It is no secret that we are no longer as proficient in speaking and writing in English because over the last 20 years or so, public education has downgraded English instruction. There was this theory that using Pilipino as the medium of instruction would increase comprehension among other things and deliver better educated Pinoys.
Well, that didn’t happen. The crazy thing is, most of our regional neighbors were going the other way – emphasizing English instruction to better equip their people to compete in today’s globalized world. Even China and Vietnam, whose current regimes couldn’t be faulted for lacking a sense of nationalism, are investing on teaching their people how to speak and write in English. They often hire Filipino English teachers.
In China, there is a feverish effort to make even taxi drivers able to communicate in English. I was told during my recent visit to Shanghai, ability to communicate in English is necessary for taxi drivers to renew their driver’s license. This is probably in preparation for the Olympics. It is also because China is now visited by a large number of foreigners, tourists and investors, something made obvious by the nearly hour-long wait behind long immigration lines at the airport.
The waning of our English-speaking and writing skills couldn’t have come at the worst possible time. Thousands of our graduates remain unemployed and many are unemployable here or abroad because of, among others, inadequate English language skills. Thousands of good jobs requiring ability to communicate in English are unfilled, even as our unemployment rate remains high.
Last I heard, only three out of 10 applicants for call center and other back office jobs are hired because of this problem. Henry Schumacher of the European Chamber of Commerce was telling me of a project wherein they provide English language training for some of those rejects and manage to get a good number of them hired after.
As even our DepEd now admits, our problem is also rooted in lack of teachers. A high percentage of current teachers have poor English skills. That’s because the younger teachers are products of the Pilipino curriculum we have had until recently. The older Filipino English teachers have left to work in China, Thailand, US, Vietnam.
The need to train teachers is obvious. The American Chamber of Commerce, working together with the Makati Business Club and the Philippine Normal University had a pilot group of teachers trained by DynaEd, a computer based interactive language course. Now, I am told by Bambina Buenaventura that they have gone beyond training teachers and have actually gone into the classrooms in selected public schools.
Two of the actual classroom applications of the DynaEd system are sponsored by Philip Morris Philippines in Batangas and by Pilipinas Shell Foundation at the Zamora Elementary School in Pandacan, Manila. Beneficiaries of the Philip Morris project are their scholars and college students from Lyceum of Batangas, Lipa City Colleges & Christian College of Tanauan.
The one from Pilipinas Shell Foundation benefits the Teachers‚ SPEECH (Specialized English Enhancement Course for High School and Elementary Teachers) Program. The beauty of the DynaEd system is that our public school teachers and students get trained not just in English proficiency but also in the use of computers as a multi-media teaching tool.
Incidentally, the DynaEd system also works in the workplace environment. Some corporations have actually started training programs for their employees to gain English proficiency as a tool to improve productivity. Solid Cement Philippines and PHINMA are examples of companies that used the DynaEd system for training their employees.
I imagine there are other systems that can be used to quickly upgrade the English language skills of our young people. There are those who say that preparing students for future jobs shouldn’t be the main concern of education. But then, we don’t have the luxury of educating our people for education’s sake. After going through our educational system, they have to already possess the skills needed for them to land jobs here or abroad.
Even those who seek employment as nurses, or even those who want to work as sailors, need to have better English language skills than the typical high school or college graduate now have. The time may soon come when China, Vietnam and other Asean countries would have better English language proficiency than us. We need to work overtime to regain our historical head start in this area.
The problem now seems too daunting. But if individual companies or groups adopt schools or classes the way Philip Morris and Shell did, the combined effort would yield a better result than if we just waited for government to get its act together in the public schools. Special programs for the currently unemployed would also help them improve their chances of landing a job. Language training is an area ripe for companies to take on as part of their corporate social responsibility projects.
Of course language skills are but one of the skills we need to invest on. But it is a very good place to start.
A real 8th Grade test from 1895
GOTCHA By Jarius Bondoc
The Philippine Star 10/31/2005
Remember how our grandparents said they only had up to 8th Grade education from the Americans before the War? Yet they always seemed a lot smarter than us when we were in high school or college. Know why?
