Spanish Language Program in Philippine Public Secondary Schools

The implementation of the Special Program in Foreign Language (SPFL) in Spanish by the Department of Education (DepEd) is a prudent investment to restore the four-century old socio-cultural ties between Spain and the Philippines particularly in the field of educational improvement. By incorporating SPFL in the new K to 12 Basic Education Curriculum, DepEd was able to successfully reinculcate the teaching of Spanish language and culture in the Philippine secondary education system.

This special program was initially offered at the third and fourth year high school levels in 14 pilot schools in 2009. After five years of rigid implementation by highly trained and committed Filipino-teachers, Spanish has become the biggest SPFL program of DepEd, overtaking other foreign language programs in terms of expanding the career opportunities and possibilities for employability among high school students under the new K to 12 education system in 72 public secondary schools.

The rapid assessment facilitated by SEAMEO INNOTECH aimed to determine the current status and best practices of the SPFL in Spanish and identify areas for possible improvement and future development in the context of four domains namely (1) organization and management, (2) curriculum and assessment, (3) teaching and learning process, and (4) community support and participation.

Another value-proposition was to assess the readiness of schools to serve as Centers of Excellence (COEs) for the expansion schools beginning 2014 and to identify new COEs.

The study was comprehensive and employed a number of quantitative and qualitative assessment tools to check the validity and reliability of data and information gathered. These include focus group discussions/interviews, language diagnostic tests prepared by Instituto Cervantes, observations of classroom demonstrations and data collection using Spanish-speaking experts from SEAMEO INNOTECH. The key findings were analysed using the aforementioned four domains of SPFL education.

To this end, overall, the program can be deemed successful as there is clear  evidence of students increasing their Spanish language proficiency as a result of participating in the program. The SPFL in Spanish was assessed based on this central question: Are the Filipino students in public secondary schools learning Spanish? Tests on student language proficiency reveal that majority of the students who took the Level A1 diagnostic test achieved a bien proficiency level while those who took the Level A2 received below bien. The oral language proficiency of the students ranged from Novice Low to Novice High. In all tests, comparative results showed that COE students performed better than non-COE students.

Another milestone of success of the program is the creation and establishment of Centers of Excellence (COEs) in Spanish teaching which are tasked to lead other implementing schools in popularizing the Spanish language and culture as a potential career pathway for high school graduates of the 21st century. There were pockets of monitoring done to determine the progress of SPFL in Spanish, in the first five years. As the program advances and expands, there was a clear need to assess and evaluate whether the pre-set goal of improving the teaching of Spanish language and culture has been achieved given the series of trainings and other capacity-building programs provided by the Instituto Cervantes and other partner-universities in Spain.

However, like any new initiative, there is scope for further improvement to address challenges, problems and other issues experienced to date. Many of these problems stem from the lack of a national standard curriculum as a roadmap for other instructional dimensions of the program (e.g., learning materials, instruction, learner assessment, etc.). With the development of the new K to 12 language curriculum this major deficiency of the program has been addressed. However, there is now a need to review and revise all program elements to ensure they are aligned with the competencies and standards set down in the new curriculum. Teachers will also need to be trained on the implementation of the new curriculum and how it is to be operationalized in the other instructional elements.

The other major challenge is the ambiguous set of policies and operational guidelines of the program resulting in significant variations in implementation at the school level. This needs to be addressed by DepEd through the formulation and dissemination of a comprehensive set of program implementing rules and regulations in the form of a Manual of Operations, informed by the lessons learned from the pilot experiences over the past five years.

Without doubt, the successes and accomplishments achieved by the program to date and documented in this report have been largely due to the high level of commitment, passion for learning and self-sacrifice of the teachers involved. Their exceptional level of motivation and commitment in implementing the program helped surmount the problems of lack of funds and instructional materials, limited resources to support teacher training and uneven level of support from the DepEd field offices and other stakeholders.

To fully develop the competencies of all Spanish students, issues and recommendations affecting the four domains of quality education should be carefully examined, prioritized, timely addressed and mitigated by DepEd as presented in the following excerpts:

Organization and Management
One of the major critical issues for DepEd to address is the review of existing and/or formulation of enabling policies to guide the sound organization and of SPFL in Spanish. This includes the need to rationalize and strengthen program policies related to school and teacher selection criteria, subject nomenclature, unit credits, time allotment, grading system, capacity building trainings, and most importantly a policy on how best to implement the new SPFL curriculum within the realm of K to 12 education reform. The policies should be made more clear and specific to ensure common understanding and interpretation of its implementation at the school level particularly in the following key improvement areas:

1. Development of a Comprehensive Manual of Operations: The policies to date were ambiguous or lacked detailed guidelines resulting in differing interpretations at the school level. During the study, DepEd has drafted the manual of operations for SPFL for circulation to their experts for validation. This manual will hopefully be released before the next school year to give ample time for teachers to prepare and adjust their own implementation activities/practices.

2. Basic Requirements for Implementing Schools: To generate greater acceptance, support and commitment of key stakeholders in the SPFL in Spanish, the following considerations should be in place:

  • School Improvement Planning (SIP): The SPFL in Spanish is not yet mainstreamed in the School Improvement Plan (SIP) which implies that theschools are not fully embracing the SPFL program. The schools need to integrate SPFL in Spanish in school planning and ensure that the program will be properly monitored, supported, promoted and sustained by the schoolcommunitystakeholders.
  • Teacher Staffing Plan: The success of SPFL in Spanish depends on the availability of trained Spanish teachers. As of SY 2013-2014, 12 schools have only one SPFL in Spanish teacher and some (12) trained Spanish teachers were no longer teaching. To maintain a steady supply of Spanish teachers and to ensure the sustainability of the SPFL in Spanish, all implementing schools must prepare a staffing plan on SPFL for at least three years to  anticipate faculty retirements, promotion, or mobility. Thus, timely recruitment  of new Spanish teachers could be done as the need arises.
  • School Head as SPFL in Spanish Coordinator: The SPLF program is currently being managed by a de facto department (e.g., TLE or English Department or by the Spanish teacher). To ensure that the accountability of program coordination is standard across all  implementing schools, the SPFL in Spanish should be under the school head. Such provides the opportunity for the teacher to focus in Spanish teaching and the school head to immerse in program activities, appreciate it better and invest time and resources to
    continuously improve the quality of curriculum delivery, learning environment, and parental/community involvement.
  • Establishment of Department of Foreign Languages: The advent of K to  12 education reform paved the need for DepEd to consider offering the SPFL as a career pathway. A separate Department of Foreign Languages that focuses on teaching foreign languages will enable all SPFL programs to have its own identity and not merely treated as an elective.

3. Review and Redesign of Capacity Building Programs: The participation rate of teachers for many of the professional trainings to date is relatively low. To improve attendance of teachers to these programs, DepEd must provide:  a) counterpart support in teacher-training and scholarship programs accordedby partner institutions; c) post-training monitoring and assessment of teacherperformance; and d) rewards/sanctions to teachers for their participation/nonparticipation. The Instituto Cervantes can help address the competency gaps of the Spanish teachers, by strengthening its summer training programs, professional development courses, DELE certification, and AVE.

The intensive six-week summer training program was an exhaustive crash course and it was of insufficient length of time for a teacher to develop mastery of a foreign language and the pedagogical skills to effectively teach  the Spanish language. Instituto Cervantes should review the program length,  content and scope to ensure that training inputs are adequate to prepare teachers for their challenging role.

The three-week training at Spanish universities was observed to be highly effective since those who had attended this scholarship program proved to be very proficient in Spanish. Statistical results would show that the mean language proficiency score of students whose teachers participated in the immersion program in Spain was significantly higher than the proficiencyscore of students whose teachers had not joined the immersion program. To fully utilize the future scholarship slots, DepEd and MECS need to improve the selection process by limiting the number of scholars to at least two every year and to select scholars from Level B1 passers. As such, the trip to Spain will become an incentive for teachers to pass the Level B1 test.

In the absence of a degree in the Spanish language, a DELE certification is a good prerequisite for teaching Spanish. Teachers were encouraged to attain the A2 proficiency Level but some teachers took Level B1 (intermediate proficiency) prior to Level A2 (basic proficiency) but only a few were able to succeed in passing Level B1. To ensure that teachers will succeed in the DELE examination and to boost their self-esteem, the normal progression of taking the basic proficiency test first before the intermediate proficiency test must be followed. The DELE preparation training for teachers must also be reviewed/adjusted within changing contextual realities; aligned with priority training needs of teachers; affordable and available for teachers; and maximized the Aula Virtual de Espanol (AVE) as a support mechanism.

The AVE, a rich source of online instructional materials was not being maximized by the teachers due to heavy teaching load and poor quality or lack of internet connectivity. The school heads and Spanish teachers should agree on a regular schedule for AVE using the internet access in school, at home, or at internet cafés. Another option is to maximize the use of mobile devices (e.g., tablets and cell phones) with internet capability as tools for learning, sharing updates, advocacy, monitoring, technical advice and development of a learning community. In this regard, Instituto Cervantes  should fast track the completion of its mobile version of AVE to enhance access and use by teachers.

4. Develop Enhancement Trainings.  There is not enough follow-up intervention to supplement the summer training and professional development courses conducted by Instituto Cervantes. Thus, the Instituto Cervantes may develop a three-day enhancement training to be conducted every quarter so that the Spanish teachers would sustain  their language learning and delivery of language skills. Some of the professional development needs of teachers include the enhancement of (i) Spanish language pedagogy; (ii) authentic assessments to measure the reading, writing, speaking, listening, and viewing skills of students; (iv) differentiated learning strategies and, (iv) creative and effective use of ICT.  Given the unique challenge of building competence in foreign language DepEd should provide full or partial exemption from ban on training outside vacation/summer period. Otherwise, trainings could be held from Friday to Saturday, or the language experts could perhaps visit the schools to provide technical assistance and advice to the teachers.

