Bernardo M. Villegas
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Rebalancing Strategy
published: Mar 31, 2017



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Language Training in Senior High

           South Korean Cultural Attache in the Philippines, Oh Choong-suk, has made a very practical suggestion to our education and industry officials that can enrich the curriculum of the K to 12 program that is being implemented by the Department of Education.  Learning useful foreign languages should fit perfectly into the last two years of high school.  Foreign languages may no longer be included in the college curricula. As reported in PDI last June 24, 2014, Mr. Oh suggested that the Korean language be taught in high school so that our Filipino youth can improve their chances of employment in Korean firms. They could also work as tour guides for the hundreds of thousands of Koreans who visit the Philippines every year.  The Korean embassy plans to partner with both the Department of Education and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) for the inclusion of Korean in training programs to enhance the employability in Korea of Filipino high school graduates.  Min Kyong-ho, minister and consul general at the Korean embassy revealed that some 6,000 Filipinos obtained jobs in South Korea last year, less than the quota of 10,000.  As South Korea continues to suffer from the so-called demographic winter, labor shortages will intensify and more Filipinos can find jobs in that highly developed country.

          We have to thank the Korean embassy for opening our eyes to the importance of foreign language training that can fit into the prolonged basic education program that now requires 12 years before Filipino students can start their university studies.  I have written before that the last two years of high school in the K to 12 curriculum can be used to equip Filipino youth with skills that can make them employable even without having to work for a college degree.  We can now think of foreign languages as part of these skills for employability.  In the past, learning foreign languages like Spanish or Mandarin were not taken seriously by many students, even if they were required in some schools, because there was no correlation between knowing a foreign language and obtaining gainful employment.  Because of global developments in the last twenty years, there are foreign languages like Korean, Spanish, and Mandarin that can enhance the employability of our young workers.

          Take tourism.  As the Korean Embassy officials announced, in 2013 there were 1.17 million Koreans who visited the Philippines, accounting for a quarter of the total tourist arrivals.  Also numerous are Japanese tourists.  In no time at all, there will be millions of Chinese tourists visiting the Philippines.   Chinese citizens now represent the largest tourist group in the world today.  As foreign tourism in the Philippines soars to 10 million or above, following the example of our Southeast Asian neighbors, there will be many opportunities for Filipino tourist guides who speak Mandarin, Korean or Japanese.  I am sure that the Chinese embassy (through the Confucius Institutes) and the Japanese embassy can follow the example set by the Korean embassy in partnering with DECS and TESDA in providing some of our high schools with necessary financial and technical assistance to include academic subjects in their respective languages.  In fact, I remember that Japan, despite wanting to open up to more nurses from the Philippines, was able to accept only a very small number precisely because of the inability of nursing graduates to speak fluent Japanese.

          Another huge industry that would be willing to partner with our high schools in the teaching of such foreign languages as Spanish, French and German is the Business Process Outsourcing sector.  There are already existing call centers in some of these European languages, especially Spanish and French.  Instituto Cervantes of the Spanish government has already been training a good number of Filipinos who have landed jobs in customer services centers serving Spanish companies.  There can be similar opportunities in the future in high-cost Latin American countries like Chile and Argentina.  Fortunately, through the efforts of former Senator Edgardo Angara Sr. during the Administration of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, some high schools have already started offering Spanish as an elective. This program is being supported by the Government and can be significantly expanded in the K to 12 curriculum.  At last, we can present some foreign languages as tools to be employed rather than as boring subjects that required rote learning but never led even to fluency in speaking, as was the case of Spanish in the curriculum of colleges during my generation in the 1950s and 1960s. With the proliferation of software programs that facilitate the learning of how to speak in foreign languages, two years in senior high will be sufficient for a minimum of fluency that can be improved with actual practice on the job.    For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia.