Developing Quality and Culturally Sensitive MLE Materials
By Mansueto S. Casquite
For a sustainable and successful Mother Tongue-Based Multilingual Education Program, there has to be an ample supply of culturally sensitive and quality learning materials. The development of these materials is crucially dependent on what is appropriate to the intended learners' interests and needs and to their growing abilities; and on what is available and what needs to be produced. Moreover, the integration of insider and outsider knowledge and resources, expertise and experiences is crucial to the development and production of these materials that are relevant to the learners’ situation, real to their culture, reflective of their context, and responsive to their needs.
This paper looks at the roles of the insiders and the outsiders in developing MLE materials of premium quality that honor and uphold the local culture, and bridge known concepts to unknown ideas. Furthermore, this paper will detail essential elements involved in producing quality and culturally sensitive MLE materials, namely: story writing, formatting, illustration, editing, and pilot-testing.
In every mother tongue-based multilingual education programme, there should be a wide corpus of learning and instructional materials that are of premium quality. Materials that are appropriate to the intended learners, culturally sensitive, and locally produced. This is seen as a major aspect in making the MTB-MLE programme sustainable. Sibayan (1985) observes that some of the problems associated with effective bilingual education among the linguistic minorities in the Philippines are related to a lack of reading and instructional materials in the language. Young and Dekker (2006) notes that the availability of appropriate literature and instructional materials is a constraint often identified in the development of a localised curriculum. It is therefore imperative that materials development and production needs careful planning and strategic implementation.
The major consideration in the development of learning materials is the intended learners. They are very crucial in the beginning stages. Two of the most important questions to answer are: Are the interests and needs of the intended learners being addressed? Are their growing abilities and skills being enhanced? The Council for the Welfare of Children (1999) report states that schools must change to serve the Filipino child – locally developed learning materials using vernacular language are suggested in order to maintain pupils’ interest in the curriculum. Young and Dekker (2006) asserts that this would serve to build the children’s perception of the value of their language, increase their self-esteem and promote continuing involvement in the education process. Materials should display cultural, linguistic and contextual clues that the learners are familiar with, using it as a bridge to discover and learn unknown ideas and concepts. It is important that we start with what they know, and then build on what they have. Cultural and linguistic value, therefore, are of prime consideration.
Another consideration in materials development is the availability of graded reading materials or lack of it. If there is an ample supply of graded reading materials, this will assist the learners achieve reading fluency and comprehension in their mother tongue. This in turn will help them transfer what they have learned about reading and writing into Filipino and/or English.
Different learners have different stages, thus they have different needs. Materials are at their best when they are made for purpose, answering the growing needs and interests of the learners. The content and level of difficulty are important. It is crucial that materials are developed based on the learners’ interests and needs.
Insider and Outsider Roles
Once these questions are addressed properly, the different stakeholders need to be involved in planning and implementation. They also need to know their roles for effective and efficient production of materials. It should be noted that in every language group, there are insiders and outsiders. Insiders are community members whose mother tongue is the target language, while outsiders are those who are neither linguistically and culturally part of the community. Insiders include the learners, parents, families, teachers who speak the mother tongue, and other members of the community. Outsiders may include officials of the Department of Education, government agencies, non-government organizations, donors, and teachers from other language groups.
The roles of insiders are simple, and if followed strictly, materials should be of good quality. They should be the story writers. They can also be editors, illustrators or artists, and production assistants. They are the major stakeholders, and they should comprise the majority manpower. Outsiders should limit themselves to consultancy work, assisting only in technical details and production value. When the knowledge and experiences of the insiders, the expertise and ideas of the outsiders, and their resources combined, are integrated efficiently, MTB-MLE materials are of premium quality.
In writing stories, it is very important that the learner’s language, culture and context are upheld properly. It is therefore recommended that story writers should come from the community members, and should be mother tongue speakers. They are the ones who know their culture best, and have the authority to address these issues properly.
One way of gathering stories that are culturally and contextually appropriate is through a writer’s workshop. During the writer’s workshop, Dekker and Young (2007) suggest that insiders can write original stories based on their experiences. They also can create stories from their experiences and imagination.
One of the characteristics of MLE materials is need of the audience. In a Primer Construction Workshop in Southeastern Philippines in 2007, three community members representing different sectors were commissioned to write stories based on their daily lives. The stories then were reflective of their culture, true to their context, and real to their situations. In one minority language group, three young people put their traditional oral literature into written form during a series of writers’ workshop for Big Book production last year. When asked about how they feel about it, they were jubilant in sharing that those stories would surely capture the learner’s attention. They were used to hearing it only, but now they can read it with their younger siblings and parents.
