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English proficiency declining in Philippines: survey+
[April 19, 2006]

English proficiency declining in Philippines: survey+

(Japan Economic Newswire Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge)MANILA, April 19_(Kyodo) _ More and more Filipinos can neither converse nor understand English, the language widely seen as a ticket to a better life in the Philippines, despite a national policy requiring public schools to use English as the medium of instruction, according to a nationwide survey.

English proficiency in the Philippines has dropped significantly in more than a decade with only 32 percent of respondents saying they speak English, down from 54 percent in 2000 and 56 percent in 1993, pollster Social Weather Stations said Tuesday.

About 65 percent of the respondents said they understand spoken English, 12 percentage points lower than previous surveys, while 14 percent said they are incompetent in English, 7 points higher than the 2000 and 1993 surveys.


"A declining trend was also observed in all aspects of English proficiency," including reading, writing and thinking in English, the survey said.

About 65 percent said they read English, a drop from 76 percent in 2000 and 73 percent in 1993, while those who write in English shrunk to 48 percent from 61 percent and 59 percent in the last two surveys, respectively.

Respondents who claimed they think in English dwindled to 27 percent from 44 percent in 2000 and 42 percent in 1993.

English proficiency is perceived as one of the Philippines' key advantages in the global market as it tries to compete with India in the multi-billion-dollar business process outsourcing industry.

It claims to be the third largest English-speaking country in the world after the United States and Britain.

But growing evidence points to the country's deteriorating English proficiency, affecting its bid to handle back-office administrative work and verbal inquiries from customers mainly in the United States.

Call centers hire less than 5 percent of 100 applicants because of inadequate English skills, a recent study by the Call Center Association of the Philippines showed.

The 2000 Philippine Human Development Report of the United Nations said would-be teachers have poor English language skills and scored lowest in English of all subjects in their licensure exams.

Only 7 percent of graduating high school students had a mastery of English, scoring at least 75 percent, in nationwide tests, according to the Department of Education.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo directed in 2003 the Education Department to return English as the medium of instruction, citing demands of global competitiveness.

At stake is a fast-growing industry that pays entry-level graduates about $300 a month, an above-average starting salary in a country where per capita annual income hovers about $1,000.

The industry currently employs 336,000 people, mostly as call center agents, but is expected to generate 1.2 million jobs by 2010 and $12 billion in revenues, the Business Processing Association of the Philippines said.

Arroyo's proclamation earned the ire of some groups promoting the use of the national language Filipino.

"Learning another language is a specialized and voluntary process. It can't be forced on people who don't see any use for it in their daily lives," said Luis Teodoro, a newspaper columnist and a journalism professor at the University of the Philippines.

The Philippines, aided by a large pool of English-speaking graduates, is emerging to be one of the hottest destinations for U.S. firms moving some business functions to Asia, including customer support, accounting and human resource management.

The survey conducted on March 8 to 14 used 1,200 respondents and had a margin of error of 3 percent. It was commissioned by the "Promoting English Proficiency Project," an initiative led by the American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines and the Makati Business Club.

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