Philippines: A law prohibited teachers to provide instruction in any language other than English or Filipino for 35 years. In 2009, lawmakers approved major reforms in the Filipino educational system and, in 2013, a new law has been passed that supports teaching in the mother tongue for children from ages 5 to 17. Teachers are being trained to provide multilingual education using different mother tongues as the platform for instruction. After the new law was passed this year, 500,000 Filipino teachers and around 21 million of their students saw their system modified.
The Philippines official languages are English and Filipino, but there are around 150 more local languages and dialects, most of them, like Tagalog, Ilocano, Waray, or Tausug, from the Malayo-Polynesian language family. Some years ago, and a practice by some, every time a Filipino citizen used their mother tongue at school, the student was fined to discourage the behavior. The effect on the educational system was an increased on drop-out rates.
Promoting mother tongues and language diversity has become a global trend in recent years. After the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2007, which set a standard for the treatment of indigenous languages all over the world, more countries have been passing legislation to preserve their indigenous languages and incorporate them into the educational system. The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples has been endorsed by 144 countries since then.
One of the rights stated in the Declaration is the right to be taught in your own mother tongue. It is considered that citizens’ inability to read and write in their own mother tongue sends a clear message that the native language and the culture that is behind it are unworthy and not a priority in the country. On the contrary, providing education in the citizens’ mother tongue and helping them become literate in the indigenous language conveys a message of equality and communion between the different languages and cultures in the nation.