Better spend P500M on English proficiency for all schoolchildren

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Sun Jun 18 12:51:49 UTC 2006

>>From the Manila Sunday Times,
Sunday, June 18, 2006

Better spend P500M on English proficiency for all schoolchildren

For decades, the troubled Philippine economy has been able to bank on one
key asset in attracting foreign investorsthe Filipino peoples being
generally proficient in English. This has helped the country win BPO
(business processes outsourcing) contracts. But BPO contracts are now at
risk as foreign buisinessmen find out that there has been a sharp decline
in English proficiency here compounded by failing school standards and a
mass exodus of linguistically skilled professionals. Business leaders are
starting to question just how long the country can go on touting its
people's English skills. Some local and foreign business groups are so
concerned that they have started their own language centers to fill the
gaps left by a deteriorating school system.

Individuals applying for call-center jobs endure stringent screening, go
through strict training and even have to execute specialized tasks
required by the company. The call center industry seek agents who possess
all the necessary qualifications. P500 million is a large amount of money.
It isn't wise at all to pour half a billion pesos in support of call

Root of the problem

Let's look at the root of the problem. Not just the call center industry
but the entire BPO industry is forecast to suffer a shortage of
English-speaking Filipinos. English-language proficiency is a major
requirement not only in call centers, but in the entirety of the
contemporary employment environment. English is the global language of
success in the worlds of business, banking, aviation, manufacturing, the
academe, science, technology, the arts, the film, TV, radio and print
media. This issue of the Filipinos' poor English-speaking and
comprehension skills is not new. Various Philippine presidential
administrations have carried out programs after programs to rescue English
proficiency from total disappearance here.  But the decline has gone
unremittingly on. It is commonplace to hear of verified testimonies by
teachers themselves that most of the elementary school graduates who enter
high school are not qualified at all and that most of those who finish
high school and are supposed to be qualified to enter a college have the
educational level of Sixth Graders or just a little better.

The emphasis on vocational education without reemphasizing the need to
excel in English fluency and comprehension is a wrong policy. A recent
Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey found that the self-assessed
proficiency in the English language of Filipinos, especially on the
ability to speak it, has dropped over the past 12 years. This and the fact
that only 6.59 percent of senior high-school students have mastery of
English (seen in the recent tests conducted by DepEd) only show the
alarming state of English-teaching in our country today.

Start in schools

Industry leaders believe that upgrading the language skills of Filipinos
should start in school. They say the countrys education system should
improve by starting with the reinstatement of the English language as its
medium of instruction. English-language proficiency training should be
given in school as early as the primary grades, is universally heard from
lawmakers and educatorsexcept the leftists. For sure, the government is
aware of these statistics. Why then, is it implementing a call center
training program when the root of the problem is the poor English-language
skills of Filipinos? The P500 million is misallocated, a DepEd official
who refused to be named told a Manila Times senior editor.  Senators and
congressmen leading the education committees of their chambers says the

With the huge amount of money the President has released for her Tesda
Training for Work scholarships program, she should have told DepEd to
implement an English-language skills training program for teachers and
specially qualified students. Then she should have made sure the job was
then [done] properly and zealously. That should have struck at the root of
the problem. It would have benefited not only 100,000 aspiring call-center
agents but millions more Filipinos. --Sherryl Quito

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