PH lacks English standard ahead of BPO shift to artificial intelligence

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 08 2018 04:36 PM | Updated as of Feb 09 2018 11:54 AM

MANILA - The English proficiency of Filipino college seniors is at par with targets for high school students in Vietnam and Thailand, an "alarming" finding which comes as the Philippines outsourcing industry shifts to artificial intelligence, an analyst said Thursday.

A sample of 10,000 Filipino graduating college students took the Test of English for International Communication or TOEIC and got an average score of B1.

This is equivalent to the standard for high school students in Vietnam and Thailand. It was also the fourth highest possible score. The TOEIC is not required in the Philippines, unlike in its two Southeast Asian neighbors.

The result was "alarming" said Rex Wallen Tan, General Manager of Hopkins International Partners, which administered the tests.

"For any machine learning employee to be up to date, you cannot not know English because all the manuals, research papers, data sets are in English. You can't run Google translate on a research paper," he said.

English proficiency has lured foreign companies to set up back offices in the Philippines and the country competes with India as the world's outsourcing capital.

Commission on Higher Education officer-in-charge Prospero De Vera said the government was looking into revising the curriculum for college students to improve the "quality" of Filipino degree holders.

"We have to take industry-academe-government partnership more seriously because we have to make sure that the graduates of our educational system have the skills and competencies needed not just in the workplace now, but in the workplace of the future," De Vera told ABS-CBN News.

The government is also working to make the salaries of public school teachers more competitive to make them stay in the Philippines and lure those working overseas back home.

The outsourcing industry is upgrading the skill of its workers to better suit companies' shift to artificial intelligence. Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia said the impact of automation would be felt in 3 to 5 years.

Hopkins International, the sole institution authorized to conduct the TOEIC in the Philippines, is also urging the government to adopt a national standard for English language competency by 2020.

Under the proposal, students must have to pass the TOEIC before they can graduate from elementary or high school. The English proficiency test will also be a requirement for employment.

College graduates and teachers must achieve the B2 level while English teachers must achieve the C1 level or one step below the highest possible score, Hopkins International Partners president Monette Hamlin said.

"We have to start with the teachers because if the students teach well, then the students will learn well," she said.