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First Language First
Image: Courtesy of Diane Dekker
First Language First

In 2008, Ched Estigoy-Arzadon, a Christian, was working as an educator in a remote village in the Philippines when she received a call from a former professor, inviting her to apply for a job at the University of the Philippines-Diliman. The job was teaching educators to use "mother tongue-based multilingual" instruction for children—a method that's gaining traction worldwide, aided significantly by Christian educators and mission groups.

In the Philippines, teachers were long allowed to teach only in English or Filipino, the country's two official languages. Students in school who spoke in their mother tongue—one of the 171 living languages on the archipelago in the Pacific Ocean—could be routinely fined. During this time, millions of students dropped out, or started parroting or rote memorizing, all the while not really learning to communicate in English or Filipino.

To reverse this pattern, Estigoy-Arzadon joined a national campaign to overturn the 35-year-old law that favored English and Filipino.

The campaign raced ahead with a broad cross-section of Christian and government support, including from Congressman Magi Gunigundo and Higher Education Commission deputy director Napoleon Imperial, who both come from a Christian background. Others, such as the mother-daughter team Mel Awid and Leslie Gumba with the ministry Translators Association of the Philippines, helped dozens of volunteers hold local meetings and persuade legislators to enact these reforms.

In 2009, their efforts paid off: Lawmakers passed major educational reforms, and this academic year, an additional law launched mother-tongue teaching for children ages 5 to 17. The new laws touch 500,000 Filipino public ...

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First Language First
hide thisApril April

In the Magazine

April 2013

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