The extensive damage a foreign medium of instruction unleashes
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2009-01-18

One reason why Filipinos were left behind in Asia by countries we once led during the early 1960s is because we are too parochial in our thinking. We fail to see the big picture and miss the lessons of the successes and failures of other countries.

Now, this parochial thinking is about to set the country into chasing what is called fools gold by re-imposing English as medium of instruction. It is fools gold because it does not really deliver the imagined benefits. On the contrary, it will inflict severe damage to generations of Filipinos.

The legislators who are pushing for the re-imposition of English as medium of instruction obviously did not do their homework. If they bothered to research the experiences of other countries with the use of English as their medium of instruction, they will not even think twice about pushing their bill. That is unless their real agenda is to perpetuate the idiocy (failure to learn and know the truth) that allows the exploitation of the ignorant in this country.

The Indian experience

India’s Dr. Jyotsna Kamat shared very relevant views of the great Mahatma Gandhi on this issue of English as medium of instruction in his January 3, 2007 online article which was updated last in September 7, 2008.

Dr. Kamat wrote: “Mahatma Gandhi had his own approach on various aspects of Indian life including education. He firmly believed that vernaculars or native languages of India should be the medium of instruction in schools. Several people disagreed. For them English language was the only window to knowledge and to the outside world.

Dr. Kamat quoted Gandhi: “What is resented is the sacrifice of Indian or Eastern culture at the altar of the Western. Even if it could be proved that Western culture was superior to Eastern, it would be injurious to India as a whole, for her most promising sons and daughters to be brought up in western culture and thus become denationalized and torn from the people.”

Dr. Kamat said that Gandhi felt that the achievement of his contemporaries was due to the retention of their native culture, in spite of western influence. Gandhi acknowledged his debt to western culture, but insisted that whatever he was able to achieve was due to this retention of native traits.

Dr. Kamat said that Gandhi’s objection was not for imbibing western knowledge. It was for English language as medium of instruction. Gandhi felt that much of the energy of youngsters was spent in learning a foreign language, neglecting their own mother tongue and literature.

For Gandhi, per Dr. Kamat — “language was an exact reflection of the character and growth of its speakers. Imposition of a foreign media was a great evil. Gandhi felt that English medium of instruction and communication sapped the energy of the nation. It estranged students from the masses and made education unnecessarily expensive.”

“Alas! Things have worsened in Independent India. Craze for English language as medium of instruction went on increasing. Now due to globalization, English (now Americanized) language is the only ‘Indian language’ eagerly sought after by the parents and students as a medium of instruction and communication in all the States of India. But this trend at the same time has not helped the young to understand their country or culture better. It has led to aping or monkeying the West in all its apparent ways,” Dr. Kamat added.

The Hong Kong experience

Hong Kong’s Bilingual Research Journal (Summer 2003) published noteworthy findings based on a paper that compares the science achievement of Chinese students learning science through a second language, English, with that of students receiving instruction in their mother tongue, Chinese.

The Journal said: “Based on the scores on a science achievement test made up of multiple-choice and free-response questions, the English-medium students, despite their higher initial ability, were found to perform much more poorly than their Chinese-medium peers. They were particularly weak in problems that assess understanding of abstract concepts, the ability to discriminate between scientific terms, and the ability to apply scientific knowledge in novel or realistic situations. This result implies that the English-medium students were handicapped in science learning by their low levels of English proficiency, and learning English as a subject through the primary years is not sufficient to prepare them for a full English immersion program in secondary school.”

The Journal added: “The weakest students could not understand even very simple text written in English. Their learning style basically consisted of translating content words in a text by looking in the dictionary and writing the Chinese characters alongside the English vocabulary in their notes or textbooks. In order to prepare for tests and examinations, they had to commit to memory terms and isolated chunks of texts in English that they did not quite understand. Under these conditions, it was very unlikely that these students could develop an intrinsic interest in and motivation for learning. Given students’ poor English abilities and the pressure to cover syllabi heavily loaded with factual content, many teachers considered a mixed mode of instruction (Chinese and English) as inevitable and even desirable. This situation was also common in some of the schools that admitted students of higher abilities.”

India and Hong Kong are good examples because, like us, both have been under English-speaking colonizers — Great Britain — and were under British rule longer than we had been under the Americans.

Gandhi’s insights should be taken seriously as this relates to achieving nationhood. What good are Filipinos who are gainfully employed in call centers but has lost altogether their sense of nationalism?

What good will it do for our country if the only jobs that our children can have are those of call center representatives because our doctors, engineers, scientists and so forth do not meet qualification standards after having failed to learn with English as medium of instruction?

When will we finally reconcile with the reality of who we really are and stop pretending to be another national? Who will fly the Filipino flag for future generations if Filipinos today are fixated with this delusion that they are Brits or Yanks?

When will we ever have real leaders who will make us proud of being Filipinos instead of these misguided and parochial-minded ones who are deepening the national delusion with the English language?

When will we ever evolve into a people who can recognize and understand what is really good or bad for us?

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