English standards in the Philippines are slipping according to the results of a major international testing system that also showed Malaysia have taken the top spot in English proficiency among the South-East Asian countries. The result were compiled last year by IPD Education, an Australian Company offering English language testing in 80 countries for students professionals and other wanting to migrate, seeking to work or pursue higher education to English speaking countries. According to Andrew King IPD Educations country director for the Philippines, the overall average score was disappointing because many Filipinos IELTS takers were supposedly “educated”, Mr. King who has been in the Philippines for more than 12 years said.
The IPD Researchers who had looked into the results of the IELTS given to Filipinos attributed to poor quality of English instruction as well as the resources or textbooks on English teaching. A check they made on how English is taught in schools, he said explained the poor scores in the IELTS. “The teaching is limited by the capacity of the teachers”, King said. According to him,”the level in English proficiency was obviously affected by the standards of resources available, especially the textbooks”. He cited the case of “error-riddled textbooks” used in Public schools and many Filipinos today are exposed to less and less English as programs in the local language now dominate television.
In addition, a story headlined,” Filipino graduates” English skills lower than the target for cab drivers in Dubai, study says, is disturbing given that the country`s budget for education has been steadily increasing over the years in line with a constitutional requirement for education to have the highest priority in the annual budget.
The Philippine education system uses English as a medium of instruction from pre-school to post graduate level. It has given the notion that learning English is easy even young children who are just beginning to speak can already use the language, sometimes they know more English than Filipino words.
In the fast growing business process outsourcing industry, the Philippines has been the preferred voice outsourcing destination because of the Filipinos acknowledged proficiency in the English language. The news report quoted Rex Wallen Tan general manager of Hopkins International Partners, Inc. citing preliminary results of a two-year study that indicate the English proficiency level of College graduates in the Philippines is lower than the proficiency target for high school students in Thailand and the competency requirements for taxi driver in Dubai. The average proficiency scoreof aFilipinocollege graduatewas 631.4, based on the metrics of theTest of English for International Communication.” Cab driver in Dubai, the largest city in United Arab Emirates are expected to have a TOEICproficiency score of 650 while business process outsourcing agents should have a score of 850 in the metric, Tan said noting the alarming state of English proficiency of Filipino College graduates. This was despite the restructuring of the Philippines` basic educational system through K to 12 program intended to produce competent graduates.
In one of the prestigious beauty competition in the country was taunted when one of its titlists got mixed-up in the middle of Q&A portion. The candidate was a 17 years old Mass Communication student from a well- known University. She was asked about the roleof her family played when she competed in the pageant. She answered: “Well my family`s rolefor me is so important because there was… Da was—they`re, they are the one who`s….very…hahaha….Oh, I`m so sorry, ahmmm…My pamily…my family…” She became an overnight celebrity especially when her interview videos were uploaded to You Tube by vexed audience. Who gets the blame for her not answering the final question confidently? Funny as they may seem, case above is reflective of the declining English proficiency among Filipinos. According to the study conducted in 2006 by the European Chamber of Commerce, 75% of the Philippines annual 400,000 College graduates have “sub-standards English skills.”
Dr. Edilberto de Jesus, former Secretary of Department of Education, Culture and Sports (DECS), observed that the ability to understand and speak English is waterloo among Filipino nurses. Undeniably, they fare well on required technical and patient-care skills but fail in language proficiency, particularly in the Test of Spoken English (TSE) where only 16% of the examinees passed.
Would-be teachers also displayed very poor English language skills, scoring lowest in English of all tested areas in their licensure examination.
Former Cebu Representative Eduardo Gullasmentioned in one of his media interview that “Filipino engineers in the Middle East risk being dislodged by Indian and Chinese engineers who do not only speak better English but analyze and write reports in English better,
Business processing and call center are booming industries these days. However, out of 100 applicants for call center positions, only less than five percent are hired because of inadequate English skills, according to the Business Processing Associations of the Philippines (BPAP). “BPAP reports that poor spoken English is one of the reasons why job applicants fail the initial interview. As a result, many entry - level positions in accounting and finance, sales, certain IT and engineering positions and customer service go unfilled”, says the BPAP report.
The deterioration of English proficiency has been linked to a lot of possible factors, including but not limited to, an overall decline in Philippine education. Ramon del Rosario Jr., former chairman of the Philippine Business for Education and Makati Business Club, said that the exodus of teachers, especially in English and Math, to jobs overseas and the lack of competence and training among teachers are the major contributing factors for the decline.
Dr. de Jesus also pointed out that over the years Tagalog has been a common language of instruction in the schools. Media, on the other hand, have their fair share of blame on how we write and speak in English, he added, because they propagate the use of hybrid language called “TAGLISH,” a combination of Tagalog and English in their programming. “They even dub English sitcoms in Tagalog” de Jesus commented.
Earning a degree and keeping up with required skills are not just what it takes to be a bankable employee, one needs to communicate effectively. Through the initiative of the American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines and the Makati Business Club, a project dubbed “Promoting English Proficiency” or PEP was launched.
“I think everyone in the Philippines is aware that English is the best language to communicate globally. So if Filipinos are seeking employment abroad they will find English, even in non –English speaking countries , the language they can use the most,” comments John D. Forbes, PEP former co-chairman for American Chamber of Commerce in the Philippines. PEP aims to improve the level of proficiency in English among teachers, students and workforce through the training and certification of Filipinos using internationally credible English test. In 2008, they trained teachers as well as students to become mentors. They also put up computerized English language centers in various schools. There are several colleges and universities benefiting from this project including Cebu Normal University, University of Mindanao, Cagayan de Oro College, De La Salle University-Lipa and Araullo Cabanatuan.
According to Marietta Q. Umbay project director of PEP “Self-awareness is the key to learning English language, to avoid “nose bleeding” when conversing in English.” She advises incoming workforce or college students “to acknowledge that you need to enhance your English-language skills and motivate yourself to learn them.” Also, try surfing the Net for free self- improvement. English test such as the linkages available at www.whomurderedenglish.com.”
Ryan Bautista, one of the successful candidates for employment in the call center, shared how he passed the English-language test without anguish. “I don’t speak English at home; I seldom do too at school. Butany skills can be perfected through constant practice.” Bautista, a Biochemistry graduate, tried reading short stories for children as self- starter and observed basic grammar constructions, applying what he learned from school. “Then my self-training progressed to watching English movies with subtitles. While I was listening to pronunciations, I was reading the words at the bottom of the TV screen,” Bautista explains.
At times, we blamed untrained teachers, nationalism, error-filled textbook, Dep. Ed. or Commission on Higher Education (CHED) on English decline, but never ourselves. We need to continue to brush up our English language skills in order to reclaim the Philippines` pride of being a provider of world- class labor force.