By Carlos H. Conde – MANILA: “We grow our hogs in our own farms so you’re sure to get meat that is grown.”
“The city’s voice is soft like solitudes.”
“He found his friend clowning himself around.”
“He seemed to be waiting for someone, not a blood relation, much less a bad blood.”
Such phrases, lifted from government-approved textbooks used in Filipino public schools, are reinforcing fears that crucial language skills are degenerating in a country that has long prided itself on having some of the world’s best English speakers. At a time when English is widely considered an advantage in global competitiveness for any country, many fear this former U.S. colony is slipping.
English is an official language here, along with the native Tagalog. Yet the U.S. State Department, in its “2007 Investment Climate Statement,” released this month, concluded: “English-language proficiency, while still better than in other Southeast Asian nations, is declining in the Philippines.”
For years now, Antonio Calipjo Go, an academic and a supervisor of the Marian School of Quezon City, a private school here, has waged a campaign against bad textbook English.
“I pity our children who are being fed these errors,” Go said in an interview. “This is one of the reasons why the level of education in our country is worsening.”
Go says he has notified the Philippine Department of Education of dozens of English-language errors in all seven approved social studies textbooks. In January, he testified at a Senate hearing on the subject. And he has written to the World Bank, which has granted an 800 million peso, or $17.5 million, loan to the Philippines government for textbooks.
But when the new school year opened in June, the books were unchanged.
So Go took out advertisements in newspapers detailing the errors. In July, he paid for a full page in the country’s largest-circulation newspaper, the Philippine Daily Inquirer, enumerating errors in two textbooks.
He titled the ad “Learnings for make benefit glorious nation of Philippines,” after the movie “Borat,” whose title character has a less-than-perfect grasp of English.
“I do not wish to pick a fight with anybody,” Go declared in his ad. “I only know that if I kept this to myself, the errors that have been in these books all these years will continue to harm the hearts and minds of more generations of Filipino schoolchildren. The errors must be corrected. Now.”
Go estimates that more than 75 percent of all elementary textbooks in public schools contain errors.
“And I am being kind with that estimate,” he said. Aside from the linguistic errors, he finds other aspects problematic, pointing out a textbook that extols the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
Go has been sued for libel by two textbook authors and a publisher, though the lawsuit of the publisher, Phoenix Publishing, has been dismissed. He is undeterred. “I refuse to accept that we cannot do something to solve problems like this,” he said in the interview. “I cannot accept that.”
Go is far from the only person worried about textbook errors and the deterioration of English skills in the Philippines.
Business chambers, foreign and domestic, have voiced concern that the decreasing quality of English could hurt the country’s competitiveness. Three years ago, the European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines launched a campaign called “English is cool!” to address this deterioration.
Last year, the Joint Foreign Chambers of Commerce of the Philippines, in a workshop on how to increase foreign investment in the country, identified “improved English proficiency” as a key area that needed improvement.
The U.S. State Department, in its recent report, said the “the comparative advantages the Philippines once enjoyed vis-à-vis its neighbors in attracting foreign investment need to be restored in order to attract more investment and support higher growth.”
One reason English proficiency, or its lack, has received so much attention here is because of the call-center boom and the fact that Filipino workers with a good command of the language stand a better chance of being recruited for jobs abroad.
For years, foreign governments, particularly the United States, and donor agencies like the World Bank have been providing assistance to the Philippine educational system, and some of the programs have involved the production of textbooks. This month, Australia announced that it was giving a $10 million loan to Manila to improve basic education.
Educators do not deny a problem with the quality of English in textbooks and instruction, but point out that there are other, perhaps more pressing, problems in the schools.
Among these are poor skills in science and math; the lack of teachers, many of whom are being recruited abroad for higher pay; a lack of equipment; and overcrowded classrooms, with some holding nearly 100 students.
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