Advantages and disadvantages of mother tongue-based education

Photo: Naga Smiles to the World
by Shiela S. Ronquillo
Del Gallego Central,
Del Gallego District

Since School Year (SY) 2012-2013, the Mother Tongue-Based-Multilingual Education (MTB-MLE) began to be implemented in all public schools, specifically in Kindergarten, Grades 1, 2 and 3 as part of the K to 12 Basic Education Program. Now, more than one school year after the start of its implementation, what have we learned from this program? What benefits and detriments have we discovered from MTB-MLE?

In 2003, UNESCO gave the following statement that is often used as an argument for MTB-MLE:

 “The choice of the language is a recurrent challenge in the development of quality education. Speakers of mother tongues, which are not the same as the national language, are often at a considerable disadvantage in the educational system.”

With MTB-MLE, we expand the access to social, political, economic and physical development processes, which are often unreachable for children who speak a different mother tongue. These children, are unable to learn as much about their society, not because they are cognitively inferior.

Rather, it is because by the time that they enter school, they have become proficient in communicating using their mother tongue. MTB-MLE helps pupils gain confidence not only in expressing themselves, but also in learners new concepts in school.

Along with this confidence, the multilingual education also prevents alienation from one's language and culture, from their parents and immediate community. We avoid the situation where children are teased for using a different language, leading children to think negatively of their culture and heritage.

With these core benefits of  MTB-MLE, we encourage children to become lifelong learners by urging them to be confident, accepting, and enthusiastic about their cultural heritage.

This is not to say, however, that MTB-MLE has no flaws. For instance, it has proven expensive to translate educational materials into the eight mother tongue languages recommended by DepEd. Translation, too, has unveiled problems, such as which dialect of the language should be used in Bicol, for example, which varies in vocabulary and accent from place to place? Lastly, it has become apparent that when the mother tongue is favored, the child's proficiency in English and even the national language may become diminished. This puts students at a disadvantage, especially since in an increasingly globalized world, it has become more important than ever to be fluent in languages that allow one to communicate with an international audience.

There is still much to learn about the MTB-MLE. As a teacher, I hope that we continue analyzing its advantages and disadvantages so that we can make the necessary improvements in the forthcoming school years.