was to be used in areas where it was necessary”. Some allowance continued to be made for schools to use the local non-Tagalog “vernacular” or regional language of the area “as auxiliary to the media of instruction, but only when necessary to facilitate the understanding of concepts being taught in English, F(P)ilipino or Arabic” (Quisumbing 1989: 300).
Bilingual education remains a controversial issue in the Philippines. Reports of the failure of bilingual policy appear constantly in the press (in such Manila dailies as The Philippine Star and The Inquirer) with reference to the perceived decline in the standard of English in the schools. This is usually attributed to the time which needs to be allocated to Filipino and the influence of Filipino linguistic structures upon English usage. The learning of Mathematics and Science is said to have become consequently more difficult, as these subjects are taught in a language that is not fully comprehensible to the students. The Congressional Commission on Education (1991: xii) expressed concern about the decline of educational standards in the country as a whole, when it bluntly stated, “Our elementary and high schools are failing to teach the competence the average citizen needs to become responsible, productive and self-fulfilling.”
Public criticism, however, rarely speaks about the handicaps experienced under the present Bilingual Education Program by native speakers of non-Tagalog languages, especially those who come from areas of rural poverty or low socio-economic status. In upper and middle class homes throughout the country, some English is usually spoken, so that children have at least a background knowledge of the language when they start school at the age of six. But the rural poor with very limited or no English, as well as only peripheral knowledge of Tagalog/Filipino learned from television, films or comics, face a double linguistic barrier in learning in the school context, so that it is not surprising that only the most able and dedicated achieve success (Gonzales 1998: 520; Smolicz 1986).
After over 25 years of English as the medium of instruction in Science and Mathematics under the Bilingual Education policy, preceded by more than 75 years of compulsory education in English, it might be expected that English would have become the dominant language used by people in the Philippines. This study sought to investigate the activation of, and attitudes toward English, as compared to Filipino and other indigenous languages, among young people drawn from three different linguistic communities of the Philippines. One final year class of secondary school students was selected from the laboratory school attached to the state college/university in the three regions under investigation. A total of 152 students were asked to participate and all agreed to be involved. The regional breakdown was 62 respondents from the Cebuano speech community in Cebu City; 55 from the Ilocano speech community in Nueva Viscaya; and 35 from the Waray speech community in Tacloban, Leyte. According to the 1995 census figures, Cebuano speaekers constituted 21% of the total Philippines population, Ilocano speakers 9% and Waray speakers 4% (Gonzales 1998: 490-492).
Data on language usage were collected through a questionnaire in which the respondents were asked to indicate : (1) how frequently they used English and any other languages in the three communication activities of speaking, reading and writing; and (2) how often they activated English and any other languages in different domains, as indicated by specific interlocutors. The analysis of responses to these questions was carried out through the calculation of mean values which were interpreted as follows:
4.50 - and above - Always (in the non-exclusive sense of “all the time”)
3.50 - 4.49 - Often
2.50 - 3.49 - Sometimes
1.50 - 2.49 - Seldom
0.50 - 1.49 - Never
In order to compare the language usage of students from the three speech communities, F-ratio and Scheffe results were calculated.
The data on the activation of languages with different interlocutors in a trilingual situation were analysed through a procedure developed by Ammon (1989: 73-76). His concepts of sole activation and co-activation of languages were expanded to include the particular patterns shown by the respondents in co-activating Philippine languages. The patterns identified for use in this classification were: dominance of any language over two equally less used; dominance of one in an hierarchical order; equal dominance of two over one less used; and balanced use of three languages.
Attitudes to the languages concerned and the meaning which the respondents attached to each language were derived from two essays which the students were asked to write. The first topic which the students were given was, My feelings about the languages used at home. The second essay was on the topic, My feelings about the languages used at school. This method of using personal statements and writings as a source for identifying individual attitudes is based on humanistic sociology (Znaniecki 1969; Smolicz 1979; 1999). The basic principle is that all social and cultural activities need to be interpreted from the perspective of the participants rather than the researcher. The focus is on individuals as cultural beings and as conscious agents in a given social system, with the aim of understanding how they themselves view their current cultural reality.
On the basis of what they had written in the essays, the students were judged to have a positive or negative attitude to the languages being discussed. When the attitude was positive, it was further classified as high , moderate or low. To be assigned a high positive attitude, respondents needed to demonstrate their appreciation of the intrinsic qualities of the language, as well as recognition of the advantages that were assumed to be derived from its mastery. Closer reading of the essays also led to the identification of a number of distinct meanings which the writers associated with each of the languages. These meanings were then grouped under three categories - autotelic, instrumental and negative - and a frequency table for the citations of these meanings in each language was drawn up, so that the pattern of meanings for respondents across the three language communities could be compared.
