Keeping ahead of the rest: Teachers and students at the San Rafael School in the Philippines (Courtesy: Jens)
Mike Cabigon reports on a British-Council-organised conference at which key stakeholders in the country’s ELT community stressed their priorities
The Philippines is recognised globally as one of the largest English-speaking nations by population, with the majority of its 98 million residents having at least some degree of fluency in the language. English has always been one of the country’s official languages, and is spoken by more than fourteen million Filipinos. It is the language of commerce and law, as well as the primary medium of instruction in education.
Proficiency in the language is also one of the Philippines’ strengths, one which has helped drive the economy and even made it the top ‘voice outsourcing’ (call centre) location in the world, surpassing India in 2012. The influx of foreign learners of English is also on the rise due to the relatively affordable but also high-quality English as a second language (ESL) programmes being offered.
At a recent gathering organised by British Council Philippines, key stakeholders from the government and academia, plus the private and non-government sectors, acknowledged that the country was doing well in terms of English competency. However, concerns were raised over how much of a competitive advantage the nation still has. The stakeholders agreed that the country needs to step up its efforts to improve the teaching and learning of English, developing it as a vital skill of the workforce. This is an initiative that can potentially strengthen the Philippines’ distinct advantage in this part of the world, particularly with upcoming Asean economic integration.
Enhancing the teaching of English in the Philippines presents opportunities for the country in the area of tourism. ‘To maintain the Philippines’ strength as a major ESL destination, we need to address the gap in qualified ESL teachers and the issues around ensuring the quality of ESL schools,’ Renee Marie Reyes, the chief of the ESL Market Development Group of the Department of Tourism (DOT), said at the meeting. ‘This also includes exploring how we can extend incentives to ESL schools and teachers.’
DOT is encouraging local ESL schools to offer structured tour packages to ESL learners, the majority of whom come from South Korea, China, Russia and Japan, by incorporating English-learning activities into the travel experience.
Participants from the government sector emphasised the need for an inter-agency public body to regulate and support ESL provision in the country in order to further capitalise on its economic potential.
The academics focused on teacher training and professional development, highlighting the need for skills in differentiated instruction, materials development and knowledge sharing.
According to its dean, Rosario Alonzo, the University of the Philippines College of Education ensures this by stressing to its students that English is a skill to be used for communication. ‘Our future teachers should ensure that English is a means of communication rather than a set of facts to be learned,’ Alonzo said.
In the same way, the Department of Education focuses on the needs of learners and ensures that they learn the English language holistically, as specified under the basic education framework.
There is also a great imperative to further build on the English skills of the labour force, particularly of those in the business process outsourcing (BPO) sector.
‘The demand for BPO services from the Philippines requires more than 1.3 million employees by 2016, which means that 300,000 more new employees need to be hired by next year,’ said Zoe Diaz de Rivera, master trainer of the IT and Business Process Association of the Philippines (Ibpap).
Private-sector representatives suggested corporate social responsibility programmes to support teacher development, particularly in English language proficiency in teaching other subjects. They also recommended collaboration between the government and the private sector to address language proficiency among teachers and students in outlying communities.
These statements were made amid reports of a decline in the quality of English in the Philippines and a growing number of unfilled jobs in various industries that require English communication skills. Ibpap statistics show that today, only eight to ten people are hired for every hundred applicants in the IT–BPO sector.
Nicholas Thomas, country director of British Council Philippines, said, ‘Part of our work is to share best practice in the teaching and learning of English with partner countries all over the world.’ He added, ‘English has a distinctive place in the Philippine education system, and retaining high standards of English is critically important for the country’s economy and future development. We look forward to working with partners on more initiatives to support the teaching and learning of English here.’
Mike Cabigon is the manager of English for education systems with British Council Philippines. A similar article appeared in the Filipino national newspaper The Inquirer