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Villafuerte backs PBBM plan to upskill students in English

CamSur Rep. LRay Villafuerte is backing the plan by President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. (PBBM) for the government to upskill our  students in the English language as a way to further sharpen the competitive edge of our professionals and other workers in the global market, where Filipinos have been sought after for decades now, partly because of their proficiency in what is considered the world’s lingua franca.


He earlier lauded Mr. Marcos’ goal of coming up with “a comprehensive, all-inclusive plan for economic transformation”—as the President himself  declared in his June 30 inaugural speech—but Villafuerte noted this week that “such a proposed blueprint to rev up the economy would be imperiled right from the start if we were to undermine our labor force’s comparative advantage in English proficiency here and abroad by making Filipino the medium of instruction in our schools.”    


Villafuerte supported President Marcos’ emphasis in his June 30 speech on reteaching the basic skills in ‘the national language, with equal emphasis and facility in a global language, which we had and lost’—according to the Chief Executive in his speech—as the Bicolano legislator opposed the proposal of a militant teachers’ group for the new Administration to drop English in favor of Filipino as the medium of instruction in our schools. 


“Blunting our sought-after labor force’s competitive edge in the world’s lingua franca by using Filipino as the medium of instruction for our students is a recipe for disaster as we would be needlessly giving up one potent skill that has allowed our professionals and other workers to step into quality jobs here and abroad: the Filipino’s relative facility for the English language,” Villafuerte said.


“Why will we unjustifiably relinquish our ‘A’ game in English, so to speak, when this language is known as the world’s lingua franca  because there are reportedly 350 million people across the globe who speak it as their first language and 500 million more who use it as their second language?” He stressed. 


Proficiency in English has opened a lot of opportunities for those looking for jobs as well as for workers to keep their current employment or get promoted, he said,  because most corporations require from their employees and would-be hires a fair amount of skill in English. 


“Hence, President Marcos is correct in looking at reteaching basic skills in our schools not only in Filipino but in English as well as part of his administration’s planned education reforms,” he said.


Villafuerte noted that “keeping our labor force highly attractive for local and international employers is one means for the Marcos administration’s economic transformation to succeed as it would go a long way in, first, continue attracting foreign investors to set up shop here, and, second, for  international  firms to keep hiring our workers and thereby boost the dollar remittances of migrant Filipinos.”


Villafuerte said the country’s competitive edge in English proficiency has been confirmed by a media report that said the Philippines’ ranking has improved in the English Proficiency Index (EPI), an online Standard English Test conducted by the Switzerland-based EF Education First Ltd. that measures the average skill level in the English language of 112 economies.


The report said the Philippines’ ranking went up to No. 18 (with a score of 592) in 2020 from the year-ago’s No. 27 (with a score of 562). The country’s score of 592 was considered of “high proficiency,” according to the report, which was enough for tasks such as making presentations at work, reading newspapers or understanding shows on television.


He said our workers’ skill in English has enabled them to work abroad or here in the country as outsourced professionals in the information technology (IT), healthcare, customer care and other industries.


Villafuerte said that in the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) sector, for instance,  the Philippines has been a top leader in this global industry because our country has been known for having, among others, a cost-efficient labor and an educated workforce with communication proficiency in English.


With English taught in schools, he said the Philippines has become one of the world’s largest English-speaking economies and over 300,000 graduates enrich our country’s professional pool each year.


He pointed out that the use of Filipino as the medium of instruction has proven to be a flop, hence using it as the sole teaching tool in our schools would just be “an exercise in futility.”


He recalled that in keeping with the constitutional mandate, the then-Department of Education, Culture and Sports (DECS)—now the Department of Education (DepEd)—pursued a bilingual policy in all school levels in which Filipino became the medium of instruction in social sciences, music, arts, physical education, home economics, practical arts and character education, while English was the language used in science, math and technology subjects.


Moreover, then-President Aquino also issued Executive Order (EO) No. 335 in 1988 enjoining all government offices to use Filipino in all official communications and transactions in both the national and local levels.


EO 335 further required the translation into Filipino names of all offices, buildings, public offices and signboards of all offices, and, if so desired, imprint the English text below them in smaller letters.


As for the tertiary level, the enactment of Republic Act (RA) No. 7722 in 1994, which created the Commission on Higher Education (CHED), stated that, in support of the bilingual policy, universities and colleges may teach literature subjects in English or Filipino or any other language as long as there are enough instructional materials for the students, and for humanities and social sciences courses to be taught preferably in Filipino.


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