"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein
Showing posts with label Mother Tongue Based - Multilingual Education. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mother Tongue Based - Multilingual Education. Show all posts

Saturday, November 15, 2014

A Multicultural Night at an Elementary School

In addition to priding itself as a professional learning community, Mason Crest Elementary School is also home to an international mix of children.

Mason Crest Elementary School webpage with my son on the cover

These students are not just children of immigrants. These children were born in other countries. Flags representing the countries of origin of students at Mason Crest can decorate its entire gym.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Medium of Instruction and Science Learning

Apparently in Chinese, a single word can be used to convey either "heat" or hot":

This obviously could be confusing to a high school student who is trying to learn fundamental physics in Chinese. Science learning does require much more than just grasping concepts. Science requires a certain precision in academic language. Even in English, force and power may seem interchangeable in everyday conversations, but in physics, these two correspond to two distinct quantities. Hence, the question of how the medium of instruction affects science learning is an important issue to address especially now that most learning resources for the sciences are in English.

A paper scheduled to be published in the Journal of Research in Science Teaching tackles this question by performing a quasi-experimental study in a secondary school in Hong Kong. Participants (about 200 students) come from working class families. For about half of the students, the highest educational attainment of the parents is junior high school (9 years of basic education). All of the students in the study use Mandarin as the language at home. Since Chinese is the medium of instruction in junior high school, the students have been exposed to English only when taking the English subject. In the study, about half of the students is enrolled in a physics class where English is the medium of instruction (EMI) while the other half is placed in a class where Chinese is the medium of instruction (CMI). The following is the abstract of the paper:

Albeit the authors seem to emphasize that Chinese seems to be a better medium of instruction in enabling low-ability students, this appears to apply only on one of the topics covered, forces. When it comes to heat or thermal concepts, the results do not really support this conclusion:
Above copied from
Fung, D. and Yip, V. (2014), The effects of the medium of instruction in certificate-level physics on achievement and motivation to learn. J. Res. Sci. Teach.. doi: 10.1002/tea.21174
In the above figure CMI corresponds to Chinese as medium of instruction while EMI corresponds to English. Since a pre-test is provided, the students can be initially grouped according to initial ability at the end of junior high school (where only the general sciences have been covered with everyone using Chinese as the medium of instruction). Clearly, as the authors have also presented in the paper, when differences are examined, EMI provides higher improvement for both "middle" and "high-ability" students, and there is really no difference between CMI and EMI with regard to students who perform poorly in the pre-test:
Above copied from 
Fung, D. and Yip, V. (2014), The effects of the medium of instruction in certificate-level physics on achievement and motivation to learn. J. Res. Sci. Teach.. doi: 10.1002/tea.21174
The above results are indeed telling. More importantly, an interview has also been performed by Fung and Yip, and one specific issue that comes out is a question often raised by students who are in the physics class that uses Chinese as medium of instruction. It is in fact more of a comment than a question: How will they perform in college where physics is exclusively taught in English? It is an appropriate question to ask. Unfortunately, their answer perhaps is to dismiss simply physics as a future course to take.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Why Is Mother Tongue Education Important?

Among immigrants in the United States, several studies have shown that children who have proficiency in both English and their mother tongue tend to be more successful in school compared to their ethnic peers. (See, for example, Social Capital and the Adaptation of the Second Generation: The Case of Vietnamese Youth in New Orleans. Min Zhou and Carl L. Bankston III. International Migration Review, Vol. 28, No. 4, Special Issue: The New Second Generation (Winter, 1994), pp. 821-845) This, perhaps, can be attributed in part to closer family ties and parental cultural maintenance that emphasizes beliefs and practices that are socially constructive. These two strongly correlate with a child's retention of his or her parents' native tongue since this language is expected to be the major means of communication between immigrants and their children.

Mother tongue education, however, goes far beyond just benefiting society. It is about preserving one's ethnic identity and culture. It is true that choosing one language for all can be a lot more efficient, but one must also be concerned with the loss of diversity. The fact that the world has so many languages is a precious heritage, but this treasure only remains if there are people who could still read, speak and write in these languages. Some advocates of mother tongue education even suggests that basic education in the mother tongue first would facilitate cognitive development faster in young children. Thus, there are proponents that now insist that all of basic education in the early years must be given in the mother tongue of a child. In a country like the Philippines, where there are so many languages, such is daunting task. In a previous post on this blog, Languages in the Philippines: A Challenge for Basic Education, it is pointed out that even in schools where one language is dominant, there are still a substantial number of students that speak a different language. Masbateño, for example, is a language spoken by a significant fraction of households in region 5 in the Philippines, and is the major language in the province of Masbate, but schools in Masbate have been designated to use Bicolano, a language distinct from Masbateño and spoken by the majority from Region 5. In addition, finding teachers that can teach all subjects in the native tongue of each pupil enrolled in any one of these schools is perhaps close to impossible.

To preserve the mother tongue of a child, continuing instruction beyond home and into preschool, kindergarten and the elementary years is needed. If this is the objective then having at least part of the instruction during these years in the native tongue can be very helpful. This is much less demanding than mother tongue based multilingual education. Most of the subjects can therefore be taught in a second language. Of course, there is concern that development in a second language may simply compromise development in the native tongue. At least, in this case, there is effort to preserve fluency in the mother tongue.

A study published in the journal Child Development addresses the question of what happens to a child's proficiency in a native tongue after going through school where the medium of instruction is a second language.

The languages considered in the above study are Vietnamese and English. These two languages are obviously very different unlike Spanish versus English, Tagalog versus Spanish, or even Masbateño versus Bicolano. Vietnamese and English do not even share similar character sets. Thus, this study in so many ways is highly transferable to other languages if one is asking the question of whether learning in English is detrimental to one's native tongue.

The pupils in this study are given 90-minute instruction in Vietnamese everyday, in addition to the normal classes, all taught in English, in the first five years of basic education. Thus, throughout these years, considerable effort is made to help children continue developing in their native tongue. The results of the study are summarized in the graphs below. These are measures of receptive vocabulary (being able to point to a picture that matches a given word) and expressive vocabulary (being able to name what a picture depicts) in both languages, Vietnamese (shown as dashed line) and English (shown as solid line), receptive is shown on the left and expressive is on the right:

I guess, in a way, this mimics my own experience. I can read posts on Facebook in Tagalog without any difficulty (receptive), but it is harder for me to post in Tagalog (expressive). As seen in the above figures, the ability that lags is expressive vocabulary in the native tongue. It should be emphasized, however, that for young children there is significant progress in both languages and the native tongue is not really fully compromised.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

How Should One Teach English-Language Learners?

