Friday, June 23, 2006

GMA out to reverse skid in English skills

By Rene Q. Bas, Sunday Times Editor

President Arroyo has set aside P600 million to upgrade the skills of teachers in English and help reverse the deterioration in the proficiency of Filipino students in the language.

Sources in the Cabinet told The Manila Times Sunday that through a package if Mrs. Arroyo wants to increase the Filipinos’ competitiveness in business-processes outsour­cing (BPO).

A special report in the Sunday Times noted that education and BPO experts considered the P500 million the President ordered released for her “Training for Work Scholarships” program was “a misal­location of funds.”

The source said Mrs. Arroyo believes the report would have found fairer if it had focused not only on the scholarship program but also dwelt on her “many other educational initiatives.”

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye also on Sunday defended the program.

He said among the steps the President has taken to reverse the trend of poor English proficiency that stops the Philippines from becoming the global leader in BPO are:

• The allocation of approximately P600 million for the Department of Education program to upgrade the skills of English, Science and Math teachers.

• Her reiteration that English should be the medium of instruction in Philippine schools.

• Her push for Congress, as early as 2004, to pass a law making English the medium of instruction. Proadministration Rep. Eduardo Gullas of Cebu has filed a bill to that effect.

In addition, MalacaƱang and education officials are keeping close tab of the department’s budget of P1 billion for textbooks to ensure that books in English especially are properly distributed and taught.

Of the Department of Labor and Employment’s total P4.5 billion budget, P2.5 billion is allocated for Technical Education and Skills Development Authority which runs the scholarship program.

The Palace defended the allocation of P500 million for what the President has called “call-center finishing schools” as a well thought of decision.

“Education has always been on the highest rung of priorities of the President since day one and various programs have already been initiated to arrest the overall slide in English proficiency,” Bunye said.

“Our competitiveness in the business-outsourcing industry is a strategic imperative. This is important for investments and jobs as well as for the social mobility of Filipinos upward to a better future,” he added.

He said that using P500 million to give English-proficiency “finishing lessons” for 100,000 call-center “near hires” means spending only P5,000 a person. This near-hire person’s improved English-language skill and other skills learned from the Tesda “Training for Work” program will surely get him or her employed by a call-center or by another BPO company. This, he said, is a small investment on a project that makes a person a highly paid employee for years and years.

Speaking at the 27th National Conference of Employers under the auspices of the Employers Confederation of the Philippines (ECOP), the President said: “I have asked Tesda to allocate P500 million for scholarships in call centers because that is where the largest single job opportunities are.”

Bunye added that notwithstanding the focus on call-center job training, “This administration is not leaving the overall education training behind. The programs to build more classrooms, hire more competent teachers, upgrade the teaching skills of English, Science and Math teachers, provide quality books and put more computers in the hands of students at all levels—all these are being implemented at an accelerated pace,” he said.

At the end of May 2006, the Department of Education’s teacher-upgrading program has already benefited 8,880 third grader and high-school freshmen teachers in Southern Mindanao (3.110 teachers), Central Minda­nao (2,893 teachers) and Autonomous Region in Muslim Min­danao (2,877 teachers).

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