5. Review Roll-Out Strategy for Newly Trained Spanish Teachers: Given that the summer training is not focused on the pedagogy of teaching a foreign language and the lead time to prepare was only less than a month, the teachers are ill-prepared to immediately start the program to the detriment of student learning. To avoid this, DepEd should allow an adequate germination period between the first summer training of teachers and the first year of program implementation. The roll-out should occur at the following school year to enable the newly trained teachers to take the course on the pedagogical aspect of language learning, and to undergo another summertraining. This will give the schools more time to (i) properly schedule the Spanish classes, (ii) build the confidence of new teachers, and (iii) prepare their lessons plans and other instructional materials as well as consult with and learn from more experienced teachers.

6. Policy on Class Selection: The SPFL in Spanish had a varying class selection procedure (i.e., single vs. mixed section, elective vs. regular). Hence, a clear policy on how the SPFL in Spanish class would be offered must be formulated. If it would be a required elective DepEd should determine which section should take the SPFL in Spanish. Statistical results showed that it would be more beneficial for the students if the Spanish classes come from a single section.

7. Lengthen Time Allotment for SPFL in Spanish: The length of contact time varies widely from as low as 50 minutes per week to as high as 300 minutes per week. Statistical results showed that increased contact time of up to 300 minutes is neither beneficial to the student’s language proficiency. Thus, DepEd may consider a range of standard contact time for SPFL in Spanish (e.g., 120 to 240 minutes a week) as suggested by Instituto Cervantes/Spanish Embassy and as per DepEd Order No. 46, s. 2012. Establishing a feasible contact time will help raise the language proficiency of senior high school students to level B2 (i.e., grammar and communicative functions).

8. Improve Instructional Facilities and Equipment: In most cases, the teachers use their instructional equipment to facilitate the teaching and learning of Spanish language. Instead of doing this, and allocating money for the speech laboratories, which was found to be not conducive for cooperative and interactive learning, DepEd or the Spanish government must (i) invest in a mobile trolley which contains all the ICT equipment needed to make SPFL teaching and learning more interactive and fun; (ii) develop a cost-sharing scheme with Spanish teachers in acquiring equipment; and (iii) provide funds/grant for teachers to buy the equipment. DepEd should take stock of what is lacking in each school and provide at least the necessary equipment or the exclusive use of the Spanish class. While for the future expansion
schools, DepEd should strictly follow its own criteria regarding school’s capacity to provide facilities and equipment.

9. Strengthen Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E): Only a few teachers benefitted from monitoring visits by the DepEd Central and field offices, and thus in need of strengthening. DepEd regional/division offices should be properly oriented on the SPFL and advised to visit the schools at least once in a school year to provide technical support in addressing SPFL challenges and to assess aspects that are working well and requiring immediate attention and improvement. DepEd may develop an online portal wherein the Spanish teachers can send or upload statistical data on their Spanish classes and accomplishment reports. The M&E plan/reports need to be periodical analysed by the DepEd Central and field offices and shared with schools as an opportunity for continuous program improvement. DepEd should develop
user-friendly and pedagogy-focused assessment tool taking into account the possible inability of the observing supervisors to speak the Spanish language. Having a common assessment tool would enable DepEd to make comparisons across schools which could lead to evidence-based inferences.

10. Develop a Career Plan for all trained Spanish Teachers and Pre-Service Program for the future Spanish Teachers: To further motivate the Spanish teachers, DepEd and MECS should explore how these teachers could be given credits towards a Master degree. In view of this, DepEd and the MECS should discuss with the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) and the Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) the possibility of giving graduate credits to the capacity building programs of Instituto Cervantes. Moreover, DepEd could propose to CHED the offering of teaching of foreign languages as a major subject in the Bachelor of Secondary Education in support of the K to 12 Basic Education Curriculum (BEC). As such, there would be a need to consult the Professional Regulations Committee (PRC) regarding the development of licensure examination for teachers of foreign language education. DepEd could also facilitate the enrolment of Spanish teachers in the free Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) of UP Open University on e- Teaching of World Languages, once available.

11. Conduct Root Cause Analysis of Delayed Release of Funds to Spanish  Teacher-trainees: Teachers participating in the Manila–based summer training programs have faced great challenges due to the late and/or nonrelease of their allowances and reimbursements from DepEd. This has become a perennial problem which DepEd has struggled to address. A root cause analysis can be drawn by DepEd to determine the sources of delays and formulate strategies how to address and overcome them. This is a critical area that should be immediately solved to ensure teachers are reimbursed for training-related expenses they incur and receive in full any entitlements they deserve.

12. Provide Logistical Support to Spanish Teachers during Face-to-Face Trainings in Manila: One of the difficulties encountered by teachers was booking for an affordable and decent board and lodging especially teachers from the island-provinces in Visayas and Mindanao. To facilitate the accommodation requirements, the DepEd Central Office or DepEd-NCR must be available to assist the teachers by providing them a directory of safe private or school dormitories and a location map of these facilities. If possible, DepEd should coordinate with dormitories and make reservations on behalf of the teacher-participants.