PHL graduates’ English edge seen narrowing

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A student speaks at a school gathering in Bangkok, Thailand on September 20, 2016. -- REUTERS

THE PHILIPPINES’ perceived advantage in English may be narrowing after a study found that Filipino university graduates as a group score below the target grade for high school graduates in some Southeast Asian countries.

“While the general consensus is that the Philippines is superior to its neighboring countries in terms of English proficiency, the results presented in the convention show that the advantage is greatly at risk with the improvement of English literacy in other countries such as Singapore and Thailand,” according to a statement issued by the Government-Academe-Industry Network (GAIN), Inc.

The findings, which were presented yesterday, pointed out that Filipino university graduates averaged a Common European Framework of Reference of Language (CEFR) grade of B1, lower than the CEFR B2 proficiency target set for high school graduates in Thailand and Vietnam.

CEFR is a standard used to measure language proficiency. A grade of CEFR A1 is the lowest while CEFR C1 is the highest.

The CEFR B1 average for Filipino university graduates is comparable to the proficiency of 5th and 6th grade students in native English speaking countries such as the US and the United Kingdom.

Research conducted by Southville Foreign University President Melva Diamante and Hopkins International Partners, Inc. General Manager Rex Wallen Tan showed that the average English proficiency score of a Philippine college graduate is 630 based on the Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC).

“This is alarming considering that taxi drivers in Dubai, United Arab Emirates are expected to have a TOEIC 650 score and business outsourcing agents are expected to have a TOEIC 850 score,” according to the GAIN statement.

GAIN Founder and President Monette Iturralde-Hamlin said: “[W]e have a problem.”

“We are globally competitive because we are good in English. But the results and the studies show that may no longer be true,” she said.

GAIN is a nonprofit organization that aims to identify and address the country’s workforce issues and competitiveness in the global market while Hopkins International is the sole authorized Philippine representative of the TOEIC.

Mr. Tan said that the CFER B1 score is likely the “best case scenario” as the study’s sample of 10,000 students came from the country’s richest and most literate regions.

He added that only between 3.2% to 10% of the graduates would get good jobs abroad based on the CEFR requirements.

The speakers likewise pointed the integration of the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Economic Community as a concern moving forward.

“We are now competing with Thailand. Yet we were seen as the [leading] English-speaking [country in the] region,” said GAIN Chairman Peter Laurel.

ASEAN integration has increased competition as neighboring countries like Thailand and Malaysia are exerting more effort into achieving higher English proficiency. — Dane Angelo M. Enerio