Gov’t unveils English training software for potential BPO workers

To further expand the capability of the Philippines in the outsourcing arena, the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) recently launched an English language training software for Filipinos considering a career in the BPO industry.

PCIEERD chief Rowena Guevarra (lef) and UP Diliman's Susan Festin (middle, in red) with a colleague during the launch of the Leap software

Dubbed as “Leap” or Learning English Application for Pinoys, the software is part of the Interdisciplinary Signal Processing for Pinoys (Isip Program) of the DOST.

The software was originally proposed to the DOST by Dr. Rowena Cristina Guevara, who was then with the Digital Signal Processing Laboratory of the University of the Philippines. Guevarra, however, turned over the project to Dr. Susan Festin after she was named executive director of the Philippine Council for Industry, Energy and Emerging Technology Research and Development (PCIEERD).

PCIERRD is the same DOST agency which officially unveiled the software at the recently concluded National Science and Technology Week at the SMX Convention Center in Pasay City.

According to a project brief prepared by Festin, who is from the Department of Computer Science of UP Diliman, the Leap software is intended to help Filipinos improve their basic English proficiency via the use of a standalone, computer-based training program.

“This e-learning solution provides training in both speech and language to help improve written and spoken English. The target users are Filipino high school and early collegiate students,” Festin said.

She said the software is meant to augment and complement face-to-face, classroom learning. The software contains an English language that is accent-neutral and free from culture-based idiomatic expressions, she explained.

Festin stated that although the Philippines is currently considered as one of the leading BPO destinations, the hiring rate in 2005 of 4-6 percent needs to be improved if the country wants to sustain and expand its global competitiveness.

“One primary deficiency cited as a cause of the low hiring rate is the poor English proficiency of our graduates,” she pointed, noting that the BPO sector can still grow up to a $20-billion industry and can reach up to $25 billion.

But, Festin said the forecast in the roadmap can only be achievable if the employee demand in the industry is achieved. Statistics have shown, however, that majority of the current college students and college graduates in the Philippines do not possess the necessary competencies necessary in the industry, she said.

“If this is not addressed, this will lead to the inability to supply the employees needed in the coming years. Hence, there will be an employee shortage as the demand for call centers in the Philippines increases,” she stated.

The software, she said, consists of a 200-hour English training program for both grammar and speech. Beyond teaching grammar and vocabulary rules, the software also teaches how to speak correctly and will provide simulations on how to converse during an interview.

The grammar and vocabulary module will consist of various types of exercises that will guide the user in improving his/her vocabulary, grammar, and reading comprehension.

Those who pass an exercise can proceed to the next one. A trainee will not be allowed to proceed to the next exercise unless he/she gets the required number of correct items.

The speech module is composed of lectures, drills, and exercises that were developed to enhance spoken English such that at the end of the course the trainee will be able to develop and/or improve skills in spoken English to be effective in the workplace.

It was also designed to enhance diction, proper pronunciation, and articulation and correct usage of English. With the help of listening drills and speaking exercises, the software is also intended to improve the trainee’s accent and fluency in English.

In the exercises, the user is asked to record his/her voice either by reading sentences or by repeating the words he/she heard. The machine will then check if the user has spoken the sentence correctly.

The score will then be used to evaluate the trainee. If the trainee failed the exercises, she/he will be asked to repeat the exercise and will not be able to proceed to the next lesson. In this way, the trainee will be forced to practice more in order to improve his/her speaking.

The software also adapts to the needs and special circumstances especially of those who plan to work in call centers. For example, there will be exercises on responding to simulated cells.

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