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Education In A Multilingual Society
THE AWARDING CEREMONIES for this year’s winners in the Gawad Surian sa Sanaysay-Gantimpalang Collantes were held last August 29 at the Philippine Columbian Association Building at Plaza Dilao in Manila. For writers in Filipino, this annual contest in essay writing is a high test for excellence in craft and critical thinking, centered as it is on a specific stipulated subject. At the same time, the roster of past winners includes the best writers of the country. For this year, participants had to focus their entries on the topic, "Wika Mo. Wikang Filipino. Wika ng Mundo. Mahalaga."
The topic has a relevance to the current drive of the Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino (KWF), sponsor of the contest to help clarify the pedagogical situation in the country. The problem of educating people in a society like ours continues to be a big challenge because of linguistic and cultural factors. The national language matter remains to be a thorny issue and stands in the way of promulgating sensible education plans and policies. Avid advocates of Filipino would like it to be the exclusive language of communication and education on grounds of nationalistic and political ideologies. They argue that national unity depends on the adoption of just one language for use of all. Unilingualism, they say, is the key to national identity, vision for the future, and social progress. Too many tongues spoil the speech, as it were. Equally fervent is the argument of regional linguists who question the undue advantage given Filipino when it is not really the most commonly used language. It was only the maneuvering of partisan politics in the 1930s that pushed Filipino to the forefront. Speakers of Ilocano and Bisaya, for instance, think that the question of national language has not been properly and fairly addressed; consequently, they criticize the primary position given by the government to Filipino. Cultural elements complicate the situation. Regional differences in religion, social habits, wealth, and customs have effects not only on people’s linguistic consciousness but also on their national perspectives.
Thus, for many years now, the education department has been unable to put in place a comprehensive, durable, and unquestioned national education program. Is it bilingualism? Is English now the national language inspite of all the pronouncements supporting Filipino? Have regional languages no importance at all? Needless to say, the uncertainties raised by such questions put the learning competencies of our students in grave threats of decline. The situation might change if House Bill No. 3719 filed by Rep. Magtanggol Gunigundo I of Valenzuela is finally approved in Congress. The Bill, fully supported by KWF, requires the use of the first language in literacy and education. The students’ mother tongue will be the primary medium of learning in the elementary grades. This way, their cognitive and linguistic skills can be developed faster and more effectively. In the high school and college levels, they can then gradually transfer this knowledge in the nationally prescribed languages, English and Filipino.
The Bill presents a most practical approach to the multilingual reality in the country. It acknowledges the importance of all languages and their potential for the training and development of student abilities and potentialities. Studies by expert linguists have shown that young students learn more easily when using their native language ("Wika mo") than when using a second language. However, a national language ("Wikang Filipino") is important because it binds the nation together. In a country with more than 170 languages, it is the instrument of national unity, understanding and communication. The English language ("Wika ng Mundo") is also important because it links us with other countries and nationalities enabling us to join the international streams of information technologies in economics, science, politics, literature and communications. All these three languages, when seen in the context of Philippine life, are of equal importance. Indeed, our multilingualism, when properly employed, will equip us to interact with peoples nationally and globally. This is what the winners in this year’s Gawad Collantes say in their essays. They are: Bayani N. Santos, Jr., First Prize, "Linguistic Enfranchisement—Saligang Etika, Moral at Pulitikal ng Karapatang Pangwika"; Aurelio S. Agcaoli, Second Prize, "At ang Tao ay Wika, At ang Wika ay Tao"; David Michael M. San Agustin, Third Prize, "Multilingualismo— Salbabida ng Wikang Filipino at mga Dayalekto, Bagong Kahingian ng Globalisadong Mundo"; Robinson K. Cedre, First Honorable Mention, "Isang Bansa, Isang Wika...Paano na ang Ibang Wika?"; Gregorio L. Martin, Second Honorable Mention, "Wikang Banyaga! Sabay sa Agos ng Pagbabago ng Wikang Filipino"; and Kristian S. Cordero, Third Honorable Mention, "Alipin Tayo ng Ating Mga Dila."
from the Breaking Signs By Cirilo F. Bautista (Panorama, 9/21/2008)
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Santiago B. Villafania, a bilingual Filipino poet who writes in English and in his native language of Pangasinan, is the author of poetry collections Bonsaic Verses (2012), Pinabli and Other Poems (2012), Malagilion: Sonnets tan Villanelles (2007), and Balikas na Caboloan (Voices from Caboloan, 2005) published by the National Commission for the Culture and the Arts (NCCA) under its UBOD New Authors Series. He has been published in several countries and translated into several languages. Villafania is one of the 11 Outstanding Pangasinan conferred with the 2010 ASNA Award for the Arts and Culture (literature) during the first Agew na Pangasinan and also the 430th Foundation Day of the province on April 2010. He is a member of Philippine PEN writes a regular weekly column for the Sunday Punch.