Discussion of results : usage and domains of activation
The data on the frequency with which the students said they utilized English and other Philippine languages in the three communication activities of speaking, reading and writing are summarized in Table 1.
The pattern of usage for English across the three groups of respondents proved to be quite complex, with the differences among them being statistically significant. The Ilocano group revealed the lowest level of English usage for all three activities and the Cebuano students the highest. Among the Cebuano and Warray respondents, English was the language predominantly used for reading and writing (at the “often” to “always” level), but the Ilocano respondents revealed that Filipino was the language they used most frequently for reading and writing.
In relation to speaking , respondents in all three communities reported that the language they used “often” to “always” was their regional PLOT. The level of PLOT use for reading and writing was very much lower, ranging from “never” to “sometimes”. In the case of Filipino, the main feature of the results, revealed by all three groups of respondents, was its consistent usage for all three communication activities at the “sometimes” to “often” level.
The information indicating which languages the respondents used in speaking with a range of different interlocutors is summarised in Table 2. In the home and peer group domain, which included parents, brothers, sisters, relatives and fellow students as interlocutors, the use of PLOT predominated (in the “often” to “always” range) for all the language groups. The use of Filipino with these interlocutors was reported by the Ilocano students at the “sometimes” to “often” level, whereas the Cebuano respondents used English to much the same extent in communication with relatives, friends and fellow students.
The domain of the market place also revealed a dominant usage of PLOT. Among the Waray and Cebuano students, PLOT was spoken to market vendors “often” to “always”, with both Filipino and English being used “seldom” to “never”. The Ilocano respondents, however, revealed a more balanced usage of PLOT and Filipino at the “sometimes” to “often” level, with English being “seldom” or “never” spoken in this context. These results are consistent with a number of earlier statistics reported by Gonzales and Bautista (1986, 7-26)
In the business domain of sales and office people, respondents from all groups indicated a usage of English, alongside the other two languages, which were activated in the “seldom” to “sometimes” range. Here, too, the Ilocano students showed a preference for the more frequent usage of Filipino, while the Waray and Cebuano respondents indicated that they were more likely to use English.
Communicating with teachers in the school domain also highlighted a pattern of trilingual usage for all respondents. The Ilocano students most frequently used Filipino and PLOT rather than English, while the Cebuano respondents and even more, the Warays revealed a usage of English at the “often” to “always” level. All the student respondents, however, reported some usage of PLOT with teachers, despite the fact that it had no official place as a medium of instruction or as a subject in the curriculum.
Overall, the most striking feature of these results was the fact that in no domain was the exclusive use of English or any other language evident. The procedure developed by Ammon (1989: 73-76) for analysing activation in multilingual settings was therefore applied in order to understand the patterns of co-activation revealed by the respondents and to determine whether any language proved to be dominant. The results, which are presented in Table 3, highlighted the great range of patterns of activation apparent among the individual respondents.
The sole activation of one language occurred only rarely - and mainly in the context of the market place. The tendency for the PLOT to predominate in the home domain, but with varying patterns of lesser activation of the other two languages, was evident in all three communities. However, a pattern of balanced usage of PLOT and Filipino, which specifically excluded English, was indicated by a proportion of the Ilocano respondents. In the business domain, too, the co-activation of languages was most often dominated by PLOT and Filipino among the Ilocano students, while English along with PLOT was more frequently used by the Cebuano and Waray groups.
The school was clearly the domain where English was most often activated - but even there, it was always together with Filipino and PLOT. Among the Waray and Cebuano students, English most often pre-dominated over the other two, but over half the Ilocano respondents indicated either the dominance of Filipino or the balanced use of all three languages in communicating with teachers.
The more frequent activation of English with teachers, as compared to other interlocutors,which was found overall, is not surprising, given the status of English as the medium of instruction in Mathematics and Science. From the observation of one of the researchers, it could also be regarded as either the result of school enforcement, or the students’ own sense of responsibility for their learning. There are rules and regulations which require students to use English with teachers. There are schools in the Philippines which impose some form of punishment if students are caught using the local PLOT in the context of the school . At the same time, the students themselves feel a responsibility to use English with teachers in order to develop their competence in the language and to show proper respect, since the usage of English with teachers and other school authorities is generally associated with courtesy and politeness. Despite this press for English, there was evidence in the data that PLOT was not being completely excluded from the school domain.
