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Pros and Cons of Bilingual Education

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Language has always been associated with the evolution of humans as intellectual beings. Its role in a functioning society is indispensable since it sets the grounds for discourse and development. Other than that, language is considered as a driving force in the expansion of knowledge and development of the human mind, which makes its relationship with education undoubtedly important. Thus, it is justifiable to have an objective study and exploration regarding the relationship and interplay between the two fields (Zedan et al., 2013). Education is valuable to individuals; it shapes the way one thinks and it also helps in enhancing a person’s knowledge and skills. In addition to that, education lays the groundwork for a successful society. Producing well-rounded students heavily relies on different factors such as the type of policies being implemented and the language used in teaching. According to a study, the development of cognitive processes was found to be significantly affected by the medium of instruction used (Senapati et al., 2012). Different communities have varying educational policies and systems, and some of these policies are ineffective and poorly implemented. One example is the bilingual education policy in the Philippines, which had been publicly criticized due to a lack of promising results.

Bilingualism is generally known as the ability to know and speak two languages. Bloomfield (1935) defined it as the “native-like control of two languages”. On the contrary, Macnamara (1967) argued that bilingualism may refer to a minimal competence in at least one of the four language skills, in a language aside from a person’s mother tongue. A wide range of contradictory statements has led to difficulties concerning defining bilingualism. It is deemed problematic since individuals have varying bilingual characteristics. According to Gottardo and Grant (2008), different factors affect and influence bilingualism, making its definition complex. Bilingualism and language knowledge should not be thought of as being a binary category. According to Adebile (2010), tracing back the history of bilingualism would reveal that this language phenomenon has existed ever since the beginning of language development. Studies have proven that the world’s population is mostly composed of bilingual people, and finding a genuinely monolingual society is a difficult task (Adebile, 2010). Bilingualism may be viewed as a mere product of unproblematic interactions of people from different social groups. However, in some communities, bilingualism is a legacy of colonialism. Most of these countries still maintained the colonial language in their social and official functions even after gaining independence (Bialystok, 2001). In the Philippines, bilingualism is a result of American colonization. It is a country where Filipino and English are widely spoken. Both are official languages with important social functions. The Americans introduced the English language during the American colonial period, making it the de-facto medium of instruction in the public school system (Tupaz and Lorente, 2014). The changes done by America had a large impact on the system, which is still presently evident. Later on, the Philippine government proceeded to institutionalize the bilingual education policy in 1974, wherein English was used as the language or medium for teaching mathematics and science, and Filipino for all other subjects. 

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Like many other policies, the bilingual education policy had a certain goal. It aimed to equip the Filipino bilingual with the competence and skills necessary in the age of globalization and information technology. English, being the world’s bridge language, allows people to be able to participate in modernization and communication at an international level (Pascasio, 2005). Numerous studies have shown the advantages and positive outcomes of bilingual education, which are very much aligned with the established goals of the aforementioned policy. The ability of Filipinos to speak the world’s lingua franca, English, has allowed them to grab more opportunities to work in other countries (Viado, 2007). Additionally, major research in the United States has proven that students enrolled in bilingual programs perform better than their monolingual counterparts in terms of metalinguistic awareness, concept formation tasks, and analogical reasoning ability (Cloud, Genesse, and Hamayan, 2000, as cited in Villanueva and Almario, 2008). Bilingual education is undeniably beneficial to the individual and society. Although it has many contributions to Philippine society, it still has drawbacks that are too critical to ignore.

According to Yanagihara (2007), there are certain problems associated with Bilingual Education in the Philippines, such as low scholastic achievement rates for subjects taught in English. Arguably, English is the ideal language for teaching advanced concepts in mathematics and science. While this may be the case, the results and conclusions of Yanagihara’s (2007) study indicate that regional language would be more appropriate in explaining basic concepts to provide the students a better understanding of the subject. This is further supported by a study conducted by international researchers, which proves that students learn best through their primary languages or the languages they bring to school (Tupaz and Lorente, 2014). A student cannot effectively learn advanced concepts without a solid foundation and understanding of the basics. Another issue with this policy is that it threatens the cultural diversity of Filipinos. Bilingual Education in the Philippines is focused mainly on Tagalog-based Filipino and other common regional languages, which is not good for other mother tongues (Tupaz and Lorente, 2014). It creates a notion that one culture or language is superior to others, which was also evident during the designation of Tagalog-based Filipino as the national language. It poses a problem for students who are members of cultural minorities. They are required to use and master other commonly spoken regional languages instead of using their own native language for learning (Yanagihara, 2007). This makes understanding concepts difficult for them, and it reflects on their scores and scholastic performance. There is no room for equal opportunities in Bilingual Education Policy; this kind of system prevents these students from being able to excel as much as other people who speak common regional languages. There is no doubt that the institutionalized Bilingual Education Policy provides Filipinos with advantages crucial to the current state of the world. Nevertheless, there is an urgent need for modifications due to its problematic aspects.

As a response, the Department of Education (DepEd) has provided an alternative for the said policy. DepEd institutionalized the Mother Tongue-Based Multilingual Education (MTB-MLE) to address certain problems of inequity in the country. MTB-MLE allows the use of the native language or mother tongue in education. As mentioned previously, Tupaz and Lorente (2014) stated that studies have proven the effectiveness of learning using the primary language. Currently, there is still no formal and large-scale program evaluation for the MTB-MLE (Metila, 2018). For that reason, it is not yet safe to assume that MTB-MLE is significantly better than the previous policy. Evaluating the overall effectiveness of MTB-MLE would allow researchers to formulate further recommendations based on the conclusions that can be drawn from the study. This will aid in the improvement of the quality of education in the Philippines, in favor of not only urban areas, but rural areas and minorities as well. Exploring the possibilities of utilizing language in teaching will result in social progress, which may also allow individuals to reach their full potential shortly. The discourse on bilingual education policy and MTB-MLE is necessary and it may serve as a basis for future studies on topics such as code-switching in classrooms and many other topics.

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