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First Language: A Foundation for Effective Basic Education

Catherine Young

Date of publication:

June 30, 2003

Many Filipino children begin their education in a language they do not speak or understand as well as their first language. In this setting, only the learners' first language can provide the kind of bridge to a personal identity that incorporates both an ethnic and a national dimension. A technical model of literacy acquisition that emphasizes literacy primarily as an economic skill for use in the workplace cannot achieve the 1987 policy goals. Rather, an alternative, ideological model of literacy is proposed which develops the critical thinking skills of the students, builds cognitive and affective domains, and values their local language experience and culture. Thus, by first establishing the empowering role of language in the social system of the students' community, groundwork is laid for the expansion of the students' identity to include their role in the larger national and international contexts. In the poem "To my Childhood Companions" attributed to the Filipino hero, Jose Rizal, he says, "(I'he man) who does not love his mother tongue is far worse than a brute or a stinking fish". In a country such as the Philippines, which Kaplan and Baldauf (1998) describe as "linguistically heterogeneous with no absolute majority of speakers of any given indigenous language," language attitudes and the uses of language and literacy are important issues to be considered by linguists and educators.

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