Most Filipinos do not speak English in their homes. Thus, it is safe to assume that a great majority of students in Philippine public schools are English language learners. There should be no argument why it is necessary to learn English. Becoming fluent in English has become a requirement since most human disciplines have embraced English as the global language. Much of academic success now hinges on how well a student comprehends in English as textbooks, learning materials, as well as research papers are now almost exclusively written and published in English. Hence, there is no longer any doubt regarding the importance of learning English. Unfortunately, what program works best for English language learners is still very much debatable. Any claim otherwise only means dismissing or choosing selectively research studies that have attempted to answer this question. It should also be pointed out that this area is marked with poorly done research. The experiments are very difficult to perform and the studies are usually inadequately designed and sample sizes are often very small to be meaningful or transferable. Research is continuing however, as this is not only relevant to developing countries, but also to the United States because of its growing immigrant population. Although there is no final word yet as to what works best, there have been a few excellent studies that now offer some sort of direction. These studies may not yet give the final answer, but it sure raises the bar in terms of what studies should be worth at least our attention. One example is from Valentino and Reardon of Stanford University:

Effectiveness of four instructional programs designed to serve English language 
learners: Variation by ethnicity and initial English proficiency


In this paper we provide a descriptive and quasi-experimental analysis of the relationship between four elementary school instructional programs designed to serve English learners (ELs) and EL students’ longitudinal academic outcomes in English language arts and math through middle school. We also consider differential program effectiveness by child ethnicity and initial English proficiency. Although bilingual education has been well studied, little research has examined the effectiveness of programs longitudinally, most has focused on academic outcomes only in literacy, and most research from the U.S. has exclusively focused on Spanish-speaking ELs. In this paper we find considerable differences in program effects between programs (i.e. transitional bilingual, developmental bilingual, dual immersion, and English immersion), between students of different ethnicities (i.e. Chinese and Latino), and across academic subjects. 
One obvious characteristic that this study does not share with others is its longitudinal nature. The English programs here have not been evaluated by just running the program for one year and assessing at the end. Instead, the academic performance of the students have been monitored through eight grade. Furthermore, the sample size of this study is huge:
...The data used in the current study comes from a large urban district that serves a sizable EL population. Our analytic sample follows 13,750 EL students who entered the district in kindergarten sometime between the 2001-2002 and 2009-2010 academic years.... 
The four programs examined in this study are as follows:

Above table copied from Valentino and Reardon (2014)

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Filipino Does Not Unite But Only Divide Us

Spending my first year at the Ateneo was somewhat horrible when it came to language. I felt forced to read, reflect and write in a foreign language, English. My high school days were part of an experiment of the Marcos regime during which most subjects except English were taught in a bilingual manner. As a result, I did not have that much opportunity to think, converse and write in English. I felt a fresh breath of air during my last two years in college during which had the option of learning philosophy using my mother tongue. Yet, at that time, I did acknowledge that in order to master chemistry, I must become proficient in English. The reason was very simple. All the textbooks in chemistry were in English. Slowly, I started thinking in English while learning chemistry.

At Georgetown or any other university that has a graduate program and accepts foreign students, proficiency in English is required. Graduate students are required to serve as teaching assistants, thus, they must be able to speak English so that undergraduate students would be able to understand. Based on experience, both undergraduate students and professors are quite accommodating when it comes to accents. Grammar rules are likewise relaxed as long as the chemistry is correct. It is truly amazing how much respect and understanding is extended when it comes to language. Language is indeed a part of ourselves. It is the medium through which we express ourselves. It is the bridge crossed by our own emotions and thoughts. Without language, it would be difficult to share our ideas and feelings with others. Language is the blood of our own being.

In the Philippines, the debate on language continues and it is not pretty. David Michael San Juan provides not just one but twelve reasons why it is necessary to save the Philippines' national language on Rappler:

Of course, there are people who do not share the same view and to these opponents, this is what David Michael San Juan has to say:

Unfortunately, it does not really matter how many reasons are provided for imposing the national language on everyone because there is no reason that could erase the following fact. There are so many languages spoken in the Philippines:

Above copied from "Many Voices, One Nation: The Philippine Languages and Dialects in Figures"
Although Tagalog, on which the national language is based, garners the highest percentage of households, one cannot deny that the other languages have a significant share of native speakers. Percentage is not really that important, but right to one's mother tongue is, so it really does not matter whether a language is spoken by the majority or not. In terms of percentages, there is really no native language in the Philippines that is spoken by more than half of the households:

Above copied from "Many Voices, One Nation: The Philippine Languages and Dialects in Figures"
Tagalog does have the highest number, but it falls short of fifty percent. And in terms of linguistic rights, even the smallest dot in the above figure has a say. One could promote a national language. One could make up a language and claim that it is a mixture of all the above languages. But no one should impose such language. It is bad enough that all students in the Philippines are forced to learn this made up national language through K+12. It is an attack on one's identity and culture to impose the same in higher education. The use of English as a medium of instruction in higher education should not be seen as an imposition of a colonial foreign language. This choice is not based on any ideological ground. It is purely academic and only practical. On the other hand, imposing a made up national language is based solely on a false sense of nationalism. It is based on a fantasy of having one language uniting all of Philippines. This is not the true Philippines. The Philippines is a very diverse country in terms of tongues. We must embrace that and not make up something artificial that places us against each other. Our only objective is to help children realize their part in this globe. Our only mission is to teach our children, not to brainwash them with something we have only imagined and created.

Our teachers need support. Our schools need support. Let us focus on what matters to learning. Let us emphasize what works. And we need to make sure that in doing so, we still respect each other's language, because language is part of our soul....

