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UPD and DOST launch LEAP project: An English proficiency training software
By Albino C. Gamba, UPDIO
Leonardo A. Reyes, photographer

Dr. Susan Festin explains the project brief at the launching ceremonies.

(August 7) — A learning tool that primarily seeks to improve English proficiency of Filipinos is now available.

UP Diliman (UPD) and the Department of Science and Technology’s (DOST) Philippine Council for Industry, Energy and Emerging Technology Research and Development (PCIEERD), launched the full version of the Learning English Application for Pinoys (LEAP) on July 25 at the SMX Convention Center in Pasay City.

LEAP is a standalone, computer-based training program with lessons and exercises to help users improve their English language skills— a deficiency of many Filipinos.

Dr. Rowena Cristina L. Guevara originally proposed LEAP project when she was the head of the Digital Signal Processing Laboratory of the Electrical and Electronics Engineering Institute (EEEI) of the UPD College of Engineering. Guevara turned over the project to Dr. Susan Festin, a professor at the Department of Computer Science (DCS), when she was seconded to DOST as PCIEERD’s executive director in 2011.

The software was developed through the joint efforts of the UPD College of Engineering’s EEEI, DCS, the College of Arts and Letters’ Department of English and Comparative Literature and the Department of Speech Communication and Theater Arts. It is under the DOST-funded project entitled Interdisciplinary Signal Processing for Pinoys (ISIP) Project 7: Development of an English Language Training Software for Call Centers.

DOST secretary Mario G. Montejo (second from left) hands over to Frederick Chu, Philiipine Call Center Alliance, Inc. President, a copy of the software. With them are DOST undersecretary for Research and Development Dr. Amelia Guevara (left) and PCIEERD executive director Dr. Rowena Guevara (right).

Festin said LEAP’s main goal is to address the need of improving the basic English proficiency of Filipinos to meet the demand of growing outsourcing industry in the country. The software contains accent-neutral and free from culture-based idiomatic expressions.  The target users are Filipino high school students and early collegiate students.

“We decided to design and develop LEAP to address the poor English proficiency of our graduates. The software is tailor-suited for Filipinos and does not intend to replace English teachers; rather its aim is to augment English language learning,” explained Guevara.

The software developers also see applications in the booming call center industry in the country.

According to Business Processing Association of the Philippines (BPAP), the Business Processing Outsourcing (BPO) or the call center industry employed approximately 638,000 Filipinos in 2012 and is expected to double in the coming years. By 2016, the BPO sector can grow to up to $20 billion US dollars and can reach up to $ 25 billion. In addition, the country’s GDP can also increase from six to nine percent depending on how well the employment in the industry is sustained.

At present, the Philippines is considered as the leading BPO destination. However, the hiring rate of Filipinos in the BPO industry is only three to eight percent due to proficiency deficiencies in the English language.

At the launching ceremony, DOST Secretary Mario G. Montejo said DOST shares the goal of UPD in developing technologies and products that will bring the country to excellence and global competitiveness.

“With this computer-based training program, call center applicants and students will be trained in listening, speaking fluency and proficiency in the English language. Equipped with requisite knowledge and skills, our Filipino applicants will have the advantage of getting hired, “ adds Montejo.

Meanwhile, Dr. Patricia B. Licuanan, chairperson of the Commission on Higher Education, in her message delivered via video, urged all the higher educational institutions in the country to access LEAP. “The package will be very useful to students in all areas of their learning. “

LEAP is a 200-hour English training software that has two modules: the grammar and vocabulary module, and the speech module.

First row from left: Joseph Manalo, Dr. Rowena Christina L. Guevara, Dr. Susan Pancho-Festin, Dr. Rhandley Cajote, Dr. Belen Calingacion, Prof. Tess Isidro, Beng Pascua. Second row from left: Edrick Solis, Kathleen Gay Figueroa, Samantha Sadural, Cere Blanco, Ivy Mallare, Prof. Mario Carreon, Reginald Almonte, Dolly Sagun and Claude Despabilladeras

The grammar and vocabulary module is designed to improve communication skills in English in order to cope with the demands of working in a global workplace. The program consists of various types of exercises that guide the user in improving his/her vocabulary, grammar and reading comprehension. A trainee is not allowed to proceed to the next exercise unless he/she gets the required number of correct items. Passing rate for each exercise is 60 percent.
The speech module on the other hand is composed of lectures, drills and exercises to enhance skills in spoken English. It is designed to improve diction, proper pronunciation and articulation, 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.

Just like the grammar and vocabulary module, the passing rate for the speech module is 60 percent.

In order to assess LEAP’s functionality, Festin said they are currently negotiating with CHED and The Philippine Call Centers Alliance, Inc. to have a large scale testing of the software among schools and call centers in the following areas: Ilocos, Southern Tagalog, Metro Manila, Bicol, Pangasinan, Pampanga, Cebu, Davao, and Bacolod—representing the major language groups in the country.

The group hopes that in a short period of time the Filipino people will realize the broader market of LEAP, not just as a software for the call center industry, but for other industry sectors as well.