English in the Teaching of Mathematics: Policies, Realities, and Opportunities

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The transition from Bilingual Education Policy (BEP) to Mother Tongue-Based Multilingual Education (MTBMLE) policy has brought about many challenges for educators in the Philippines. In this new system, the prescribed medium of instruction (MOI) in mathematics in the first three levels of primary school is the mother tongue, and it shifts to English in the upper elementary levels. This chapter presents the highlights of my study on the role of English in teaching mathematics in the fifth and sixth grades of an urban public elementary school in the Philippines. Using the concepts of Discourses and cultural models (Gee, Social linguistics and literacies: ideology in discourses, 3rd edn. The Falmer Press, London, 1996, An introduction to discourse analysis: theory and method. Routledge, London, 1999) and building on the works of Moschkovich, (Math Think Learn, 4:189–212, 2002, Bilingual mathematics learners: how views of language, bilingual learners, and mathematical communication impact instruction. In Nasir N, Cobb P (eds), Diversity, equity, and access to mathematical ideas. Teachers College Press, New York, pp 89–104, 2007) and Setati (J Res Math Educ, 36:447–466, 2005, Access to mathematics versus access to the language of power. In: Novotná J, Moraová H, Krátká M, Stehlíková N (eds), Proceedings 30th Conference of the International Group for the Psychology of Mathematics Education. PME, Prague, pp 97–104, 2006), I uncovered realities of mathematics teaching and learning in two multilingual math classrooms. The results indicate that across mathematical and nonmathematical Discourses, teachers and learners use a combination of English, the prescribed medium of instruction; Tagalog, the children’s home language; Taglish, the fusion of Tagalog and English; and other non-language resources. The main findings suggest that English serves mainly as the language of mathematics and assessment, while Tagalog and Taglish function primarily as the language of instruction, authority, and interpersonal communication. The majority of the students who participated in the study revealed that English was their least preferred language of instruction and assessment because they had difficulty understanding it. Possibilities for improving language-in-education policies are explored to empower teachers and learners in multilingual mathematics classrooms.