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Philippines and the English Language

The Philippines is markedly different from the other countries in Asia in terms of language. Its native languages use the Latin alphabet and English is taught in the early years of elementary education. It is also used as a medium of instruction in some schools especially in private elite colleges. Amy Chavez of The Japan Times noted in an article early this year how impressed she was with how fluent Filipinos are in English:

Above copied from Huffington Post
Unfortunately, Chavez, in the above article, is misusing test data. The Educational Testing Service (ETS) specifically mentions in its research reports not to use scores to rank countries:

Above copied from Test and Score Data Summary for TOEFL iBT Tests

Wednesday, July 2, 2014


Originally posted on 

170+ Talaytayan MLE Inc

(Click this link to sign the petition)

Several related groups have been pressuring the Commission on Higher Education to amend the newly crafted CMO 20 series 2013 and make Filipino a requirement in higher education. And to think that some members of the said groups were privileged to participate in the series of consultations and crafting of the said policy, which they now oppose. In May 2014, the Committee on Language and Translation of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) issued a resolution demanding that 9 units of Filipino language be a mandatory part of the General Education Curriculum in colleges and universities. Does anyone else find it ironic that the government body entrusted to preserve cultural diversity, which includes linguistic diversity, sponsored a resolution that seeks the blanket inclusion of 9 mandatory units of only Filipino and makes no mention of any other language?

Unfortunately, the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) seems to be bowing to the pressure of these one-sided groups, which are composed mostly of national language writers and instructors. The chair of CHED, Dr. Patricia Licuanan, issued a press statement on June 23, 2014, saying that they are considering (maybe as a concession) making it mandatory that three of the General Education subjects be taught using Filipino. They say, yes there is academic freedom but only as far as deciding which 3 GE subjects are to be taught in Filipino. The reservation of a certain number of national language slots in the GEC without extending the same kind of privilege to other languages—Philippine or otherwise—is a highly problematic move. CHED would essentially be forcing colleges and universities—which should be bastions of free thinking, plurality, and equality to subscribe to a hegemonic one-nation-one language ideology. Any language policy should reflect the multilingual context of our learners. Furthermore, since languages mediate learning, the choice of language to be used in a particular area of study should be based on the objective to improve learning outcomes and to equip the students to the world of work and service in their own community and beyond.

Pro-national language adherents may invoke the Constitution to support its demand. Yes, the Constitution states that “the Government shall take steps to initiate and sustain the use of Filipino as a medium of official communication and as language of instruction in the educational system.” Regardless of the questionable wisdom of having a constitutional provision that—a) reads like an implementing rule, forever committing the government to promote something without recourse; and b) pushes a concept of national homogeneity so at odds with our multicultural/multilingual nature—the Constitution is nevertheless not an unequivocal legal basis for the mandatory use of Filipino in higher education. Why? “Taking steps to initiate and sustain” is not the same as “mandating” and it should be viewed in the context of linguistic democracy and academic freedom.

Furthermore, there is a critical difference between the indefinite article “a” and the definite article “the.” The wording of the Constitution—“a medium of official communication” and the absence of an article altogether in reference to language of instruction—means (mercifully) that the promotion of the Filipino national language is inclusive. Using Filipino at the exclusion of English, other Philippine languages, or even other foreign languages is not actually demanded by the Constitution, and any dictat to that effect is unduly restrictive.

Aside from the language provisions, the Constitution also protects several other fundamental principles:

Section 4, Article III (the Bill of Rights) states, “No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press…” As an instrument of speech and expression, language is protected under this clause. People, and by extension their institutions, should have the freedom to choose what languages they wish to learn and use. Jose Rizal himself deftly wielded Spanish to rouse patriotic spirit and indeed learned more than 10 other languages throughout his life—a potent refutation of the trope that patriotism is to speak or favour only one language. Patriotism pre-existed the national language.

For decades, we have allowed our language of learning policies to misrepresent the multicultural/multilingual nature of the Philippines. We celebrate the fact that finally in 2012, we passed a law (RA 10533) that recognizes the diversity of our languages as a great resource to improve learning. Now for the first time, any young pupil who speaks mostly Tausug or Waray or any of the local languages will find the school a friendly place for learning. Grade school teachers are discovering how to explain academic concepts using the pupil’s mother tongue and local culture. This commendable initiative to explore the resources offered by our multicultural and multilingual contexts must be a fundamental component of our educational system.

In a Philippine Star column last November 28, 2013, Former DepEd Undersecretary Isagani Cruz made reference to another key Constitutional provision. Section 5 of Article XIV states:

1. the State shall take into account regional and sectoral needs and conditions and shall encourage local planning in the development of educational policies and programs.
2. Academic freedom shall be enjoyed in all institutions of higher learning.

We are openly declaring that we are promoting the equitable treatment of all our languages, especially in promoting learning and respecting ethnic identities. However we find it immoral that we impose such bias on our higher institutions of learning.

CHED should be reminded that RA 7722 (Higher Education Act of 1994) Section 13 stipulates that it is to “guarantee” academic freedom of universities and colleges and its power is clearly limited only in setting the following: (a) minimum unit requirements for specific academic programs; (b) general education distribution requirements as may be determined by the Commission; and (c) specific professional subjects as may be stipulated by the various licensing entities.

The imposition of language of instruction is not part of CHED’s power. We ask that the technical panel for General Education and the CHED commissioners to continue upholding academic freedom and not enter into any concession with any interest group. Moreover, we would be greatly relieved if CHED issued a formal statement endorsing the use of any local or international language in higher education.

Sign the petition here

Monday, June 30, 2014

Keeping Children in School

When a child leaves school, basic education comes to a halt. There are alternative means of education, but for most out-of-school youth, leaving school is equivalent to no education. Reducing the number of school leavers is therefore an important objective for any basic education system. Improving attendance in schools is the first step in reaching out to school children. After all, basic education inside a classroom does not occur without the children being there.

Mother tongue based - multilingual education is one way of making a school more welcoming to young children. Using the language children have known before they enter school adds a sense of familiarity. This is no different from starting a conversation by finding an initial spark, an entry point of interest between pupils and teacher. It makes the school feel like a second home. Keeping children in school must be placed right there on top in thinking of ways to alleviate the problems of basic education not just in the Philippines but all over the world.

Language, however, is not the only thing that can bind a school to one's home. Educators in Milwaukee schools now consider art, music and gym as important ingredients in basic education:

To read the above story, visit NPR

Friday, June 20, 2014

Aiming for Both Equity and Excellence Need Not Be a Compromise

There is ample evidence that it is possible to achieve equity without compromising excellence. In fact, addressing issues on equity can greatly aid in lifting the quality of any educational system. Teachers need to be provided support so that they can perform their tasks well. This support includes adequate training, professional development, and living wages. Poor children need special attention. Without addressing important factors outside school, learning is difficult to achieve inside the classroom. One must keep in mind that these measures are necessary for one reason, quality education. Raising teachers' salaries and providing poor children additional resources should be viewed as measures taken for one specific goal, improving education.

