Decline in English proficiency in Philippines threatens economy

MANILA, May 22, 2006 (AFP) – For decades the troubled Philippines economy has been able to bank on one key asset in attracting foreign investors — proficiency in the English language. In recent years it has helped win outsourcing contracts in the booming business process and call center sectors, one of the few areas of the nation’s economy that is actually expanding.

But even that lifeline in this poor country appears a tenuous one as fears surface over a sharp decline in English compounded by falling school standards and a mass exodus of linguistically skilled professionals.

Business leaders are starting to question just how long the country can go on touting its English skills.

Some local and foreign business groups are so concerned they have started their own language centers to fill the gaps left by a deteriorating school system.

The European Chamber of Commerce warned recently that 75 percent of the country’s annual 400,000 college graduates have “sub-standard English skills”.

With an exodus of teachers, especially in English and math, to better paying jobs overseas the country’s education system is fast deteriorating.

Senator Edgardo Angara recently desc