This is a real 8th Grade final exam from 1895 in Salina, Kansas, picked up from files at the Smokey Valley Genealogical Society and Library. The Thomasites – American teachers whose first batch of 48 arrived in Manila in Aug. 1901 aboard the U.S. transport ship Thomas – must have used similar exams on our grandparents. Except for the U.S. history part of the test, you might remember your lolo and lola mentioning these items learned from public schools that the U.S. Army set up during the Occupation. No wonder they were qualified to teach after graduating from 8th Grade. And wonder too how today’s college grads would score on this:
Grammar (Time: 1 hour)
1. Give nine rules for the use of capital letters.
2. Name the parts of speech and define those that have no modifications.
3. Define verse, stanza and paragraph.
4. What are the principal parts of a verb? Give principal parts of "lie", "play", and "run".
5. Define case; illustrate each case.
6. What is punctuation? Give rules for principal marks of punctuation.
7-10. Write a composition of about 150 words and show therein that you understand the practical use of the rules of grammar.
Arithmetic (Time: 1.25 hours)
1. Name and define the Fundamental Rules of Arithmetic.
2. A wagon box is 2 ft. deep, 10 ft. long, and 3 ft. wide. How many bushels of wheat will it hold?
3. If a load of wheat weighs 3942 lbs., what is it worth at 50cts per bushel, deducting 1050 lbs. for tare?
4. District No. 33 has a valuation of $35,000. What is the necessary levy to carry on a school seven months at $50 per month, and have $104 for incidentals?
5. Find the cost of 6720 lbs. coal at $6.00 per ton.
6. Find the interest of $512.60 for 8 months and 18 days at 7 percent.
7. What is the cost of 40 boards 12 inches wide and 16 ft. long at $20 per meter?
8. Find bank discount on $300 for 90 days (no grace) at 10 percent.
9. What is the cost of a square farm at $15 per acre, the distance of which is 640 rods?
10. Write a Bank Check, a Promissory Note, and a Receipt.
U.S. History (Time: 45 minutes)
1. Give the epochs into which U.S. History is divided.
2. Give an account of the discovery of America by Columbus.
3. Relate the causes and results of the Revolutionary War.
4. Show the territorial growth of the United States.
5. Tell what you can of the history of Kansas.
6. Describe three of the most prominent battles of the Rebellion.
7. Who were the following: Morse, Whitney, Fulton, Bell, Lincoln, Penn, and Howe?
8. Name events connected with the following dates: 1607, 1620, 1800, 1849, 1865.
Orthography (Time: 1 hour)
1. What is meant by the following: alphabet, phonetic, orthography, etymology, syllabication?
2. What are elementary sounds? How classified?
3. What are the following, and give examples of each: trigraph, subvocals, diphthong, cognate letters, linguals.
4. Give four substitutes for caret ‘u’.
5. Give two rules for spelling words with final ‘e’. Name two exceptions under each rule.
6. Give two uses of silent letters in spelling. Illustrate each.
7. Define the following prefixes and use in connection with a word: bi, dis, mis, pre, semi, post, non, inter, mono, sup.
8. Mark diacritically and divide into syllables the following, and name the sign that indicates the sound: card, ball, mercy, sir, odd, cell, rise, blood, fare, last.
9. Use the following correctly in sentences: cite, site, sight, fane, fain, feign, vane, vain, vein, raze, raise, rays.
10. Write 10 words frequently mispronounced and indicate pronunciation by use of diacritical marks and by syllabication. * * *
Incidentally, our Department of Education presently is under a secretary who has yet to be confirmed. Our Commission on Higher has a chairman who is but an officer-in-charge. Only 6 out of every 1,000 Grade 6 elementary graduates are prepared for high school. Only 2 of every 100 4th Year high school graduates are fit to enter college. Filipino students rank 41st in Science and 42nd in Math among 45 countries. Only 19 of every 100 public school teachers have confidence and competence to teach English. * * *