Uplifting basic education supports the demands of Philippine public school teachers for better working conditions, higher salaries, autonomy, and professional development. These specific demands are clearly in line with the goal of providing both equity and excellence to Philippine basic education. The Philippine education system is facing so many issues and challenges. It is true that the current predicament of the teaching force needs to be addressed. However, it is equally true that there is incompetence. It is likewise true that a large number of schools are substandard. The situation in higher education is no different. There are diploma mills. There are courses in colleges that serve no purpose but remediation. Focusing alone on equity without an effort to lift education compromises excellence.

This debate on whether a Filipino language instruction course should remain as a requirement in higher education unfortunately typifies an argument that does not help advance the necessary education reforms in the country.

Members and leaders of Alliance of Concerned Teachers trooped to Commission on Higher Education’s (CHED) Head Office, wearing masks of Jose Rizal and a woven tray of fresh fish to symbolize their aghast over their decision to make Filipino optional in college education. (ACT Phils)

Being raised with Tagalog as a mother tongue, I likewise treasure the language. I am certain that this is equally true for Cebuanos who view Cebuano as their own. This applies to Ilocanos and Bicolanos. In fact, all Filipinos cherish their native tongues. They do not need to be told. It is already incorrect to attribute the saying, "Those who do not love their native language are worse than putrid fish", to Jose Rizal since this is a hoax. Rizal did not author this poem. Teachers should not be miseducating the nation. A bigger error, however, is to attribute "native tongue" to a language that is in fact not the native tongue of other Filipinos. Any claim to the contrary is completely deceitful. And it does not matter if Filipino is advertised as different from Tagalog and as a combination of the various languages in the country. This is one blatant lie. If Filipino is indeed derived from the various languages then it is not clearly a native tongue.

One important point that is easily missed is the careless equating of language to culture. The two are not identical. Culture does manifest in one's native language and one's native language is shaped by one's culture. Our beliefs, our way of life, our values, our intellectual achievements, our arts and music constitute our culture. Culture is what we are. It is not surprising that nationalistic sentiments abound when issues of language are raised. Sadly, in education, differences are highlighted. The disciplines of the natural sciences have indeed been developed in Western cultures. Sometimes, the sciences are even associated with Christian religions. One should not discount however the fact that chemistry, for example, has Islamic origins. These disciplines are really universal, not just Western.

Education reformers even in the United States are trying to learn from other countries especially those who do extremely well in international standardized exams. We may be of different cultures but we learn from each other. It is really ridiculous to suggest that adapting systems from the West is wrong. Emulating a successful education system is in fact correct. As members of one human race, there are standards that apply to everyone.

Arguments against the removal of a course on Filipino language instruction from colleges are framed on a nationalistic sense that is sadly misplaced. On top of this, insisting on requiring instruction of the native tongue in a university goes against quality education. One must keep in mind that there is a difference between "instruction of the native tongue" and "instruction in the native tongue". The former teaches the grammar and vocabulary of the language. The latter uses the language as a medium of academic discourse. What is about to be removed from college is the former because of one good reason: It does not deserve to be in higher education. Even in the absence of a new basic K+12 education curriculum, remedial and non college-level courses should not be taught for credit inside universities. College credit hours should never be used to remedy deficiencies in basic education. College is not for everyone and not everyone goes to college, thus, deficiencies must be addressed within basic education.

The guidelines for General Education from the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) prescribe core courses in eight different areas: (1) Understanding the Self, (2) Readings in Philippine History, (3) The Contemporary World, (4) Mathematics in the Modern World, (5) Purposive Communication, (6) Art Appreciation, (7) Science, Technology and Society, and (8) Ethics. If faculty from universities cannot design or imagine any one of these courses given in the native language then there is really no way the native language can be elevated into an academic level. The study of one's self, globalization, history, arts, mathematics, and communication can be provided in the native language as long as materials and an instructor competent in the language are available. Faculty have about three to four years to prepare. More than twenty years ago, I took 16 credits of Philosophy with Filipino as medium of instruction. It is clearly not impossible if there are competent faculty in universities.

If teachers are clamoring for retaining language instruction in the university, I hope these teachers are aware that they are admitting that they could not teach their students in elementary and high school to read and write in the native tongue. Teachers damage their own credibility. This blog lends support to upgrading teacher salaries, but not on this one. The Commission on Higher Education (CHED) is correct in its reform of general education in colleges. Faculty who do not serve the purpose of higher education should not be in colleges or universities. CHED gives the opportunity to these instructors to retool and innovate. CHED is now providing the right environment for deeper and more critical subjects in college. Going against this means going against excellence, and when the quality of education is compromised, so does equity.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Fighting for Filipino in College

I was a first year student at the Ateneo de Manila, enrolled in a class on Western Medieval History, and Jose S. Arcilla, S.J. was the instructor. Right at the beginning, the Jesuit warned us against using Filipino in the class. Arcilla in fact exclaimed, "I am proud to be a Bicolano." There were indeed dim moments when I was studying at the Ateneo and Arcilla's class was definitely one of the worse. Arcilla spent almost half of each lecture reciting corrections to the textbook that he authored. He spent the other half proselytising. History was part of the general education required of all students. After all, who would want a chemist who did not have the opportunity to hear and learn about Visigoths from someone who was so proud to be a Bicolano?

The next three years at the Ateneo were much more positive. During my time, a chemistry major would be required to take courses in History, Psychology, Sociology/Anthropology, Economics, Philippine Constitution, Filipino, English, Spanish, Theology and Philosophy. In each of the three summer sessions, I had to enroll in three courses in order to graduate in four years. It was certainly over 70 credit hours of General Education. I did appreciate the fact that in Philosophy and Filipino, unlike in Medieval History, I was allowed to use Filipino. While studying Philippine literature, I had the rare luck of having a substitute teacher for some time who permitted me to use Filipino. The other teacher would not have allowed me to submit essays written in Filipino. These were essays that commented on writings of Bonifacio and Jacinto and I thought it was only appropriate that I wrote them in the same language. Taking 16 credits of Philosophy in Filipino was also a great experience as I saw in my own eyes how the ideas of Kant, Buber, Thomas of Aquinas could be discussed in my mother tongue.

