Improving English Proficiency

On its initiative to further improve English instruction among public schools, DepEd’s press release reads:

Recognizing the importance of English proficiency as an important building block in learning, the Department of Education has placed it as one of its priority programs for 2008 focusing on schools with low mastery level in the 2007 National Achievement Test (NAT). [1]

Erosion of English skills [2] among Filipinos has drawn attention among the government policy makers and even stakeholders of industries that are directly affected by it like the Information Technology (IT) and Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) industries. In Congress, Rep. Eduardo R. Gullas filed House Bill 305 (Proposed Act to Strengthen and Enhance the Use of English as the Medium of Instruction in Philippine Schools) that revives English as the mandatory language for teaching in all school levels.

It seems that I do not need to see research data to affirm that English skills among students deteriorate. I can partially conclude that based on experience. In writing classes for example, it pained me to check the students’ output. Since they were college students, they were expected to write correct sentences but I contrary to my expectation level, there was still a need to go back to basics.

The worst was in speech classes. It was common to hear student saying “raid” as he read “red”. Most of the students say “mum” instead of “ma’am”. Many teachers corrected mispronunciation but many teachers also mispronounced words. What a mess!

This problem is deeply rooted in our education system. It boils down to classroom shortage, inadequate instructional materials, and undesirable class size. Teachers’ proficiency must also be assessed. No teachers are inefficient nor not proficient to teach the language but it must be stressed that teachers also need to refresh and enhance skills.

There are numerous seminars that aim to upgrade teacher’s skills but are not gaining momentum yet. One of the best way to upgrade one’s skill is graduate studies. However, CHED need to carefully evaluate schools that offer graduate studies in English as some of those schools just simply add the problem instead of helping.

I believe the government is taking good actions in improving the quality of education. DepEd is conducting the Test of English Proficiency for Teachers (TEPT) which will “specifically measure teachers’ aptitude on the structure of the English language, reading comprehension, written expression and grammar.” [3] The result of the test will guide our policy makers to execute viable programs.

It is also important that we look at our infrastructure to improve the quality of English instruction. How many public elementary and high school have audio-visual room and speech laboratories? How many of them have libraries? How many of them have teachers who are specialist in reading or literature?

Improving English proficiency cannot be done overnight nor just by a political leader. It calls participation among all sectors in the society. Everyone must do his part.
[1] DepEd English proficiency: DepEd’s flagship program in 2008 (January 15, 2008)
[2] third wave Erosion of English Skills
[3] DepEd DepEd Tests Teachers on English Proficiency (February 1, 2008)

JGG|Mandaue City
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