Thursday, April 26, 2007

why are we still talking about languages?

It is funny really, all this hoopla about what medium of instruction to use: English or Filipino, but what I really mean is: rather disappointing.

MLQ3's Misplaced Emphasis on English and Dean Jorge Bocobo's Philippine Commentary are all about the medium is a mess. apparently there is some controversy arising between which language to use as a method of instruction. so much so that it has been raised to the Supreme Court.

Correct me if i'm wrong, wasn't the Philippine Constitution drafted in English?

From my point of view the petitioners are pleading the case to get the Government to set the mode of instruction to Filipino. All those scientific journals, would have to be translated to Filipino if we want our kids to learn. That's a volume of information that must be churned out, converted. Then there is the Internet. That's huge.

From my point of view, it is both practical and far cheaper to train people both in English and in Filipino that they may understand written work in English far better than to translate those English works to Filipino for school children and their teachers to better understand.

My understanding of Intelligence is that once you learn in English or whatever source, you could teach it in another: English to Filipino or Filipino to English. Isn't that the barometer by which to know, you've understood the material?

People say, kids learn better because they use the national language. People learn better when you've conveyed the material in easy to understand form. The Petitioners I think have clearly no idea how the world is. They're still locked in 18th century ideas, imprisoned by old methods. Their views are similar to how Windows operates in my humble opinion because Nationalism went out the way of the dinosaurs.

I say, don't dumb our people down. Don't lower the bar of expectation and put limits where there should be none. In my humble opinion, we should be teaching kids in English. We should be teaching kids in Filipino. if we can squeeze in that bit of Spanish (it was never taught to me in school) or French or Japanese or Mandarin (one of the things my mother told me to study but never did)--- or if we can teach them math and science in musical sonatas or through visual aides or whatnut, pardon my French: why the hell not?

I think the greater problem is that those who are teaching kids aren't that well equipped and hence, we must train them up. Mastery in a subject matter no matter its source can be conveyed if the instructor knows it well and can simplify it for minds to learn.

That said, I learned Math and Science in English. Many of you reading this blog did the same. What makes our generations (mine isn't far off from the kids in school) different from the ones that followed ours?

Instead of squabbling over what language to instruct kids in, we must be talking about how intelligence is both a function of literacy and of creative thinking.

My understanding of all this mess is that we still place high regard for simple literacy. It may have been enough, twenty years ago but in this brave new world, simply knowing how to read and to write is no longer just enough!

We must encourage children to be creative. And by that, I mean: creativity is about combining vectors from multiple disciplines and weaving them in a whole new fashion.

Take Heroes--- a hit series and this interview by Wired Magazine on the series creator, Tim Kring and Masi Oka, which was being quoted by the site, Heroes Revealed. It's creator was not a comic geek, yet his show is a mash up (a combination of) different literature, different mythology from across the world and of different medium and style.

here's a quote from the article that you may find interesting:
Oka (who plays central character Hiro in Heroes) himself is a geek made good. Before he pursued acting, he was a CG artist at Industrial Light & Magic, crafting f/x for films like War of the Worlds and Revenge of the Sith. (He still does occasional work for the company - no one else knows how to use the programs he coded.)

spoiler warning: video is a three minute preview of Heroes, Chapter 20: "Five Years Gone"

What about industrial designer Ross Lovegrove? His work is about pragmatic design: beautiful, and functional objects but his forms are inspired by nature. Here is his TEDtalk:

Take a look at this technical blog from well-respected Filipino software developer and Test Driven Development evangelist cruizer, on "I hate PHP Gotchas". Whether you're Greek, Itallian, Japanese: the underlying principle is based on mathematics but the human readable code is written in English. Everyone who knows how to code in PHP get that and a lot of Filipinos do and a creative understanding of how code, system and software interact is highly essential for a good hack.

(Added) What is the wold coming to, when even having a Playstation 3 and playing games all day is also about enabling to double computing power, helping medical researchers and so many other projects?

From heroes to industrial design to software development to solving the world's problems, what is my point in writing about these three seemingly unrelated stories? These are all incredibly talented and creative people and the measure of their intelligence is that they are able to combine multiple disciplines and insights and apply them to their respective fields.

In a world where everyday is a new dawn of new learning discovery, like finding out the possibility of New Earth. One of the challenges of tomorrow is to figure out how to get there and learn. It may be through NASA's Warp Drive or some other way.

Apparently, New Earth revolves around a red sun. As Tom Merrit of Buzz Out Loud in their episode, Sanjaya for President was mulling: a day after Kryptonite was discovered these guys say a new world revolves around a red sun... two and two together, pretty soon, might Kal-El be flying around?

Hey, can you not dream? it could happen, couldn't it?

That said, challenge kids to learn! Get them to think creatively! How can we expect an entire generation of children who won't be able to compete in the world where rapidly, things are being looked at from different points of view?

In the next 30 years, according to a TEDTalk by Sir Ken Robinson, UNESCO is projecting that more people will be graduating with degrees than in all of history. Just imagine the competition that a whole generation of Filipinos will be facing. Suddenly that Bachelor of Science or that Bachelor of Arts will be as useful as a high school diploma, maybe less. Frightening isn't it?

It is time to think outside the box.

Yesterday, I wrote: "Can the Future be Designed?" Which, is all about education, and intelligence and how we must rethink our basic assumptions on both education and intelligence and how by doing so, use it to leverage the future. Apparently, it is a post well timed.

Ignorance is bliss. The Filipino's lack of understanding, and vision for what is to come will not better prepare a whole generation for tomorrow. Do not dumb down kids. Do not put the least of expectations on them. It has only created mediocrity and incapacity. Challenge them! If you say, money is an issue, then would you agree with me that it be high time we get our act together and reconsider our national priorities as well?


cvj said...

As stated in the comments section of Manolo's blog, studies have shown that people learn better when taught in their mother tongue. I also learned science in English when i was a kid, but that is not a good enough justification in the face of the above evidence. As our neighbors have shown, teaching children math and science concepts in their own language is not 'dumbing down' unless you think that Pilipino is somehow inferior as a language.

Cocoy said...

yep. i saw that studies have shown that people learn better when taught in their mother's tongue.

Filipino, the language isn't inferior. and i don't think any language is inferior over another because it is a means to communicate, to convey information.

i submit this line of reasoning: following the line of reasoning that people do learn better in their native tongue... does that follow People from Cebu for instance should be taught in their native dialect because amidst all this hoopla, we might forget that Filipino as it is today is a combination of many dialects? i digress.

if you re-read what i've written, what i meant by "dumbing down" had nothing to do with what language to use but what we don't expect from people. we don't expect people to excel, we don't push them to work harder and we don't encourage thinking out of the box. we don't encourage innovation, we don't encourage kids to go beyond what they've learned and accomplish things creatively.

we don't encourage them to learn and try new things.

having the highest score in the medical bar or the law bar doesn't guarantee intelligence. it showed you where able to study hard. a medical bar top-notcher (or not) who can solve cancer, now that's intelligence, would you agree?

my point was the world is moving at a pace unheralded. degrees are becoming less and less worth anything. ideas and new creative ways of expressing them--- is the new competition and holy grail. suddenly you have an engineer doing poems and doing a marvelous job at both. you have a new york times columnist doing a broadway skit in the middle of a presentation.

the problem with the philippine education system is that we're not pushing students to attain their potential from the get go. and we're not providing the proper training and tools our teachers need to innovate in teaching.

take a look at this link:
why asians are good at math

that's why our neighbors are very good at math and the sciences. they really work hard at it and built an ecosystem around it. you know what we need to do? leap frog over that. how? i have no idea, but we should.

mathematics is a language onto itself. would you agree? to get it, you need to practice and practice and practice. a korean would know what this means: e=mc^2 as would a guy from poland, as would that german guy sitting out back whispering to his american girlfriend. they'll both get what it means. you know what, Filipinos know that too.

if a Filipino teacher could convey the implications of s^2 = x^2 + y^2 + z^2 -t^2 -u^2 -v^2 to her students in English or in Filipino or in Cebuano or in text message form or in the form of a video, or doing so through standup comic in front of her students: why should we care how? the most important thing is that the student learn, right?

in a world where we should be discussing other matters like how to expose Filipino children to the wonders of the Internet, we are reduced to squabbling over misguided nationalism and whether or not English or Filipino would be better at parroting the textbook.

cvj said...

So if you agree with the principle that it is more effective to teach people in their mother tongue, why object to its implementation? Why not go ahead as this may be one of the things that will help us to 'leap frog' our neighbors.

On whether it's even more advisable to teach Math and Science in Cebuano and other Filipino languages, perhaps. Of course, the reason why we choose Pilipino is because this is our national language, i.e. one of the things that unite us as a people. I have no objections to translating textbooks to Cebuano or Ilokano, but, the first priority is to get English out of the way as an obstacle to learning. Using our national language for learning is an optimal first step in this regard.

As for the rest of your reply, I have no objections to challenging students to excel and all that, neither do i think do Randy David, de Quiros and the other proponents of Pilipino as a medium of instruction. We're all on the same side in this matter as far as i understand.

On 'math as a language in itself', i see that you also have a good sense of timing. I just blogged about what one of mlq3's commenter's (who calls himself 'iniduro ni emilie') take on this matter.

Cocoy said...

i'm not really "against", more like saying, "it's a waste of time".

i don't want to be wasting time for people to translate one language after another when it is perfectly better for people to learn to speak english, filipino, chinese. heck thrown in cebuano or french or japanese in the mix. why waste resources that we don't have in an endeavor to translate ALL those materials plus the scientific journals in the Internet and whereelse, when it would be more practical and economical that EVERYBODY become multilingual?

knowing just one language is pretty limiting. English isn't an obstacle to learning. neither is filipino and neither is cebuano. but not getting children to learn to at least know english--- is a mistake. not knowing how to apply that in math and science is a mistake. limiting ourselves to filipino is a mistake. LIMITING and prescribing just ONE language is the bigger mistake.

Filipino isn't a "pure" language. it has all our dialects and it has English if i remember my university filipino class correctly.

look at it this way: what's to stop a teacher from describing special relativity in english and giving examples in Filipino? or in Cebuano? saying you can only describe something in Filipino is purist talk. how hard would it be to create new words of translation for "gravity"? or "relativity" when those terms are perfect in describing them?

our doctors--- they discuss amongst themselves in Filipino and in English, especially when studying but they read their material in English.

by limiting instruction to Filipino, you will make it harder for people to learn because ultimately, they'd have to translate what the English words mean.

why waste our time and effort and energy reinventing a term or phrase, in the first place we never invented but are perfectly able to understand?

i'm not against teaching in Filipino or using it in those classes as i've made perfectly clear. what i'm against is this WASTEFUL enterprise of social engineering, of choosing just one language or even this whole debate in choosing one over the other to rule them all.

i'm with rizalist on this one. the medium is a mess. we miss read the constitution if you think we only have one language. the Philippines is by nature multilingual. we should get used to the fact that English is one of our languages.

try getting the Cebuano's opinion on this whole medium of instruction. hey get the guys from Davao to add input. i don't know if it's true that it is much better to talk in English over there than in "tagalog" or Filipino, if you prefer.

our laws are all in English. Our Constitution is in English. I believe even our courts conduct business in English. Wouldn't it be best for everyone to BE multilingual?

i believe this whole hoopla is misplaced nationalism. you say no one is objecting to challenging our students. i don't see a clamor for more kids to start building robots and artificial intelligence. i don't see parents encouraging their kids to build supercomputers (which we can do from your friendly neighborhood computer store and i'm not joking on that one) and let a whole generation do weather forecasting or joining Google's Summer of Code.

Another point: The La Verdadera Destraza is a Spanish type of fencing. it is a universal method of fighting based on reason and mathematics, particularly geometry. why don't we have a system in place to encourage learning such techniques as part of a physical education class and as an example of how great math could be?

for that matter, who is to stop people from publishing journals in Filipino?

what this country needs are for its teachers to be 1) better compensated and, 2) better trained.

we need better infrastructure like getting schools on the Internet and having computer classes that don't involve kids changing the wallpaper to something they like. or teaching them how to use a word processor. we need to teach them to write code.

we need to take a look at how kids are taught and not be burdened by all this prattling about using languages.

it wouldn't matter if teachers are commanded to teach math and science in Filipino or English or Klingon, if they can't understand the subject matter in the first place, if they lack training in the first place. oh guess what? most of those text books and reference materials are in English.

from my point of view: being multilingual is the best thing to happen and instead of all this prattling around, we must rethink this whole concept of education. i agree, we're all on the same side: we want kids to be better. i must say, on this, we must agree to disagree, your way will put limits where there should be none.

cvj said...

How could it be a waste of time if, as you agree, it would be easier to learn in the vernacular? As for the effort in translating textbooks, it only looks like a waste of time if one has a short time horizon. We are building a nation, therefore we need to get the basics right. Language and Education is one of the things where we have to think in terms of generations. The real waste is the foregone opportunity for learning in Science and Math because our students have the added handicap of trying to learn English alongside.

As for being 'multilingual', as Manolo said in the comments section, no one is advocating getting rid of English. I believe it can and should still be taught, alongside Mandarin as a foreign language. For your concerns on teaching 'relativity' and other scientific concepts, as Blackshama said in the comments section, it would ease the transition if a mix of english scientific terms and filipino could be used. That’s how the Japanese did it. You say you agree with DJB, but he is the one who is in favor of letting other languages become extinct in the name of 'survival of the fittest'.

On building robots and artificial intelligence, I've been working with computers all my professional life so i appreciate its potential and strongly support your advocacies and recommendations above. But let’s not put the cart before the horse. We do not want to repeat the mistake Mao made during the Great Leap Forward where he encouraged people to construct steel mills in their own backyards. The first things we need to do is to (1) break down the language barrier to learning science and math for the majority of our students. as well as (2) strengthen our national identity in the process. Whiz-bang technologies come and go, but a solid educational foundation along with a sense of identity is enduring.

On agreeing to disagree, I guess we have to. Your statement that 'it wouldn't matter if teachers are commanded to teach math and science in Filipino or English or Klingon, if they can't understand the subject matter... ' underlies the difference in our positions. The proponents of Filipino believe that it matters because, comfort with language affects the ability of students to understand. It’s the exact opposite of placing limits.

Cocoy said...

not really a comment, more of an update:

rizalist in his Philippine Commentary has a long, logically crafted post on the matter of languages in his part 2 of "The Medium is a Mess".

stating the obvious: i have similar views.


john marzan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
john marzan said...

:rolleyes" the new EO has nothing to do with "math" or "science". call center? bingo. not that there is anything wrong with it.

And AFAIK, pagdating sa pagturo ng math and science, we need good math and science teachers. it matters less whether teacher intructs students in english or tagalog.

The Petitioners I think have clearly no idea how the world is.

same can be said to those who are it's most vocal critics. they also need to get out of their ivory towers too. ;)

Cocoy said...

thanks john for your comment.

exactly: "we need good math and science teachers".