Thursday, January 26, 2006

EDITORIAL – Reversing the decline

The Philippine Star 01/26/2006

Foreign investors have been complaining about it, and yesterday local businessmen agreed with the observation that Filipinos are losing their proficiency in English. This week the Department of Labor and Employment suggested that English be restored as the medium of instruction in the country’s schools, pointing out that Filipinos are losing job opportunities because of deteriorating English proficiency.

Several years ago, in an effort to develop a national language, public schools stopped using English as a medium of instruction. The result has been disastrous, both for English proficiency and the promotion of a national language. In many non-Tagalog-speaking regions, local dialects are being used as the medium of instruction rather than Filipino, the national language that is largely based on Tagalog. Compounding the problem is the widespread use of Taglish in broadcasting and entertainment.

The result is a population with no proficiency in either English or Filipino. And the result is a slide in the nation’s global competitiveness. The development cannot come at a worse time, when English has become the lingua franca of international business and the Information Age.

The consequences can be embarrassing, as when bad English helped lead cyber sleuths to Filipino hacker Onel de Guzman, who unleashed the "I love you" virus that affected computers around the world including those in US security agencies. The consequences also include the loss of job opportunities. Labor officials point out that the country can corner a bigger chunk of the call center market if Filipinos have a better grasp of English. Foreign investors are also increasingly bringing their money to other countries whose workers are rapidly improving their English proficiency.

Even if English is restored as a medium of instruction alongside Filipino, a major problem is the lack of teachers qualified to teach English. Over the years many of the country’s teachers have left for jobs overseas, a number of them teaching English even in the United States. The country will have to develop a new pool of English teachers.

Reversing the decline in English proficiency is going to take time and a lot of effort, but the country has no choice. If we fail to act soon, we may never catch up with the rest of the world. This has nothing to do with colonial mentality or lack of nationalism. This is all about national survival in a highly competitive global environment.

No comments: