MANILA, Philippines — In his first address to the nation, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. outlined his plans to improve the education system, which revolve around revising the use of English as a medium of instruction in schools and improving student performance in Science, Technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
“Foreign employers have always preferred Filipino employees because of our English proficiency. This is an advantage we should continue to enjoy,” Marcos said.
Also part of Marcos’ argument for using English to teach students is that the Internet—which he calls “the global marketplace not only for goods and services, but also for ideas”—uses English.
“Therefore, the issue of our learning environment must be constantly revisited to preserve this advantage we have established as English-speaking people,” Marcos added.
Philippine advocacy group Tanggol Wika on June 21 opposed the president’s plan to use English as the primary medium of instruction in primary education, calling the policy “illogical.”
“Apart from insufficient funds for public education, the government’s perpetual obsession with the forced use of English in education is to blame for the current mess we find ourselves in,” the group said.
The K to 12 program includes Mother Tongue Based Multilingual Education (MTB-MLE) where students are taught in their mother tongue for all subjects except Filipino and English from Kindergarten to Grade 3. English is used as the main medium of instruction starting from 4th grade.
In MTB-MLE, students learn basic concepts and lessons in the language they understand best – their mother tongue – “and develop a solid foundation in their mother tongue before adding additional languages,” according to the Ministry of Education’s curriculum framework for MTB-MLE.
In a 2019 study, the Philippine Institute for Development Studies, a state-run think tank, found the implementation of the MTB-MLE to be largely flawed. He pointed to issues such as linguistic diversity in the classroom with some students knowing more than one mother tongue, as well as issues related to the supply and funding of learning materials.
Science and math
Marcos also mentioned in his speech that the country needs to improve its international rankings in STEM subjects.
“These skills and these knowledge are necessary for our young people to be able to compete in a highly technological and competitive world,” Marcos added.
Among 79 participating countries, the Philippines scored the second lowest in math and science in the 2018 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), an Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development survey that assesses students’ knowledge of reading, math and science.
The DepEd in 2019 said these results also reflected the poor performance of students in the National Achievement Test.
“The raw talent is in our young people. It is up to our education system to develop and hone this vast pool of talent,” Marcos added.
More Filipinos should pursue STEM careers, according to a 2020 survey by the Philippine Development Research Institute, a state-run think tank. Its projections estimate that by 2025, the country will lack 13,964 workers in life sciences, 569,903 in engineering, 9,689 in physical sciences and 13,285 in mathematics and statistics.
“The fact that the total science and technology workforce constitutes only a small portion of the country’s workforce highlights the need for government support for most science and technology disciplines,” the study shows.
Curriculum K to 12 Curriculum
Marcos said there must be an end to the “horrible” stories about the poor quality of teaching materials.
But just as in his inaugural speech, he sidestepped concerns that his administration would overhaul the history curriculum to erase the human rights abuses fueled by his father’s dictatorial rule.
“Again, I’m not talking about history or what’s being taught. I am talking about materials that are necessary for effective teaching in this day and age,” Marcos added.
Marcos also mentioned that there were “lengthy discussions about the continuation and viability of the K to 12 school system.”
“We are doing a careful review of this and all the necessary data and perspectives are now being considered,” he said.
The Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) Philippines had earlier called on Marcos to include the “major overhaul of the K to 12 curriculum” as part of his education agenda. Meanwhile, the Coalition for Teacher Dignity, another teachers’ group, has called for an overhaul of the existing K-to-12 program.
Republic Act No. 10533 or the K to 12 Law states that the DepEd is required to conduct an “evaluation and review” of the K to 12 program.