Language attitudes and meanings
According to the overall summary of data on student attitudes to languages (see Table 4), English was the language toward which the respondents most often expressed moderately positive or low positive attitudes, with only a quarter evincing high positive attitudes. In contrast, almost half the respondents expressed high positive attitudes to Filipino and about the same percentage were moderately positive, while the majority indicated moderately positive attitudes to their respective PLOT.
Yet the above summation of the attitudinal responses concealed some very important difference across the linguistic communities. The Waray students were clearly most positive to English, revealed moderately positive attitudes to their PLOT and a range of attitudes, including a comparatively large number of negative attitudes, to Filipino. Among the Cebuano respondents, high positive attitudes were evident equally for English and PLOT, while their attitudes to Filipino were more often at the moderate and low level. In contrast, the Ilocano respondents most often expressed high positive attitudes to Filipino, moderately positive attitudes to PLOT and mainly low and negative attitudes to English.
The analysis of the meanings which the students attributed to the various languages in their essays pointed to a different cluster of meanings for each language. English was associated with the global, international community, with business and progress, and with access to knowledge. In contrast, PLOT was seen as a language of regional significance, related to the home and local community, and the language which the students felt most comfortable with as a vehicle for communicating ideas and feelings. Filipino was regarded as the language of national significance and a source of pride and identity. Some illustrative examples of the meanings given in the essays are listed below.
- My feelings about the Ilokano language being used at home is great. It represents people who are sturdy in spirit and having their own identity. (Source of pride /identity)
- I feel comfortable if I use Waray as a language at home and in the neighbourhood. We understand each other well and we feel pleased everytime we speak to each other in Waray. (Feeling comfortable + Home and local community)
- Ilokano is our lingua franca at home and in the neighbourhood. There exists no gap and barrier among ourselves. (Home and local community)
- Being in Cebu City, my family and I always speak Cebuano at home. I was born here, thus I learned to speak Cebuano. I feel great, relaxed and happy every time I am with my family talking to each other during meals, free time and other family gatherings in Cebuano. (Home and local community)
- Waray language is rich enough to be able to accomodate any and all nuances pertaining to language use and applicability. In fact, there had been (and they still continue to flourish) great compositions (both musical and poetic) done in Waray. It gives us great pride to know about these. (Aesthetic)
-Educated people find it more interesting [to talk] in English. (Mark of good education)
As the Table 5 indicates, differences in the distribution of these meanings were apparent among the three linguistic communities. The Ilocano respondents attributed positive meanings to Filipino much more frequently than the other students, while the Cebuanos expressed positive meanings toward the PLOT more often than the other groups. For their part, the Waray students proved most likely to indicate positive meanings for English.
The negative meanings expressed were much more limited and often specific to a particular individuals or group of respondents. For example, although many Cebuano respondents discussed the positive meanings they associated with English, there was a few comments such as the following:
- The disadvantage in using English is that many people dislike you for using the language. (Social stigma)
- Speaking in English or in Tagalog [at home] made me feel so awkward. I was afraid that friends and neighbours would think I am acting strangely.
A number of the Waray and Cebuano students pointed to the limitations of their PLOT, while a proportion of the Waray respondents was critical of Filipino on the grounds of its limited usefulness and the confusion it caused at school. The strongest negative meanings, however, - overwhelmingly higher than any other - were revealed by the Ilocano students who considered that English caused confusion at school.
The comments of one of the Cebuano respondents illustrated the negative impact of the trilingual situation in the school context.
In our home, we oftentimes use the Cebuano and Filipino languages...
But when I go to shopping malls, I start feeling uncomfortable with
it. Usually teenagers, like myself, like to speak in English so I
use the English language, too.
Speaking these languages in and out of the house has disadvantages. Some
of us students can hardly speak, read, and write very well. I, for one,
can not perfectly speak or use the English language...Although I am
used to speaking the Filipino and Cebuano languages, I can not perfectly
read the Cebuano writings. I am having a difficulty in reading and in
For the majority of the respondents, however, the trilingual context of their day to day lives seemed a taken for granted reality that presented no special difficulties, despite the predominance of English in the school setting. Another Cebuano student wrote :
In school, we use three languages - Cebuano, Filipino and English. But the medium of instruction used is actually English. Honestly speaking, I really feel comfortable.
In considering the conclusions to be drawn from this study, it is important to recognise its limitations. As the data were collected in three regional linguistic communities, the paper does not consider the effect of English on other Philippine languages and particularly upon the mainly Tagalog speaking areas of Luzon, which includes the “melting pot” of Manila. Furthermore, the respondents were senior secondary school students attending what were regarded as leading schools in their region; they could thus be said to have benefited from some of the better opportunities which the schooling system could provide. The experiences of young people from poor rural areas where schools were often lacking basic resources and adequately trained teachers, or those from low socio-economic background who were forced to leave school early before they had mastered literacy in any language, have not been included in this paper.
