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MAFTI launches a bilingual program in Winnipeg School Division

by Gemma D. Dalayoan

Filipino Bilingual ProgramThe pandemic has not deterred the Manitoba Association of Filipino Teachers Inc. (MAFTI) – a non-profit and voluntary association composed of Filipino and non-Filipino members – to continue its various educational and cultural programs for the community. The majority of the members are internationally trained teachers from the Philippines. The association is also open to educational assistants, childcare providers, child and youth workers, and all those who have a background of working with children and students. It was founded in 1976, and therefore has existed for 45 years. Many MAFTI members are currently employed in the school system.

MAFTI’s goal is to facilitate the delivery and administration of educational and cultural programs so that Filipinos and non-Filipinos in the different sectors of our community will have successful integration and participation in a multicultural, technological, and democratic Canadian society. MAFTI has sponsored both English and Filipino programs, such as the General Educational Development (GED), Settlement Language Training Programs, (SLTP), Rondalla, Scholarship awards, and Filipino Heritage programs.

This year MAFTI is launching a bilingual program in the Winnipeg School Division in schools heavily populated by Filipino students. Meadows West has been chosen as the pilot school that will offer the bilingual program in a multilevel set-up from Grades 1 to 3. In a bilingual program, the medium of instruction is Filipino in Language Arts, Social Studies, Physical Education, and Arts and Crafts. Other subjects such as Mathematics and Science will be in English. It is hoped that parents will not worry about their children losing their ability to speak and write in English because they already live in English-speaking contexts. Furthermore, studies show that from ages 6 to 18, children’s minds are malleable enough to learn as many languages they as they can.

MAFTI realizes that language and culture are intertwined or interrelated. Language is defined as “the principal method of human communication, consisting of words used in a structured and conventional way and conveyed by speech, writing, or gestures.” The language of a group of people also includes postures, expressions and gestures. This is called non-verbal language. Voice tones are also included in a language.

Culture is defined as “the customs, arts, social institutions, and achievements of a particular nation, people, or other social group.” Simply defined, it is the way of life of a group or people.

The environment, values, customs, norms and traditions are embedded in the Filipino language. There are words in Filipino that do not have very literal or exact translations in English. For examples are words that show respect for elders, such as ho, opo, and ate, kuya, tito, tita. Raising the voice tone of a younger to an elder person in arguments is frowned upon. Postures, such as putting both hands on the respective hips, are also construed as being boastful or arrogant. Therefore, using the Filipino language skills in everyday communication will promote good relationship with families, relatives, friends, and other members of the community.

Studies show that when their heritage language is valued and appreciated in a school set-up, children not only develop pride in their own first language and cultural heritage, but it also boosts their morale and self-esteem. This, in turn, enhances students’ academic work.

The success of any bilingual program lies in the strong support and motivation of the parents as proven in the research by R.C Gardner and W. Lambert (1972). They realize that “motivation is considered as a key feature in the success of language learning and has great effect on the efficiency and productivity of English language teaching.” Thus, MAFTI will ensure that parents support the bilingual program by having a survey of their needs, meeting with them to explain the program, and involving them in other activities that will thoroughly plan and prepare schools for the bilingual program.

A team of MAFTI members will be guiding the parents as they ask approval from the School Board Trustees. This team will also help train and see to it that highly qualified teachers are hired to teach the program. Mary Jane Napolitano, Chairperson of the Filipino Heritage Programs (After-school and now the Bilingual Program); Genalyn Tan, MAFTI President; Victoria Cabrera, Curriculum Chairperson; and Gemma Dalayoan, Internal Consultant and Adviser, compose the team. Fatima Mota, WSD Superintendent of Education Services, has been working collaboratively with the team to make the Filipino Bilingual Program become a reality. Mr. Wayne Wyke, Pincipal of Meadows West, is very supportive of the program.

So with parents’ support and the community, MAFTI envisions the Filipino Bilingual Program will be successful – it being the first in Canada.