Stories for literature can also be collected from other sources originating outside the community. However, these should be adapted to the local language and context, Dekker and Young (2007). Furthermore, local writers can translate materials from another language into their mother tongue. Over the last seven years of mother tongue-based primer construction, it has always been effective when the writers are mother tongue speakers.
Like any other writing activities, writing for literature production involves “thinking”. Writers need to think about the audience, the purpose, and the topic. It is best to know who are we writing for, why we are writing, and what we are writing about. It is not enough that we write and write, we need to think first before we write. For new learners, a good story is one that is short, simple, easy to understand, predictable, and familiar. New learners need to be able to interact with it, not just listen to the story teller.
Editing is very important in making materials of premium quality. As in the principles of writing, editing also involves “thinking”. Does the story address the three basic factors – audience, purpose, and topic? Moreover, the linguistic, technical, and creative factors also need scrutiny. In order to achieve a culturally-fit story, mother tongue speakers should be the editors.
In 2002, a Cebuano primer had to be edited by Cebuano speakers from different geographical areas to check comprehensibility and other editing pre-requisites. Editors made sure that the stories were clear, accurate, natural, and acceptable. A story may be edited several times by the same editor. During a primer construction workshop for a minority people group in Southwestern Philippines, written stories needed to be edited three times by one mother tongue speaker, after which, another mother tongue speaker had to check it.
Outsider-consultants can also check the story if it synchronizes with the principles of materials production. Short story books have prescribed number and length of sentences. For new learners, it is always wise to keep the sentences short and simple, so are the stories. New learners, especially day care children have short attention span. Unlike adult learners, they do not have a wide vocabulary that will aid them in reading into the story. One of the works of the editor then is to make sure that these criteria are being addressed.
Formatting / Typesetting
Technology these days is indeed a wonderful aid for materials production. Formatting and typesetting are made easy and efficient. However, when there is no access for such help, one can still produce materials of premium quality. This is the beauty of a collaborative effort between the stakeholders. When an MLE project is community-owned, where at the beginning, the community members are involved, there is a wide opportunity to look for community members who have excellent handwriting and can put the stories on paper.
The best illustrators are those from the community. They know the cultural and contextual clues that are needed to capture the accurate illustration for a single thought, a word, a sentence, or a story. Illustrations should act as scaffolding that aids the process of reading comprehension. They should be easily understood, thus clear pictures work best. Archer (2007) believes that people who are not familiar with written words, they may not realize that pictures can be used to represent things. A picture that shows only part of something may not make sense to them. Pictures therefore should be of complete objects, especially for new readers.
Illustrations also should be reflective of the culture so that the learners can relate and interact with it.
In a production of a Big Book for an Ethnic minority language, some of the illustrations are not culturally appropriate. Although the illustrator was a language insider, the illustration was not cultural because of outside influences. It was recommended that illustrations should be tested first, and that a committee should decide on how the story is illustrated or what illustrations to include in the production.
To make sure that the literature is user-friendly and learner-centered, field testing is always a pre-requisite for mass production. A wide range of audience is needed for this; the learners, the parents, the teachers, and other members of the community. They need to check the materials if the purpose is being served, if the content is appropriate, if the illustrations are culturally acceptable, and if the language is clear, accurate and natural. Field testing makes sure that the materials are ready to be used effectively and efficiently.
A sustainable Mother Tongue based Multilingual Education is partly reliant to a wide range of quality and culturally sensitive materials. Such materials can only be developed when there is collaborative efforts between the insiders and outsiders of the program. Language insiders make sure materials are reflective of their culture and relevant to the learner’s needs. Language outsiders make sure that technical details are prescribed, and functions are outlined. Once they know these specific roles and are willing to integrate them into a solid mechanic of skilled and learned manpower, materials development is made efficient and effective – producing materials of premium quality catering the desired needs of the learners. Young and Dekker (2006) conclude that pilot programmes such as the Lubuagan First Language Component indicate that community based innovations using the language of the learner can be successfully developed. Strengths of the Lubuagan project include consultation with the community leading to active involvement of community members in the planning, development and systematic evaluation of the programme. Quality and culturally sensitive materials are developed by a uniting force of knowledgeable insiders and skilled outsiders.
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