Public-Private Partnership raises the bar on English proficiency

Launching ceremony of the 1st public high school speech laboratory at Tondo High School on September 9, 2008

“I never knew we were pronouncing some of the words wrong ourselves until we learned about it in our speech lab,” said Lourdes Mamaril, an English teacher at Tondo High School. Lourdes is one of the teachers of the school who had undergone an English proficiency-training program to boost performance of the students and equip them with skills for them to be globally competitive.

This training program was made possible by the Promoting English Proficiency (PEP) program brought to the school by Philip Morris, and with the support of the Vice Mayor Isko Moreno. The Promoting English Proficiency (PEP) program was founded by the American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines and the Makati Business Club in 2003, aiming to improve the Filipino youth’s skills in English through Computerized English Language Centers (CELCs).

The public-private partnership enabled the schools to train around 40 teachers to boost their capacity in speaking and teaching English in the school. Tondo High School, incidentally, has a ratio of 1 teacher for every 55 to 59 students, thus making it hard for teachers to teach effectively. Moreover, the challenge is to improve comprehension as some students can read English words but fail to comprehend what they have read. “The coming of this lab is very timely. We are the first school in Manila to be fully equipped with computer-aided English instruction,” said Marcinette Vitorio, Tondo High School’s English Department Head. “I believe this will definitely create an impact for the students and help them acquire a useful skill. This is a realization of a dream.” Today, the school is equipped with a 10-computer speech lab available for students’ and teachers’ use, providing training and refresher courses in English.

Manila Vice Mayor Isko Moreno, also an alumnus of Tondo High School, expressed his support and goal of putting more CELCs among Manila schools. “Coming from my humble background, I know how important it is to have good English skills,” he said. His counterpart funding enabled the school to renovate the classroom that was converted into a speech lab. “We are fortunate and happy to have strong partners in the private sector – Philip Morris and the American Chamber of Commerce - in helping the youth develop holistically, equipped with tools that can boost their global competency and employability.” He has also committed to help the schools sustain the project so that it can reach more students and teachers in the years to come.

“We were able to re-learn so many things; we thought we already know because we are teachers and were hesitant at first. But when we realized how useful and fun the computerized English training is, we didn’t want to stop,” added English teacher Lourdes Mamaril. “Students will surely benefit from this kind of training. It builds confidence. It is very important that they develop their communication skills for their personal and professional development.”

AmCham Helps Tondo High School Teachers Improve Their English Skills

Launching ceremony of the 1st public high school speech laboratory at Tondo High School on September 9, 2008 Launching ceremony of the 1st public high school speech laboratory at Tondo High School on September 9, 2008 together with (from left to right) Ms. Wenifreda Lagman, Principal; Manila Vice Mayor ISKO MORENO and Tondo High School alumnus; Ms. Teresa Asuncion, Academic Coordinator for PEP; Mr. Jemson Baclaan, mentor and teacher; Ms. Marcinette Vitorio, English coordinator; Bryan Perez, student; and Mr. Chris Nelson, Managing Director, Philip Morris Philippines Manufacturing, Inc.

For Jemson Baclaan, an English teacher at Tondo High School, a typical school day can be a test of his mettle. Every day, Baclaan teaches more than 200 freshmen students aged 11 to 16 the rudiments of the English language. In doing so, he faces difficult odds.

Most of Baclaan's students have had stop-and-go schooling and are poor learners. "They can read English words," he said, "but they cannot comprehend what they've read."

Baclaan faces another stumbling block in the shortage of teachers at Tondo High School. There are too few teachers for too many students. Baclaan said that for every teacher, there are 55 to 59 students. As a result, the teachers are overworked and unable to teach effectively.

Now, thanks to Philip Morris, help is on the way for Baclaan and his fellow teachers. The company, though Promoting English Proficiency (PEP), sponsored an English training program for teachers at Tondo High School.

PEP is an initiative of the American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines and the Makati Business Club. It aims to develop a world-class Filipino workforce with English proficiency that meets high international standards.

Manila Vice-Mayor Isko Moreno is an alumnus of the school. He sourced the funds for the renovation of the classroom that was converted into a computer-aided speech lab.

Baclaan was the first teacher at Tondo High School to receive English training. He attended a five-day PEP training at Far Eastern University in April 2008 and found it "very useful." He said, "I learned new concepts and new teaching techniques, such as the 'brain teasers', which I can apply in my own classes."

