Wednesday, July 19, 2006

EDITORIAL — Back to English

The Philippine Star

It’s high time that the government fully restored English as a medium of instruction in public schools. Other countries realized many years ago the advantage that English proficiency gives to their citizens and embarked on aggressive programs to develop their English skills. The reverse happened in the Philippines, with English scrapped two decades ago as a medium of instruction and replaced with a national language that is not conversational Filipino.

The result was deterioration in proficiency in both English and Filipino as well as a slide in competence in mathematics and science. The problem has also set back Filipinos’ competence in information technology.

Now the Department of Education, which has a new head, has vowed to restore English as a medium of instruction. There’s one big problem here: the acute lack of qualified English teachers. Even private schools suffer from the shortage of competent English teachers. The best have left for countries including the United States, where teachers can get up to 10 times more than what they can hope to receive even in exclusive private schools in the Philippines. The chronic lack of funds for education is preventing the government from hiring more English teachers. Even many private schools cannot compete with teachers’ salaries overseas.

Foreign chambers of commerce, worried about the deterioration in Filipino workers’ English proficiency, have been pitching in, sending native English speakers to train a core group of Filipino educators who in turn can impart what they have learned to teachers across the country. Progress, however, has been slow; it will take years before the slide in English proficiency can be reversed.

Even as the government gives more emphasis on the teaching of English, it should not neglect efforts to promote the development of a national language. The effort needs some tweaking to encourage the use of conversational Filipino in formal teaching. A language that is not used in the streets is a dead language. Both English and Filipino are necessary for national competitiveness. It is not too late to develop genuine bilingualism.

No comments: