Seares: English: School board’s or DepEd’s?

Pachico A. Seares

WHICH would it be? Public schools in Cebu Province will “resume using English” next school year unless there is a complaint? Or those schools will continue using the present “halo-halo” of mother tongue (Cebuano-Bisaya), Tagalog and then English until ordered by DepEd central office?

Many of us won’t go into the seemingly never-ending debate on which language to use best as medium of instruction for young learners. We rather leave it to experts and authorities in the National Board of Education and the Department of Education. Each may have his own idea, formed by experience and readings, but the decision makers on education are presumed to know better.

Cebu Gov. Gwen Garcia, the Provincial Board and the Provincial School Board may have to argue their current advocacy of returning to English as sole medium of instruction from kindergarten to Grade 6 before the gods of education in the Manila central.

Present mix of languages

MTB-MLE (or mother-tongue-based multilingual education), implemented with the K-to-12 program, requires Cebuano-Bisaya from pre-school to Grades 1-3, Pilipino or Tagalog from Grades 4-6, and English starting Grade 7 until completion of secondary education.

If the PSB would have its way, it would be English all ways since kindergarten.

Contradictory claims

The announcement about the school board decision, purportedly from Governor Gwen, said the “back-to-English” curriculum will begin in school year 2020-2021 unless stopped. Have the authorities in Manila approved the change already? Or can the local school board enforce it on its own will?

Yet in the same SunStar story of Dec. 18--26th paragraph, or 25 paragraphs down, after the lead announcing “Go!” for the English redux--DepEd Officer-in-Charge Salustiano Jimenez said they “cannot change the curriculum without an order from his superiors.” Two paragraphs earlier, in the 24th and 25th, Division Supt. Marilyn Andales said she will report the moves of PSB about the “back-to-English” initiative, to DepEd regional and central offices.

Under the law creating the local school board (Republic Act 5447 of 1968), the PSB is composed of the division superintendent of schools, chairman; and as members, a representative of the governor, the provincial treasurer, a representative of the Provincial Board, and the president or representative of the League of Parents-Teachers Associations.

DepEd has more weight

Readers temporarily confused by the seeming contradiction of claims in the story may lean towards the version of DepEd and schools division officials.

The law on school boards does not empower it to tamper with curriculum although it must have the right to to recommend on any matter affecting the welfare of students. And given the bureaucracy that teachers and school officials routinely follow, no change in content and manner of teaching is made without approval from the education lords in Manila.

Teachers get their orders from the head teacher, who gets it from the principal, who gets it from their supervisor, and so on, all the way up to the division superintendent, the regional director, and DepEd secretary and undersecretaries.

Expanse of governance

Governor Gwen’s push on the issue of deteriorating quality of elementary and secondary education is not so much a flexing political muscle as fuller awareness of the uncharted expanse of governance, which most local government leaders used to confine on seeking funds for projects and other forms of patronage from central Manila.

People will watch how the initiative from Cebu on a question usually by settled national bureaucrats will pan out: Will it lead to more active participation of local government unit heads in solving national problems or will they continue to be mostly shut out?

The fate of 550,000 schoolchildren in Cebu province schools may hang on the language issue. Will they get out of the hole of mediocrity, which the 2018 PISA survey appears to have showed, by teaching them entirely in English? Governor Gwen believes they will.

They may disagree

But Manila and Cebu may not agree on what the problem is and thus may disagree on how it will be solved. I cannot see the central bureaucrats, who created and adopted the mother-tongue concept, giving up easily to the proponents of 100 percent English.

Here and now is where and when one may ask perplexed readers, the way a teacher in the current multiple-language medium of instruction will put it: “Nasabtan? Naintindihan? Understood?”