[OPINION] Part 2: Why language subjects in college are better optional
Part 2 of 2
The Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the Commission on Higher Education’s (CHED) new General Education Curriculum (GEC), which made Filipino language an optional subject in college, has been controversial.
Some groups have condemned the Supreme Court and CHED as “anti-Filipino” and “colonial-minded.”
Amid the angry cries, it is important to consider the issue from all sides, and understand why others are actually in favor of the Supreme Court’s decision.
Meanwhile, the media has a responsibility to present balanced perspectives on the issue. So far, the media has disproportionally reported on those against the Supreme Court and CHED, most of whom are connected to Filipino language departments, or groups founded in Metro Manila.
In actuality, the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold CHED’s new GEC does not only affect Filipino, but also English: both these languages are no longer required as separate subjects at the college level. Instead, it is now at the discretion of each Higher Education Institution (HEI) if they want to retain such subjects, and add other languages too.
This open policy has the following linguistic, social, and cultural advantages:
- It is pro-Filipino, not anti-Filipino. CHED has made it clear that any of the new General Education subjects may be taught using Filipino. Filipino can be better intellectualized through its use as a medium of instruction, rather than as a mere language subject (which students have already taken for 12 years by the time they enter college). In addition to the Gen Ed subjects, colleges could add their own mandatory subjects of Filipino and other local languages (e.g., Cebuano, Ibanag, Maguindanaon, etc). Thus, equating the Supreme Court’s ruling to the abolition of Filipino is a misleading exaggeration. With the extra two years of Senior High School (SHS), the minimum number of years that students shall take Filipino language has not changed.
- Existing subjects could be used to teach Filipino, and our mother tongues. Filipino language instructors could readily teach Filipino through GEC subjects like “Purposive Communication,” “Ethics,” “Understanding the Self,” and “Readings in Philippine History.” The same could be done to teach and learn other Philippine languages (e.g., Hiligaynon, Pangasinan, Bikol, etc). Teaching a language through content-rich subjects is a well-established method that has been used worldwide.
- It respects the diversity of the Filipino people. In addition to the national language, Filipinos speak more than 100 languages, incorrectly called “dialects” (KWF, 2015; Ethnologue, 2018). All our languages, such as Ilokano, Waray, Aklanon, Meranao, Kapampangan, etc, are important to our history, culture, and identity. The average Filipino citizen speaks 3 languages, and uses them frequently for a variety of functions. Filipinos are linguistically versatile and can easily adapt to each other – that is who we truly are! Most pro-Filipino language groups, however, only demand the teaching of the national language, not our mother tongues. This double standard exposes a narrow concept of Filipino identity and national development. CHED’s open policy, reiterated in a recent statement encouraging colleges to teach Filipino and other Philippine languages, is more appropriate for our truly multilingual and multicultural nation.
- It will help enrich the Filipino language, not destroy it. The Philippine Constitution declares that Filipino “shall be further enriched on the basis of existing Philippine and other languages” (Article XIV, Section 6). If national language advocates insist that Filipino is not the same as Tagalog, then they should embrace the possibility of other Philippine languages being taught alongside Filipino, instead of just injecting a few token non-Tagalog words in their lessons. This would provide a solid mechanism for cross-pollination of grammatical and lexical elements, thereby enabling the national language to incorporate more features from other languages, as envisioned by the Constitution. In 2016, the Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino (KWF) actually agreed to help CHED make college syllabi and instructional materials in select regional languages, in addition to Filipino, but this has not been done yet.
- It will also protect our other native languages. The KWF has reported that more than 40 Philippine languages are dying (2018). This is a concerning threat to our collective heritage as Filipinos. In a UNESCO atlas of disappearing languages, the editor, Stephen Wurm, writes, “with the death and disappearance of a language, an irreplaceable unit in our knowledge and understanding of human thought and world-view is lost forever” (2001). While it is understandable that many people care about the national language, it is not threatened to the same degree that our truly endangered languages are. Therefore, it is important to give them a chance to be taught and learned as well. CHED’s opt-in approach enables this, because human, financial, and material resources will not be automatically tied up with one language. Protecting all our languages is more than just preserving linguistic diversity: it is about preserving the vast repository of knowledge that is embedded in our mother tongues; it is about making space for minority voices; it is about preserving the links to our histories, traditions, and even the natural environment. Filipinos are increasingly alienated from nature, and language loss will make this worse.
- It will promote intercultural understanding and multilingual competence. For too long, Filipinos have been restricted in their language options in education. Non-Tagalog people have had to learn the national language (based primarily on Tagalog), but Tagalog people have not had the chance to learn other Philippine tongues. Having a flexible language policy, as they have in countries like Switzerland, will let us learn each other’s languages, expand communication options, make us more adaptable, build mutual respect and appreciation, and promote the development of literature, film, and educational materials in all of our languages. This is in line with the Constitution’s vision of “unity in diversity” (Article XIV, Section 14).
- It will promote equality and inclusive development. CHED’s neutral policy recognizes potential value in all languages, and does not privilege one language or group by giving it a special, mandatory place in the curriculum. All languages are equally permissible, giving people of different language backgrounds a chance to thrive in the education system. This will help dismantle existing class structures created by hierarchical language policies, which have put English at the top, Filipino second, regional languages third, and local languages last. With CHED’s new impartial policy, Filipinos have less reason to be ashamed of their native tongues. Secondly, equal promotion of native languages can fuel local industries associated with them (like education, music, media, etc), thereby creating jobs and spreading economic development more equitably (Grin, 2003).
- It will help safeguard indigenous rights. Indigenous people have the right to receive “education in their own language, in a manner appropriate to their cultural methods of teaching and learning” (Republic Act 8371, Chapter VI, Section 30). For most of modern Philippine history, however, we have had strict language-in-education policies that have undermined this right. Now that CHED is no longer requiring a specific language (e.g., English or Filipino), colleges finally have leeway to fulfill it.
The Supreme Court’s decision means that no language is forced upon us, and all languages are open to us. It is a victory for equality and cultural empowerment of our diverse communities.
Let us be reminded that Filipino is not the only language of Filipinos. English is important to our job prospects, history, and interactions with other nationalities. And all our mother tongues are important to our cultures, identities, and local economies. We are a multilingual people. This is what makes Filipinos special, for which we should be proud. It is also what makes us locally savvy and globally competitive. According to cognitive-linguistic research, multilingual people tend to be better communicators, more adaptable, faster language learners, less forgetful, and have greater intercultural appreciation. We cannot overcome our colonial past until we embrace our diversity as a natural strength.
By encouraging universities to teach other Philippine languages alongside Filipino, CHED has actually demonstrated a nuanced, progressive, and inclusive understanding of Filipino citizenship. This openness, coupled with innovative curricular initiatives, will simultaneously help Filipino become the heterogeneous language that the Constitution intended it to be. It will develop organically rather than by force. Meanwhile, let us rise to the challenge of developing not only Filipino but also our mother tongues.
The Supreme Court has upheld policy that is open to all languages, local and international, and can be adapted strategically to our needs and aspirations. It will empower Filipinos and our country. – Rappler.com
*Multilingual Philippines is an informal network of advocates for flexible and inclusive policies related to language and education. It is composed of educators, students, attorneys, and other members of the public from various regions, institutions, and language backgrounds. They raise awareness about the value of linguistic and cultural diversity, and the need for this diversity to be adequately represented in government policies for the benefit of all Filipinos.