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Linguistic Society of the Philippines honors SIL MLE consultant

(February 2009) Diane Dekker, Multilingual Education Consultant for SIL Asia, will give the 2009 Bonifacio P. Sibayan Distinguished Professorial Chair lecture. She will deliver her lecture, "Multilingual Education in the Philippines: Possible Implementation Strategies," at De La Salle University, Manila, Philippines, on 7 February. Dekker is the first SIL consultant to receive this honor, which is awarded annually by the Linguistic Society of the Philippines.

The Bonifacio P. Sibayan Distinguished Professorial Chair in Applied Linguistics was established on 1 February 1991, and is managed in perpetuity by the De La Salle University Foundation on behalf of the Linguistic Society of the Philippines. Sibayan is remembered as an illustrious teacher, writer, scholar, school administrator and, above all, a staunch advocate of excellence.

“One’s own language enables a child to express himself or herself easily, as there is no fear of making mistakes.” –Dr. Ricardo D. Nolasco, linguistics professor, University of Philippines "One's own language enables a child to express himself or herself easily, as there is no fear of making mistakes." –Dr. Ricardo D. Nolasco, linguistics professor, University of Philippines

Since 1987, Diane Dekker has conducted fieldwork in the province of Kalinga in the Cordillera Mountains of the northern Philippines. She assists the Lubuagan community with their efforts in literacy instruction through a multilingual education (MLE) program that has been implemented in the public school system. Her Sibayan Chair lecture will focus on a longitudinal study of the Lubuagan mother-tongue-first MLE program, which is featured as one of the case studies in a UNESCO-SIL advocacy kit. The longitudinal study shows that children taught in their first language are learning more from their educational experience than those who are taught primarily in English and Filipino.

Lubuagan Mother-Tongue-First Multilingual Education (MLE) Program

The official languages of instruction are Filipino and English, which are essentially foreign languages for students conversant in the local language, Lilubuagan. The Lubuagan mother-tongue-first MLE program grew out of the realization that children were not able to use the languages of instruction to learn unfamiliar school content. In response, Dekker and other SIL MLE consultants researched various approaches to MLE.

A 2004 study by Nadine Dutcher, Expanding Educational Opportunity in Linguistically Diverse Societies, funded by the Ford Foundation, is representative of many international research studies. It concluded that individuals easily develop cognitive skills and master content material when taught in a familiar language. The study determined that instruction in the first language leads to stronger development of cognitive skills than instruction in a second language.

In 1998, the Lubuagan district began a trial program using local language instruction, known today as the Lubuagan Mother-Tongue-First MLE program. SIL worked with local language speakers to help them produce literature and instructional material in their local language, Lilubuagan. The Nueva Vizcaya State Institute of Technology provided initial teacher training.

For the first three years of school, the children receive content instruction in Lilubuagan, their first or primary language. During this period, students also receive language instruction in oral English and Filipino, which will prepare them to read and write in these languages. After three years, children in the experimental program merge with their peers from control classrooms, forming a combined classroom setting where English is the primary language of instruction. When the Department of Education conducted a grade 3 reading assessment in 2006, the Lubuagan MLE students outperformed all other schools in the province.

More recent research by Dekker and Dr. Steve Walter* found that when local children were instructed in their first language, reading scores improved by 40% and math scores by 54%. Furthermore, their scores in reading Filipino improved by 38% and in English by 31%. When the students were taught in their own language with rigorous bridging into the languages of Filipino and English, they were able to master both curriculum content and the languages of classroom education. As Walter has observed, "These educational gains provide strong support for the MLE model in this as well as similar sociolinguistic settings in developing countries."

* International Literacy and Education Consultant and GIAL

A Library for Lubuagan

The current Lubuagan library—the only one of its kind in the rural Cordillera region—is housed in an old municipal building contributed by the Mayor’s office. As local education develops, the Lubuagan teachers have high expectations for the program and its impact on the community. Educators know that new readers need to practice their skills to become fully proficient readers. They see the need for an improved library with reading areas, a conference room and tutoring space, complete with computers and audiovisual equipment. A meeting room would help alleviate the lack of meeting space in town. The Vice Mayor is reviewing the remodeling costs of the Lubuagan Library Project and is prioritizing the work, which will largely be completed by members of the community.

SIL International and MLE

SIL's participation in MLE worldwide involves serving as an advocate for and with local communities, linking them to supportive resources and assisting as they build their capacity to develop appropriate educational programs.

Most local language communities are, in reality, multilingual. In addition, some want to communicate in the national language, and possibly also in an international language. MLE programs promote mother-tongue literacy and education, providing the means to meet broader multilingual aspirations.

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