Reading, writing and listening to the mother tongue in higher education definitely provides an avenue for someone to participate actively in elevating one's language to the level of academic discourse. And in those philosophy classes, both students and instructors need to be able to think critically and express ideas in the mother tongue. It is likewise important to note that the mother tongue is a significant aspect of higher education not just as a language but as an integral part of one's identity. Higher education after all is a quest to know oneself better.

With the dramatic changes in Philippine basic education and the fact that these revisions actually target higher education, it is not surprising to see that the new K+12 curriculum carries significant consequences on the college curriculum. Faculty at colleges, for instance, are now voicing their opinion against the exclusion of Filipino in General Education:

News article from GMA News Online
The memorandum from the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) in question is No. 20 series of 2013, which defines the General Education curriculum for 2018 (not 2016, as erroneously reported in the above article). By 2018, students entering college would have gone through the 2 additional years of high school. The academic track of these additional years is included in the memo and is shown below:

Reforms are urgently needed in Philippine colleges. It is unfortunate that it takes an overhaul of basic education to remove subjects deemed undeserving of a place in higher education. Courses in the General Education curriculum of a college are supposed to provide opportunities for scholarly work, not just covering the basics and fundamentals of a discipline. Chemistry majors need to master the fundamentals of general chemistry to prepare them for the advanced courses in the field. The purpose of General Education courses is different. For this reason, a General Chemistry class is expected to be distinct from a science course intended as a General Education course for nonscience majors. Developing General Education courses is challenging for it is to provide a student an overview yet a profound experience of the discipline. CHED therefore correctly defines what General Education should be:

Soon after I finished college, Spanish was no longer a required subject in college. That happened quite late for me. Obviously, when a course in college is dropped, it can have an impact on its instructors. However, the continuing employment of instructors is never a justification for requiring a course in college. The fact that Spanish instructors stand to lose their jobs is irrelevant to the question of whether Spanish must remain as a required General Education subject in higher education. Of course, Spanish can always remain as an optional General Education course.

The same therefore applies to Filipino courses in colleges. Lifting the Filipino language into the academic realm does require its presence in higher education. In fact, this is true for all the languages currently spoken in the Philippines. This, however, does not mean that all languages spoken in the Philippines should be required subjects in colleges. This is not only impossible, but also a huge waste of resources and time. No one would ever finish college.

The job of higher education at least for now is to ensure that such opportunities exist. The truth is that nurturing a language is not something that can come from a decree. Intellectuals choose their medium. They make their choice based on several reasons. Universities must keep this choice free. Scholarly work is required at higher education. Instructors who do not advance their field do not belong to higher education. Keeping them does only great injustice and harm to the language.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Reading in the Mother Tongue

Imagine a school that does not use the language used at home as medium of instruction in the early years of schooling. In such an environment, one may guess that what happens at home matters a lot. In fact, it does. There is now a study published that captures and answers the question of how literacy at home affects early childhood learning. The study looks at more than a hundred children from English-speaking families studying at six public schools that employ a French immersion program. The French immersion program uses French exclusively as medium of instruction for kindergarten and Grade 1. Reading instruction in English is then introduced as a daily 60 minute subject in Grade 2. In this scenario, any English the children know by the end of Grade 1 comes mainly from their homes. The study finds that there is indeed a strong correlation between literacy activities at home, both formal and informal, and a child's reading ability and vocabulary. Formal activities include teaching the alphabet, and providing reading and printing instructions. Informal activities are measured by the number of books available to the children as well as by how often books are read to children.

Reading and Early Childhood Learning
The study, published in the journal Child Development, has the following summary:

Sénéchal, M. and LeFevre, J.-A. (2014), Continuity and Change in the Home Literacy Environment as Predictors of Growth in Vocabulary and Reading. Child Development. doi: 10.1111/cdev.12222
The findings may sound obvious, but it should be made clear that in this instance, because of the inherent design of the study, the impact of literacy activities at home on a child's learning have been cleverly extracted. These are therefore evidence-based conclusions:
"In sum, we found evidence of long-term associations between parent home literacy practices and child reading and vocabulary. First, parent reports of teaching and parent expectations about reading in kindergarten were a robust predictor of growth in child early literacy from kindergarten to the beginning of Grade 1. Second, parent reports of teaching and listening to their child read was also a solid predictor of growth in word reading from the beginning until the end of Grade 1. Third, most parents who increased the reported amount of teaching from Grade 1 to Grade 2 had children whose reading was below average in Grade 1, whereas most parents who decreased their teaching had children whose reading was above average. Finally, parent reports of shared reading in kindergarten predicted growth in child vocabulary from kindergarten to Grade 1. Taken together, the present findings provided strong support for the key prediction of the Home Literacy Model, namely, that formal and informal literacy practices have different links to the development of children's oral and written language skills. The findings extend the model by showing that most parents adjust their formal literacy practices according to the reading performance of their child."
The authors do note that about half of the parents of the children included in this study are well educated (college level). Still, the study shows that parents can help teach children beyond kindergarten.

The above study takes place in a community where English is the dominant language but French is used as the medium of instruction. By not providing English in the early years, children are able to learn a second language in school. Home literacy can play a vital role in early childhood education. The home is really the first place where a child learns. If we truly treasure our mother tongue, we should spend our efforts passing our language to our young at home.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Languages in the Philippines: A Challenge for Basic Education

By 1987, all schools in Singapore are using English as a medium of instruction. Singapore's education policy however requires schools to offer a choice of Mandarin, Malay, and Tamil as the second language. This second language may also be used as the medium of instruction for social studies. The English language was seen as the unifying factor since no ethnic group in Singapore can claim ownership of English. Singapore also saw that English was becoming the language of choice in science and technology. Since 1990, the number of households speaking English in Singapore has risen:

Above capture from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_Singapore
The Philippines, on the other hand, has been changing its language policy for decades. Presently, there is even an online petition asking for the removal of the current chairperson of the Commission on the Filipino Language:

The situation in the Philippines is similar to that of Singapore. The new DepEd K+12 curriculum is embracing the Mother Tongue - Based Multilingual Education (MTB-MLE). Students in the primary years are taught all subjects (except Filipino and English) in their mother tongue. This is dramatically different from that of Singapore. The requirements, first of all, on teachers are more diverse. Teachers need to be able to teach math and science in the mother tongue of their pupils. Of course, not having science as a formal subject in the early years, teachers then do not have to worry about teaching science in the native tongue during the first few years of elementary school.

