x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Teachers blamed as English standards fall in Philippines

English standards in the Philippines are slipping, according to the results of a major international testing system.

Arniel Sayas, left, attends the first day of English language communication skills training for call centre jobs in Makati.
Arniel Sayas, left, attends the first day of English language communication skills training for call centre jobs in Makati.

MANILA // English standards in the Philippines are slipping, according to the results of a major international testing system that also showed Malaysians have taken the top spot in English proficiency among South-East Asian countries. The results were compiled last year by IDP Education, an Australian company offering English language testing in 29 countries for students, professionals and others wanting to emigrate to English-speaking countries.

According to the results of the International English Language Testing System (Ielts) for 2008, Filipinos who were seeking overseas jobs in such professions as nursing or engineering scored an overall mean of 6.69 for listening, writing, reading and speaking English while Malaysians scored 6.71. Although the figure is a slight improvement on the 2007 figure of 6.58, it is still a worry for a country that prides itself on its English-language ability. Ielts, one of the world's leading English-language proficiency tests, is overseen by Cambridge University.

According to Andrew King, IDP Education's country director for the Philippines, the overall average score was disappointing because many of the Filipino Ielts takers were supposed to be "educated". Mr King, who has been in the Philippines for more than 12 years, said: "The standard of English in the Philippines, a country which prides itself on its English proficiency, is declining and there are a number of factors contributing to this.

"The quality of teachers and their grasp of English is falling; English textbooks are full of errors, and the number of English television channels has dropped from four to one. "I think this is a serious problem especially in a country trying to attract call-centre business." A US businessman, Russ Sandlin, closed his call centre in Manila recently because he said he could not find enough workers with proficiency in English.

"Not even three per cent of the students who graduate college here are employable in call centres," he said. A survey by the department of education last year found that 80 per cent of secondary school teachers in the Philippines failed an English proficiency exam. Lorelei Fajardo, the deputy presidential spokesperson, while admitting there was a problem, said the government was addressing the issue. She cited results from the National Achievement Tests of 2007 and 2008, which showed a "significant improvement" in English in low-performing schools in the country.

She said 79 per cent, or 1,453 of the 1,898 identified low-performing elementary schools increased achievement levels in English from low mastery to average mastery. Ms Fajardo added that 82 per cent or 215 of the 265 low-performing high schools also registered improvement in achievement levels in English from low mastery to average mastery. "The results of the test of English proficiency for teachers in the low-performing schools in English showed that a majority of the elementary and secondary teachers are average, with 51 per cent in elementary and 67 per cent in secondary level, having proficiency in English," she said.

Ms Fajardo added that the government has earmarked 1.1 billion pesos (Dh86 million) to train 400,000 teachers to improve their maths, science and English skills. "The government is aware of the problems and is taking measures to address them," she said. Mr King said IDP researchers who had looked into the results of the Ielts given to Filipinos in 2008 attributed it to the poor quality of English instruction as well as the "resources" or textbooks.

He said: "The teaching is limited by the capacity of the teachers." He cited the case of "error-riddled textbooks" used in public schools. "What worries me is that while these errors are very real, why hasn't the department of education done anything about correcting the problem?" He said Filipinos today are exposed to "less and less English as programmes in the local language now dominate television".

Mr King said the Ielts figures for last year showed that the Philippines had fallen behind Malaysia in proficiency in listening, speaking, writing and conversing in English. "The irony here is that Malaysians who sit the Ielts are students going overseas, mainly to Australia, to further their studies. In the Philippines [they are] professionals seeking employment overseas in English-speaking countries," he said. "These are professionals with college degrees and are managers in their jobs."

One of the problems facing educators in the Philippines has been a debate on whether to use English as the medium of instruction in schools, or Tagalog, which is spoken mostly on the northern island of Luzon. A bill has been sitting in the House of Representatives for years to try and repeal a 33-year old policy of bilingual teaching in Philippine schools that encouraged the use of English and Tagalog as mediums of instruction.

Proponents of the bills say two languages is too much for Filipino students, especially in the lower grades. foreign.desk@thenational.ae