One important feature of the results was the differences in activation and attitudes revealed among respondents from the different linguistic groups. English, for example, was more often activated among the Cebuano and the Waray groups of students than among the Ilocanos. This variation might initially be assumed as complementary to the consistently greater usage of Filipino revealed by the Ilocanos. This preference, in turn, could be explained by the proximity of the Ilocos region to the Manila area, and the heartland of Tagalog, the language on which Filipino is based. In contrast, Leyte and Cebu are geographically isolated from Manila so that people in these two provinces have naturally had less contact with the national language outside the context of the school.
Other political and historical factors can also be seen to have influenced these language differences. The Cebuano preference for English over Filipino could be rooted in memories of the struggle to have Cebuano endorsed as the national language of the country in preference to Tagalog, on the grounds that Cebuano was the indigenous language which at that time had the greatest number of native speakers. In the Visayan regions of Cebu and Leyte, therefore, Filipino has often been regarded as the language imposed by the central authorities, while English has been seen as opening up possibilities for interaction and emoployment. Conversely, the high levels of negative evaluation of English and relatively low levels of English activation among the Ilocanos may be traced to their perception of English as the language of colonial domination and to the bitter struggle of Ilocano nationalists against Americans at the turn of the nineteenth century.
Overall, it can be seen from the detailed discussion in the results section that the statistical measures of language usage and domains of activation and the more humanistic cultural data from student essays on language attitudes and meanings provided strong confirmation of one another. The conclusion to be drawn from these results was that the use of English as the language of instruction for Science and Mathematics in schools throughout the country had not significantly affected the use of Philippine languages as a means of oral communication in the home, the neighbourhood and the local community, according to the reported experience of the young participants in this study.
In reading and writing activities, however, English was clearly the dominant language, although its use had not precluded the development of Filipino as a language of literacy as well. The low to almost non-existent levels of reading and writing in PLOT, however, could be attributed to the entrenched status which English, supplemented by Filipino, has in these communication activities.
This situation may be partly explained by the different opportunities to learn the languages. In the years before they go to school, children learn to speak their PLOT informally through their everyday interactions in the home, neighbourhood and local community and the language is maintained through the natural on-going interaction of daily life. The literacy skills of reading and writing, on the other hand, are formally learned at school - not through the language of the home and local community which they have learned orally, but in what is for many, two new languages - English and Filipino – which are then used as the media of instruction in schools. There is thus no context in which children specifically learn to read and write in PLOT.
At the same time there is only a very limited amount of reading materials available in PLOT. Outside the school, the print and broadcast media remain dominated by the English language. Most of the newspapers and magazines that circulate in each of the localities included in this investigation are in English as opposed to PLOT. At the most, a couple of tabloids and a variety of illustrated “komiks” published in Tagalog are available in the sidewalks of the city streets. These could help to account for the comparatively higher levels of reading and writing in the Filipino language, compared to PLOT.
In conclusion, this small-scale investigation in three non-Tagalog speaking communities revealed a complex but stable trilingual situation which the emerging generation of young people gave evidence of taking for granted or accepting as normal. While the majority of respondents seemed to interpret this situation in positive terms, there was a minority who expressed negative views towards one of the languages concerned or explained the confusion it engendered for them. Thus this study provided only some limited evidence of conflict between the languages or of respondents who were antagonistic to a specific language. The evidence of the resilience of the Philippine language indicated by this empirical research would appear to be consistent with the judgement of Gonzales (1998: 519) that “none of the major Philippine languages and hardly any of the minority languages” are faced with extinction at the present moment.
In the present study, the data on linguistic activation to different interlocutors and the meanings assigned by the students to the various languages pointed in particular to a pattern of what Sibayan (1978) called “complementary distribution”, where each of the languages used was recognised by the participants as having its own particular on-going role. These findings closely reflect the assessment by Gonzales (1998:519-520) that a trilingual situation is being maintained in the non-Tagalog speaking regions of the Philippines. He maintained that the “vernacular” (or PLOT) was still “the language of the home and the neighbourhood”, while Filipino was the national language, which functioned as “a symbol of unity and linguistic identity”. English, in contrast, was “the language of academic discourse, especially for business, science and diplomacy”. In the experience of the respondents in this study, access to English as the literary language of education, science and international communication had not resulted in a general shift away from Filipino as the national language or from the spoken use of their PLOT, as a core value of their community life (Smolicz 1981; Smolicz, Hudson and Secombe 1998) and the language closest to their homes and hearts.
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