Singapore's approach is a lot more practical. Since the mother tongue is only taught as a language and culture subject, one need not worry about what mother tongue should be used in any given school. The choices are there and schools simply need to have a teacher or a group of teachers (depending on the demand) who can speak fluently and teach the mother tongue. Math and science teachers simply have to know how to teach their subjects in English. The school does not make a choice on what language should be used as the medium of instruction. This has practical aspects especially in a place where there is significant heterogeneity in languages. Take, for example, the following region in the Philippines:  (The following tables and figures shown here are copied from Jose Ramon G. Albert's (National Statistical Coordination Board, Philippines) article, "Many Voices, One Nation: The Philippine Languages and Dialects in Figures"

In the Cordillera administrative region (CAR), there are clearly five major languages, and these five account for less than 80% of the households. A school in this region needs textbooks in at least five different languages. A school in this region requires teachers who can instruct in these languages. CAR is not an exception, unfortunately. The following are other regions in the country demonstrating that even at the regional level, there is no homogeneity:

With this in mind, MTB-MLE is indeed a challenge. Currently, there are 19 languages considered by DepEd in its MTB-MLE implementation. These are enumerated by Albert in his article: Tagalog, Kapampangan, Pangasinense, Ilokano, Bikol, Cebuano, Hiligaynon, Waray, Tausug, Maguindanaoan, Maranao, Chabacano, Ybanag, Ivatan, Sambal, Aklanon, Kinaray-a, Yakan, and Surigaonon. The spellings of the names of these languages differ, but one should be able to see that 16 of these languages are among the top 20 languages spoken in the country in 2000:

Ivatan, Sambal and Yakan are not among the top twenty, but these are included in the list of DepEd. This means Kankanai, Masbateño and Capizeño, although among the top 20 spoken languages, are not among those languages included in MTB-MLE of the DepEd K+12 program. Masbateño is a language spoken by a significant fraction of households in region 5:

Mother tongue education is important. With Singapore, for example, household use of the other Chinese languages is dropping dramatically. The use of Mandarin is on the rise at the expense of other Chinese languages. The Philippines since it is much larger than Singapore has much more languages. 150 languages have been identified in a 2000 study. Some of these languages are fast declining, as shown in the following table:

These languages are about to disappear. This is one reason why teaching the mother tongue as a subject in schools is important. It is to preserve a cultural treasure. Asking that a mother tongue be offered as a subject is asking a lot less than asking for a mother tongue to be used as a medium of instruction. MTB-MLE, because of its cost, can only select a fraction of the languages. Otherwise, it is prohibitive.

These are real issues that Philippine basic education faces. The country is indeed a colorful tapestry in terms of spoken languages as depicted in the following figures:

DepEd K+12 aims to teach students in the Philippines their mother tongue, English and Tagalog (Some call this language Filipino or the national language while some claim that the national language, Filipino is really a mix of the above languages). Looking at the above figure, one should not be surprised why such language policy in the Philippines still causes people to be angry.

"My view: We should become tri-lingual as a country.Learn English well and connect to the World.
Learn Filipino well and connect to our country.
Retain your dialect and connect to your heritage."

-Philippine president Benigno Aquino III
It sounds good as a slogan. Unfortunately, this is simply impractical....

Friday, October 4, 2013

Talking to Children

How language relates to thinking is still a continuing debate among psychologists, linguists and neuroscientists. Nonetheless, there seems to be no doubt that these two are related. Children learn language first at home. Children hear words from various sources. Some are in fact directed to a child, while others are simply overheard. Of course, inside homes where there is a radio or television, these provide additional opportunities for a child to hear spoken words. The vocabulary gap at the beginning of formal schooling cause by socio-economic status is important to analyze if one desires to reduce this gap. A child's vocabulary is crucial in the early years. Its effects on a child's education are long term. In fact, the gap only widens through the years of basic education.

There are now several studies that indicate that only conversations by adults directed to a toddler have an effect on the child's vocabulary. Adults talking directly to toddlers is the only factor that has been shown to correlate with how fast a child develops vocabulary. Children talking to toddlers does not. Overheard speech does not. One of these studies is nicely summarized in a YouTube video by Laura Shneidman:

The paper "Language input and acquisition in a Mayan village: how important is directed speech?" is published in the journal Developmental Science:

The above study is independently supported by another work, this time, from researchers at Stanford University. Their paper, "Talking to Children Matters: Early Language Experience Strengthens Processing and Builds Vocabulary", is published in the journal Psychological Science:

Language acquisition is important in a child's education. Some even have this notion that learning through the mother tongue is more efficient. It is difficult to address all the various factors that may influence learning outcomes especially when these factors themselves are not really independent from each other. Some of these factors correlate with each other. Children from poor families tend to hear fewer words because adults do not talk directly to their children in these homes. In multilingual societies, the weaker languages are usually spoken inside poor households. Thus, it is indeed refreshing to see studies that allow for a clear conclusion to be drawn.

Talk to your toddler....

Friday, July 26, 2013

"Should Spanish-Speaking Students Be Taught in English Only?"

This is the title of a report from the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) aired on 18 July 2013. It is about a school district in New Britain, Connecticut. Most of the students in this district have Spanish as their mother tongue. Currently, only one in four students in the district can read proficiently at the end of third grade. One of the major problems the schools face in New Britain is absenteeism starting in kindergarten. Out of 1000 students, about 300 have missed at least 18 days during the school year. Among these students who miss kindergarten often, more than eighty percent are behind reading by the time they reach third grade. Home visits reduce the rate of absenteeism from 30 percent down to 18 percent, but test scores in reading are still far below satisfactory. A large majority (about 85 percent) of the students whose mother tongue is Spanish are still failing Connecticut's reading test. The new superintendent, Kelt Cooper, is working on changing this by implementing the English Language Development (ELD) method. Apparently, in Texas, Cooper had some success. The school district in Texas Cooper supervised rose from near the bottom in English proficiency scores in the state to near the top:

Captured from PBS video
"Should Spanish-Speaking Students Be Taught in English Only?"

Monday, May 20, 2013

Learning in the Early Childhood Years

Human learning is inextricably linked to the physical development and changes within the human brain. Research in both neuroscience and behavioral psychology over the past few decades have provided rich insights on how the brain develops during the early years and how this affects learning, behavior and health in the later years. As in any building task, the foundation is formed at the early stages. The strength, stability and resilience of a building rest on how well the foundation is built. For human learning, most of the foundation is formed in the early years. The physical connections that the brain uses (neurons) are shaped by experience. The brain is designed from birth to learn. What neuroscience currently shows is that this network, the circuitry in the brain, its architecture, is influenced by early childhood experiences. The brain is highly flexible at the early stages. However, with time, this flexibility disappears and rigidity sets in. The plasticity only remains for a short time in early childhood as connections in the brain that have been rarely used are shut down in a pruning process.

The Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University has provided a brief summary of where research in neuroscience and behavioral development currently stands on early childhood learning.  The following figure provides a good idea of when most of the network architecture inside the brain is developed. One must pay close attention to the change in the x-axis to appreciate fully the fact that the earlier part of this growth curve has been expanded into months while the later part is compressed into years:

The following is a video that helps visualize what is going inside the brain during the early formative years:

The Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University provides the following bullet points that summarize what is currently known from research:
  • Brains are built over time, from the bottom up.
  • The interactive influences of genes and experience shape the developing brain.
  • The brain’s capacity for change decreases with age.
  • Cognitive, emotional, and social capacities are inextricably intertwined throughout the life course.
  • Toxic stress damages developing brain architecture, which can lead to life-long problems in learning, behavior, and physical and mental health.
Clearly, a very important take-home message from these studies is the defining role of early childhood care in a person's development. What happens or does not happen in the early years greatly influences life in adulthood. What experiences shape the brain in its early years can affect learning in the later years. These seem to be clear points.

I would like, however, to explore the third point from the above list, "The brain’s capacity for change decreases with age." The brief specifically mentions:
The brain is most flexible, or “plastic,” early in life to accommodate a wide range of environments and interactions, but as the maturing brain becomes more specialized to assume more complex functions, it is less capable of reorganizing and adapting to new or unexpected challenges. For example, by the first year, the parts of the brain that differentiate sound are becoming specialized to the language the baby has been exposed to; at the same time, the brain is already starting to lose the ability to recognize different sounds found in other languages. Although the “windows” for language learning and other skills remain open, these brain circuits become increasingly difficult to alter over time. Early plasticity means it’s easier and more effective to influence a baby’s developing brain architecture than to rewire parts of its circuitry in the adult years.
Language learning is a major issue faced by basic education. There is one camp out there that advocates as far as suggesting that mother-tongue based instruction is more effective. The implication from the neuroscience studies is that language learning occurs at an early age. The breadth and robustness of the brain architecture formed during early childhood depends on a child's exposure to a language. Clearly, this does not depend on what language an infant is first exposed to. What matters is the richness and depth, the vocabulary and precision. The two countries, Finland and Singapore, offer two seemingly opposing options. In Finland, the mother tongue is used as medium of instruction while Singapore teaches primarily in English. What these two countries probably have in common is a childhood marked with rich conversations between infants or toddlers with their parents or caregivers. It is amazing that difficulty in English language learning across the globe is often associated with socio-economic background as well as educational attainment of parents. These are factors that are likewise expected to correlate quite strongly with the type and level of the language used at home. It does not really matter what language is used. If conversations are limited to "No", "Stop it", the vocabulary of a child entering school is poor. More importantly, as neuroscience suggests, the network connections are more likely not optimized for learning. In these cases, even if a child's mother tongue is English, the child may still be challenged in education. As well controlled studies have shown, it is not the medium of instruction but the quality of instruction that matters most. Mother tongue instruction equally fails if conversations in the early years are void of richness and depth in that language. It is perhaps one of the reasons why even children from English-speaking homes, but with parents less inclined to talk intelligently with their children, find themselves performing at the same level as children who are raised in homes with a different language, but also with parents less likely to engage their children in intelligent conversations.

Elsa Di Ruggiero cites in her blog the following study:


In a bilingual context, the mother tongue plays a key role in a child's social and personal development, in education and in second-language learning. There is a complex relationship between these three areas. Support for children receiving education through a second language is often in the form of additional learning opportunities in the second language. However, first-language competence has been shown to affect learning in the second language. This paper looks at pre-school migrant children in a bilingual context and investigates the nature of the children's bilingualism. Findings show that they do not have the same level of mother-tongue competence as children brought up in their country of origin. The paper goes on to consider the reasons for these differences in mother-tongue competence and possible responses. The paper concludes that for these children, nursery education in the mother tongue could raise levels of competence in the second language and increase wider educational opportunities, as well as contributing to mutual respect, social cohesion and harmony. There is a complex relationship between mother-tongue development, children's self-esteem, educational opportunities and second-language learning. This paper considers how this complex relationship affects groups of children in four European contexts: Turkey, Norway, Germany and Austria.

Elsa Di Ruggiero adds:
The learning of a second language is highly dependent on the effectiveness with which a child learned his/her mother tongue. Children with high grammar and vocabulary levels in their mother tongues have reportedly found it easier to learn a new language within the school setting and consequently, read and wrote more fluently and earlier. Therefore, the higher the mother-tongue competence, the greater readiness for reading in either the first or second languages (Yazici, Ilter & Glover, 2010).
Neuroscience research is telling us when it is optimum to achieve competence in mother tongue.  It is in the early years (not in the elementary years). The following paragraph by Patricia K. Kuhl in "Early Language Learning and Literacy: Neuroscience Implications for Education" highlights data from neuroscience studies and their implications of early childhood learning:
These results are theoretically interesting and also highly relevant to early learning practice. These data show that the initial steps that infants take toward language learning are important to their development of language and literacy years later. Our data suggest as well that these early differences in performance are strongly related to experience. Our studies reveal that these early measures of speech discrimination, which predict future language and literacy, are strongly correlated to experience with “motherese” early in development (Liu, Kuhl, and Tsao, 2003). Motherese exaggerates the critical acoustic cues in speech (Kuhl et al., 1997; Werker et al., 2007), and infants’ social interest in speech is, we believe, important to the social learning process. Thus, talking to children early in life, reading to them early in life, and interacting socially with children around language and literacy activities creates the milieu in which plasticity during the critical period can be maximized for all children.
Advocates of mother tongue-based multilingual education perhaps need to pay attention to what they are in fact facing. The real problem may actually lie in the early years - before kindergarten. A child who does not get exposed to language and literacy activities even in the mother tongue during the early years is already at a disadvantage before school starts. The solution may not lie in the elementary years.  Returning to the Harvard study, it concludes:

The basic principles of neuroscience indicate that early preventive intervention will be more efficient and produce more favorable outcomes than remediation later in life.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Bilingual Children Have Advantage in Working Memory

