The pursuit of education to justice and democracy
By A Solver Agcaoili
Even as the end of summer ushers in a new, more subdued light that welcomes the coming of Fall and even as we celebrate life with the memory of the sand and sea and sun and surf during the warm months, we think of our latest gains in the Philippines: the signing by the Secretary of Education Jesli Lapus of Department Order No. 74 series of 2009, mandating that henceforth, basic education in the Philippines shall be conducted in the educand’s mother language or mother tongue—at least for the first three grades.
These gains border on the miraculous.
We were hoping for a miracle—for the signing by Sec. Lapus of this department order—but we did not expect that these gains would come too soon.
For in the project of creating a Philippine nation as part of the political imaginary that traces its beginnings in the late 19th century Philippine revolution, we have at the same time done a lot of disservice to that one reality we easily dismiss as not us: our being multicultural, our being multilingual.
Instead of ushering in a new understanding of the role of diversity and pluralism in the political life of the people, the project of a Philippine nation eventually got shanghaied by the believers of centrism in the structural dynamics of state-crafting: a culture based on the center, an economic life based on the center, and a political life, also dictated by the center.
As a result, everything became a project of the center, including our sense of citizenship and how this sense is brought about by a state-sponsored education.
In this kind of an education, what we have got so far are long years of experiments on what we should not have done at all, to wit, (a) the discarding of vernacular education in 1974; (b) the introduction of bilingual education understood wrongly by educational leaders and policymakers; and (c) and the teaching, among others, of math and sciences, in a language that is strange to the majority of the students.
For so long we have been taking up the cause of educating our students to democracy and social justice, by which kind of an education we mean that which makes use of common sense, and lots of it.
One requisite of this use of common sense is the educational perspective that a child can learn more—and more effectively and efficiently—when she is taught the rudiments of reading in her language first, when she is introduced to a relevant understanding of the world through her tongue, and when her math and science skills are taught in the language she knows clearly well.
We call this premise the movement from L1, the language of the child, to another language (L2, L3) not her own.
How else can we teach a child the rudiments of reading, the surprises in the concepts we draw from mathematics and science, and the common sense we need in getting by in life except through the use of her very own language?
Other people and other groups have been fighting for this recognition for so long.
If we start to count how long has this struggle been from the moment a national language was imposed, it is more than 70 years of dogged resistance and cultural denigration at the same time, the contradiction the mark of every child going through the motions of basic education in the Philippines.
Indeed, to teach a child how to read, how to understand numbers, and how to explain the ways of the world scientifically by using a language that is not her own is one of the most unjust and undemocratic theories and practices of Philippine education.
Indeed, to teach a child how to be a good citizen of her country through a language that is strange to her is one of the ways of not teaching her the virtues of citizenship.
We wonder about the dynamic of political life in the Philippines, with the boundary between show business and politics effectively erased, with show business people getting into politics easily and politicians becoming show business people with a breeze.
We wonder about the students of the Philippines lagging behind in mathematics, reading, and science skills.
The trouble is simply this: you teach a child in a language not her own and we are in big trouble.
The Department of Education’s order on the institutionalization of Mother Tongue- Based Multilingual Education will help solve this trouble we have had for three generations.
Finally, we are in this business of education to democracy and justice.
Editorial, Fil-Am Observer, August 2009