The case of mother tongue-based multilingual education


For so long, our country’s educational system adhered to a Bilingual Education Policy with English and Filipino as the only languages of instruction (LOI). The goal of education then was to make all learners read and write more importantly in English. Thus teachers resorted to speaking “Taglish” (Tagalog and English) or “Englog” (English and Tagalog) in teaching.  As English advocates,  we condemned this language switching as against language standards and missed looking into how well the lesson is taught.

In 2009, the Department of Education issued DepEd Order no. 74 which defines Mother Tongue Based-Multilingual Education (MTB-MLE) as “the effective use of more than two languages for literacy and instruction putting an end to the Bilingual Education Policy which has been in operation for the last 35 years. The Mother Tongue (MT) or Lingua Franca (LF) which is the first language (L1) of the child must be used as the sole Language of Instruction (LOI) during the first 3 grades (1st key stage) of the K to 12 Curriculum. In Grades 4 to 6, English and Filipino will increasingly become the LOI but L1 will still be used. And in Grades 7 to 12, English and Filipino are the primary LOI with L1 as auxiliary language.”

The goal of MTB-MLE education is to produce learners who are multi-literate (read and write competently in the local, national and English languages), multilingual (use languages in various situations) and multicultural (live and work harmoniously with people with cultural backgrounds different from their own).

MTB-MLE seeks to address findings that Filipino students fared poorly in the 1998 and 2003 Trends in Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS).  The study revealed that students worldwide have higher math and science achievement when the language of test is spoken at home. Also in a functional literacy survey in 2003, 1 out of 3 Filipinos, between 10-64 years old could not understand what they were reading.  The 2008-2009 National Career Advancement Examination (NCAE) result showed that the abilities of our high school students in science, mathematics, reading and comprehension and verbal communication are at staggering 45.4 MPS.

The National Achievement Test (NAT) result likewise showed that most of our Grade 6 and Grade 10 learners performed below the targeted Mean Percentage Score.


It was observed in MTB-MLE classes that the learners express themselves easily. They have no fear of making mistakes and they can immediately construct and explain their world, articulate their thoughts and add new concepts to what they already know.  The teachers could accurately assess what has been learned and identify areas where help is needed and utilize instructional materials prepared by them and local writers and artists in the community.


Apart from programming the use of several languages, MTB-MLE involves the development of good curricula that is cognitively demanding.  It is much more than just using the learners’ first language to explain curriculum content but more so on functional literacy, prior knowledge, cognitive and higher order thinking skills development and a strong bridge and scaffolding for teaching meaning and accuracy. It also provides training of good teachers in the required languages for content and methodology and the production of good teaching materials that is culturally relevant and error-free. It seeks to empower the community through the school-based management (SBM) system. MTB-MLE will not work when we simply change the language by translating existing materials.


Language programs started and are called “bilingual,” but there is no bridge between L1 and L2. Certainly, learners will perform poorly when they are abruptly dumped in a learning situation where they lack the sufficient comprehension and command of languages as languages of literacy and instruction.

In Baguio City, the MTB-MLE program was implemented with inadequately trained teachers and low-quality instructional materials if ever there is or none at all. It was piloted in 2009 and was abruptly launched in 2012.  Iloko was piloted as MT at Roxas and Fort Del Pilar elementary schools while Kankana-ey at Sto. Tomas Elementary School. The Iloko classes continued with the identification of Iloko as the MT while the Kankana-ey class did not prosper due to lack of trained teachers.

Educators are in a quandary as to what MT will be used but just the same implement the program as mandated.  And hence, Tagalog is apparently the dominant language of the learners, Filipino (Tagalog-based) is a subject, as a subject in MT and as LOI in Araling Panlipunan, Music, Arts, Physical Education and Health, Edukasyong Pantahanan at Pangkabuhayan and sa Pagpapakatao.

Then in SY 2014 – 2015 the K to 3 classes in all elementary schools were directed to use Iloko as the subject in MT and as LOI in all learning areas except English.


In search for an answer to this frequently asked question, I conducted a language Mapping Survey in 2012, 2013 and 2014 during the Early Enrolment Day in January of every year. The findings are: The learners from Northern Luzon (Cordilleras) have several MT. Their Lingua Franca is Iloko and most of them speak Tagalog; the Learners from Central Luzon have several MT including Iloko and Tagalog which are also their Lingua Franca; the learners from the Eastern and southern part of the country have several languages. Their Lingua Franca is Tagalog and those who stayed longer in Baguio City speak Iloko and the three (3) topmost Mother Tongue (L1) of learners in Baguio City according to dominance are Tagalog (Rank 1), Iloko (Rank 2) and Kankana-ey (Rank 3). Apparently, Tagalog is the dominant language because Filipino (which is Tagalog-based) is a subject and LOI in school and in social media (television) Tagalog is the medium of communication.  The survey, however, makes it apparent that Iloko is the Lingua Franca in the Cordillera. Hence, Baguio City is a linguistically diverse build-up community, the lingua Franca or medium of communication is Iloko.


We must select and decide the Language of Literacy (LOL) and LOI to be used in the education of our learners. While the Komisyon ng Wikang Pambansa identified Iloko as the MT in Baguio City, we must develop our own Ilokano-Baguio (Iloko-based) MT orthography.

We need to write, standardize, expand and elaborate our own Ilokano-Baguio Mother Tongue and recruit, place, train, and provide professional development for our own teachers. Lastly and most importantly, we must accept language diversity to translate why to how MTB-MLE.

We must learn, develop and utilize our Ilokano-Baguio MT to connect us to our heritage while Filipino and English (L2) as subjects to connect us to our country and to the world.

It is never too late to rebuild the foundation of literacy.  Let us support the MTB-MLE Early Language Literacy and Numeracy (ELLN) curriculum.

By Susan C. Aliping