A post in this blog, "Mother Tongue Based - Multilingual Education : A Barrier to Cognitive Development?"
last year shared the results of a study in India that demonstrated better cognitive development among bilingual school children. The authors' explanation for their findings were as follows:
"...Getting education through English involves differential curricular pressure and cognitive demands on the part of the students. The student has to understand the instructions presented in English which is not his mother tongue, to develop linguistic competence in it and simultaneously master the course content. For Odia medium children the task is much simpler as they have to master the course content only using a language already acquired earlier at home. However, this tougher task demand at an early age helps in faster development of cognitive processes in the children being educated through English medium...."
This year, a recent paper has been published in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology that examines the effect of bilingualism on working memory. The article, "Working memory development in monolingual and bilingual children", has the following abstract:
Two studies are reported comparing the performance of monolingual and bilingual children on tasks requiring different levels of working memory. In the first study, 56 5-year-olds performed a Simon-type task that manipulated working memory demands by comparing conditions based on two rules and four rules and manipulated conflict resolution demands by comparing conditions that included conflict with those that did not. Bilingual children responded faster than monolinguals on all conditions and bilinguals were more accurate than monolinguals in responding to incongruent trials, confirming an advantage in aspects of executive functioning. In the second study, 125 children 5- or 7-year-olds performed a visuospatial span task that manipulated other executive function components through simultaneous or sequential presentation of items. Bilinguals outperformed monolinguals overall, but again there were larger language group effects in conditions that included more demanding executive function requirements. Together, the studies show an advantage for bilingual children in working memory that is especially evident when the task contains additional executive function demands.
The children included in these studies have been carefully chosen so that the grouping between bilinguals and monolinguals does represent the only major difference between the students. Parents in both groups all have college education and the students all live in a somewhat homogeneous middle class neighborhood. In terms of English vocabulary, the monolingual children (those who speak English in both home and school) perform better. On "Pictures Task", an exercise that measures working memory and speed, bilinguals are significantly faster than the monolinguals although both groups have similar accuracy. A second study described in this paper makes use of a test similar to a Corsi block task:

An example of a Corsi block task
Downloaded from Gebhard Sammer, "Working memory load and EEG-dynamics as revealed by point correlation dimension analysis"
In this test, monolinguals do as well as bilinguals when the children are asked to recall only which blocks had a figure. However, when asked to provide the correct sequence, 5-year old bilinguals had a higher score (50% correct) than the 5-year old monolingual children (41% correct).

The paper then concludes with the following paragraph:
"The current studies fill an important gap in our understanding of the bilingual mind. Working memory is crucial to cognitive development, and its precocious development by bilingual children is important evidence for developmental effects of experience. The results also contribute to the growing literature on the effect of experience on cognitive outcomes. In this regard, bilingualism is particularly important because, unlike experiences such as musical training and video game playing, bilingual children are not typically preselected for talent or interest. The children in the current studies were bilingual because of a family history of immigration and not because of a talent for learning languages. This is powerful evidence for the role of experience in shaping the mind and directing the course of development."

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Are We Teaching Math and Science through a Good Medium or Are We Teaching Math and Science?

"DepEd K to 12: Teaching Math and Science" is one of the most viewed articles in this blog. There is no doubt that educators around the world are examining basic education in the math and the sciences. Both math and science are seen as central to the 21st century. Some studies now even focus on demonstrating how learning in math and the sciences can facilitate education in other disciplines. Unfortunately, there are countries that are currently struggling in math and science education, and are continuing to fail in grasping the fundamental problems plaguing their educational system. Instead of identifying what the real problems are, these countries venture into various hypotheses that have not been validated by data. Recently, I received a comment that claims that one reason why children in the Philippines are not doing well in math and science is that these subjects have been taught in a foreign language. One simply has to cross the South China Sea to see an example that repudiates this claim. That example is Singapore:
Math in Focus explains the role of the medium of instruction in Singapore Math
Downloaded from  http://www.hmheducation.com/singaporemath/ell.php
Singapore not only ranks high in international standardized exams, the country is also among those with the lowest fraction of students performing below the "Low" benchmark of performance:

Table 1. Proportion of Students Below the “Low” Benchmark in 2011
Grade/ SubjectSingapore (%)International Average (%)
P4 Mathematics118
P4 Science319
P4 Reading312
S2 Mathematics127
S2 Science423
Table downloaded from a press release of the Ministry of Education, Singapore

Yet, the medium of instruction for math and the sciences in Singapore is not the mother tongue, but English. Outside Singapore is the country of Malaysia. Malaysia, like the Philippines, is facing problems in math and science education. The Malaysian Insider reports:
"...64 per cent and 66 per cent of Malaysia’s secondary students who had participated in the TIMSS study scored “Low” and “Below Low” in mathematics and science respectively...."
Similar to the Philippines, the medium of instruction has also been used as a scapegoat. Malaysia likewise has been experimenting on which language should be used as medium of instruction for math and the sciences. Over the years, policies seem to easily shift without careful research or gathering of evidence. And if there is evidence, there is no guarantee that the government would actually listen to research. In 2010, the following paper was published in the Journal of Science and Mathematics, Education in Southeast Asia:

The authors of the above paper conclude:
"The differences in their achievements highlight an important matter – the inaccuracy of the accusation that English as the medium of instruction in mathematics is the cause of the pupils’ less than ideal achievements in the said subject. This is because both groups of pupils were weak in content knowledge as evidenced by their low mean scores in both tests. Noteworthy as well was the fact that learners from the rural area were not significantly handicapped by the said language in their mathematics achievements. As for the urban pupils, while it was shown that they were slightly advantaged by the use of Bahasa Malaysia’s accommodation, the bulk of their inaccurate answers seem to originate from errors in content-knowledge. To reiterate a point made earlier, the pupils’ lower scores in the English Test should not summarily be assigned to the use of the English language as the medium of instruction alone. It is important to acknowledge that mathematical acumen also has a role to play in determining the pupils’ achievements in the said subject."

The difference between Singapore and Malaysia in math and science education is huge. More than 95% of Singapore children pass international exams in math and science. On the other hand, only about a third (34-36%) of Malaysian students pass. As the authors correctly state, perhaps, it is about time that we ask ourselves if we are in fact teaching students mathematics and the sciences. I actually do not think it is a wild guess that the problems lie in content teaching.