After his PEP training, Baclaan, in turn, helps his fellow teachers enhance their English proficiency. The training he received, and his familiarity with computers, made him a natural choice to be the coordinator of the 10-computer speech lab at Tondo High School.

The school became a PEP project site in school year 2008-2009. Since the speech lab opened its doors, it has already provided refresher courses in English pronunciation, idioms, and writing to 30 teachers of English and other subjects at the school.

Baclaan and two fellow English teachers have their hands full on the training days, which take place on Saturdays, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. "We are bombarded with many questions," he said. "All the teachers are excited to learn. They eagerly redo the lessons and review the rules and definitions to increase their scores."

Winifreda Lagman, Tondo High School principal, is pleased with these developments. She is grateful for the assistance provided by Philip Morris. "I am positive that the English training provided by Philip Morris and PEP will help the teachers upgrade their English language skills," she said. "The training will, in turn, benefit the students and eventually help us meet our goal of higher student achievement at Tondo High School."

PEP Planning Session

February 15-16, 2008 PEP Baguio Planning Session. Left to Right Mr. John D. Forbes; PEP-Co-Chair, Ms.Bambi del Mundo; Business Development Manager-TDS; Catherine Y. Caspe ; PEP Project Manager; Ms. Bambina Buenaventura; President ILS; Ms. Corina Unson; President Hopkins International Partners; Mayet Umbay; PEP Project Director.

Education is English

We have a maid working for us in the province. Her five-year-old daughter is running around the house, being sweet and helpful. She's not at school. Not for the usual reason: No money. We can fund that. No, she's off because her teacher is pregnant, and can't work. I'm certainly sympathetic to that, but surely a child's education can't be held hostage to one teacher's well-being.

So the general shortage of teachers is worsened by the specific need for more as substitute teachers.

When my wife went to school, there was a teacher for each subject (I grew up with that, too). Now kids are lucky if they have just one teacher for everything. It needs something of genius to be erudite and knowledgeable on the arts and sciences, on English and maths. So the shortage is even much worse than the 21,000 the government claims is the shortfall.

Speaking of English, there's a bill in Congress to revive it as the language of education. I fully support it. I admit I was briefly swayed by the two-language concept. But no more. First, it's three languages in most places, Tagalog or, more appropriately Filipino and a local dialect, plus English. Second, in today's modern, highly technical world it's only English that has all the words. Many don't even exist in the various Philippine dialects. No one's yet given me a Tagalog word for "maintenance," so maybe that's why the concept of maintaining things is so poor here. Yet maintenance is such a basic and essential function. I bet they wished they'd maintained Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal-3 over the past six years. It would have cost far less than the $6 to $8 million they are spending now to refurbish the facilities.

Third, the Philippines is part of an ever-shrinking world. A world whose language for common use is English. Some 145,000 Filipinos wouldn't have jobs today (in call centers and BPO) if they couldn't speak English. Some 8.5 million Filipinos would be added to the 4.1 million (old, and correct definition) unemployed if they didn't speak English. They'd be stuck here with no job instead of overseas earning not only enough money to live decently but also enough to allow their family members back here to live decently, too. And not add to the 47.2 million Filipinos who rate themselves as poor.

The arguments against this are: One, we lose our national identity. I've covered this before, and disagree. Americans, Australians, New Zealanders, etc., etc. are staunchly nationalistic. Their original languages have all but disappeared. The countries have lost nothing from it. The importance of a nation's original language can still be maintained in the same way as its national treasures are maintained as an important part of a nation's history, to be remembered but no longer of daily use.

The other objection is that you learn better in the language of home. This is true, it's been shown to be so. When my wife was at school the language of home was English. One generation (about 20 years) from now the language of home will be English if the children of today grow up with it. So this lot will have a tougher time of it for the sake of their children's better future.

I fully support cultural heritage and retention of the best of a country. But I can't stand to see starving children and adults mired in poverty. I'll make the trade. Will you? We live in a different world today. It's a tough, highly competitive, fiercely interactive world where we are forced to focus on bringing people up to be competent at a job if they and the country are to survive.

This doesn't mean ignoring a country's heritage, but it does mean a greater focus on job-oriented education. And that, more and more, needs to be in English.

And it doesn't just have to be in school where it's learnt. Media could play a major role. The 10 major broadsheets circulated nationwide are indeed in English. But only 1.3 million people buy them. More than three times as many, 4.5 million, buy 20 national tabloids. Only two are in English. The rest are written in either Tagalog or Taglish. The top three tabloids with a total daily circulation of 1.5 million are all in Tagalog.

There are also over 500 local newspapers in the provinces. Most of these are published weekly and in very limited circulation (average of 1,000 daily). For provinces/regions that provided data, the language mostly used is a mix of English, Tagalog and/or the province's local dialect. Very few are written entirely in English.

One of the surprises was that there is an English learning show. It's on government's TV station-PTV-4! There are English programs, but most of the shows are in Tagalog. Worse, it used to be (not more than 20 years ago) that most of the primetime news programs were in English. Now, the topics and language used are the same as those in tabloids. Children's shows (cartoons, "Sesame Street", etc.) during weekends were mostly in English. Now they're being dubbed in Taglish.

That's a real crime. Here's where TV could really make a positive contribution. Leave "Sesame Street" (etc.) in English, put local language translation as sub-titles. With no effort, and a lot of fun, kids would quickly pick up English (well, what "Sesame Street" passes off as English).

So, here's a first specific for the TV stations: Leave your English shows in English, put sub-titles, don't dub. Do the Philippines a truly worthwhile service at little commercial cost. Put it as part of your corporate social responsibility. And corporations could help by doing their ads and commercials in English, again to teach English without really trying. It could be a fun challenge for those in the ad industry, how to teach English as they convince you to buy the latest widget or silky hair shampoo.

Wallace P. (2007) Education is English.
Manila Standard Today. [Electronic Version]

Training Mindanao Teachers to Speak Better English

Teachers from the University of Mindanao (UM) in Davao and Notre Dame University (NDU) in Cotabato are being equipped to help their students and fellow teachers learn international business English.

Twenty-three teachers recently underwent intensive training sessions on teaching and learning English through the use of the internationally-acclaimed instructional software "DynEd English Language Multimedia Solutions", from DynEd International, a global company that develops technology-assisted English language training programs.

The training sessions are part of a pilot project sponsored by the Promoting English Proficiency (PEP) Project, an initiative of the American Chamber of Commerce and the Makati Business Club, with USAID's Growth with Equity in Mindanao (GEM) Program. The project established DynEd-equipped Computerized English Language Centers (CELCs) in each of the two Mindanao universities.

"USAID is closely tracking the PEP efforts with Notre Dame College in Cotabato City and with the University of Mindanao in Davao, because we are hopeful that PEP may provide a replicable model for significantly increasing employment-qualifying English language proficiency among graduating college students in Mindanao," commented Robert F. Barnes, USAID Economic Growth Advisor. "We are very much aware of the critical importance of English language proficiency as a pathway to expanded economic opportunity for people in the Philippines, and around the world"

Over the project's ten-month duration, the 23 DynEd-trained teachers will train 100 other English teachers and instructors of other subjects taught in English, and close to 2,000 college students from several disciplines. After the training, their English skills will be measured through the Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC), an internationally-recognized test used to assess the English proficiency skills of employees.

"PEP warmly welcomes USAID-GEM and the University of Mindanao and Notre Dame College as our newest partner CELCs. We look forward to the teacher and students trained at these facilities acquiring better English language skills. Of course, much more needs to be done to reverse the decline of English in the Philippines, but students at these two schools now have an excellent tool to improve their career prospects" said John D. Forbes, PEP co-chair for the American Chamber of Commerce in Makati.

"Workers with good English skills are highly needed in today's globalized economy," added Lourdes Buenaventura, PEP co-founder and president of Interactive Language Solutions, the PEP training partner that conducted the training sessions in Mindanao. "This project will help boost the competitiveness of Mindanao in attracting investments."

The teachers admit that declining English proficiency is a serious problem in the Southern Philippine island. "Many of our students who come from the different public schools in Mindanao cannot express themselves in straight, correct, simple English. Although they are college students, their background on the English language is so inadequate," said Helen Ang, a teacher trainee from UM.

Even the English proficiency skills of teachers are admittedly problematic. "Even though teachers are mandated to use English in the classroom, they make the students' incompetence in the use of the English language as an excuse to 'not speak' English themselves," said Lyra D. Dumaguing, another teacher trainee from UM.

Fortunately, they all recognize the importance of English proficiency. "English is very much needed in order to meet the demand for highly-equipped graduates globally," commented UM's Edwin L. Nebria.

"Being proficient in the English language is one of the keys to become globally competitive. A student who is competent with the use of the English language has an edge over others in terms of job opportunities," added UM's Jocelyn B. Balili.

According to the trainees, the DynEd software is an excellent way to learn good English. Erlinda Allesa, a professor at NDU, said that the software is easy to use even for someone not familiar with computers like her. "I am excited to teach this to my students."

DynEd employs a blended approach of classroom teaching and computer-aided instruction. Visual clues are used to help the user grasp concepts and associate images with corresponding English words. In this way, students enjoy a more personalized learning experience.

"The software is user-friendly and will surely amaze students, teachers, parents, administrators, and people from all walks of life. With DynEd, learning English is fun!" said Jocelyn Balansag-Bacasmot, a UM teacher trainee.

An NEPP Teacher's Journey

The National English Proficiency Program (NEPP) is a program of the Government established to improve the English language proficiency of teachers in English, Mathematics and Science in the Department of Education

It has been a roller coaster ride for us mentors in Region I, since we left RELC (Regional Educational Learning Center) a few a months ago. We have been through all sorts of challenges, setbacks, happy moments and the like.

After Phase II of NEPP, seven of us were sent to Teachers Camp, Baguio City for the PHASE III. This was where we met the other mentors in the country. We got to learn more about NEPP and gained a lot of friends as well. Friends whom we still get in touch with up to this day. When our training in Baguio ended, we were faced with the reality of being in the real world, of how are we going to go through our mission as mentors and trainers for NEPP. One thing was sure though, we were all ready to make a difference for our pupils. We were all ready to be like a butterfly and be instruments of change.

But it was not an easy road for most of us. There were a lot of roadblocks along the way. The reactions of our colleagues were not really what we have expected. They were not really as supportive. But we knew very well that we should not feel bad or be discouraged. And so instead of feeling bad, we just went on and continued doing/preparing for our NEPP activities.

We began by mentoring ourselves. Most of our time was spent restructuring our classrooms, updating our materials and basically mentoring one another. We would usually meet up or update each other through text messages, emails, and even through Friendster. Then, one by one we started to do our orientations about NEPP. Some of us were even invited as resource speakers or demo teachers in our respective divisions or in neighboring towns. It was really a learning experience for all of us especially since we are just relatively young in this profession.

Some of us then started their formal classroom visits as well. It was through these activities, where a little resistance was experienced by some of us, especially since most of us are young and merely Teacher I in position as they say. Some teachers found it ridiculous for a young teacher like us to observe/visit classes. "Be a principal first", "Be a MT Teacher...." etc. are some of their reactions. But prayers and patience helped us a lot to get through all those. We were able to visit classes and both the mentees and mentors learned a lot from each other.

Friendships were also gained through these experiences.

Being a mentor not only opened doors for professional improvement for all of us, but more importantly, it served as an instrument for our transformation not just as a teacher but as a person as well. And we are all grateful to NEPP for all these.

BATANGAS: English Training for More Competitive Graduates

Following the establishment of Computerized English Language Centers (CELCs) in three Batangas colleges in 2005, made possible by the support of Philip Morris Manufacturing Philippines through the PEP project, Batangas graduates are now becoming more competitive members of the workforce.

"Now I can express myself more freely than other people because I am more comfortable speaking the language," says Christine N. Garcia, a 2006 Computer Science graduate from the Lyceum of Batangas now working as a Data Analyst with Accenture. "My co-workers sometimes even ask me to translate things they are not able to say to our American trainers."

The CELCs, which use the DynEd Interactive Language software, were set up in the Lyceum of Batangas, Lipa City Colleges, and the Christian Colleges of Tanauan.

Says Niña Cuevas, a 2006 Computer Science graduate also from the Lyceum of Batangas, "The community service project of Philip Morris for English training sharpened our knowledge of English grammar and familiarized us with American accents-a big help for those who want to pursue a job in the call center industry."

Cuevas is one of 20 Lyceum of Batangas students who underwent the program who are now working in the call center and business process outsourcing industry

In the second semester of school year 2005-2006, 116 students from Lyceum of Batangas took placement tests, which act as assessment tools to gauge the students' initial English proficiency levels in order to recommend the modules they should take, while practice on the DynEd courseware was undertaken by 191 students. Meanwhile, Lipa City Colleges and Christian Colleges of Tanauan have each put 80% of their college students through placement tests. At least 1,500 students are expected to be trained under these three CELCs when the project is completed in November 2007.

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