A book in every student’s hand, please
I know too well the folly of drawing up a long list of New Year wishes, so let me focus on only one. This should be predictable considering my recurring refrain about the need for literacy at home, in the classroom, everywhere. Yes, just one major wish for 2017: a book in every student’s hand.
It seems a manageable wish. Many foundations and private persons are willing to donate books—certainly a tremendous boost, but not adequate, especially since the public school sector has 38,648 elementary and 7,976 high schools. Clearly, the supply of supplementary materials in classroom or school libraries should be a fixed item in the Department of Education’s budget. I keep hearing the words of Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno, echoed by Education Secretary Leonor Briones at the recent Education Summit, that the generous DepEd budget demands judicious spending—a task more challenging than planning a budget proposal for legislative approval.
During that summit in early November, I was in the discussion group that focused on materials in classrooms. In the group were supervisors, teachers, and officials from the DepEd Central Office. Debate was unnecessary; the critical need for more books in classrooms was a given. But we had to differentiate between two kinds of needed books: textbooks and supplementary books, or books for leisure reading, about which the group had to be reminded. Yes, our over 25 million students need books to relax with, books that would allow their imaginations to soar, books that would introduce them to new possibilities, worlds beyond their ken.
The delegates from Mindanao were, understandably, primarily concerned about classroom learning materials getting to them on time and in sufficient quantity. With the DepEd policy on mother-tongue-based multilingual education to enhance learning for the early grades, there arises the added need for materials in the community’s mother tongue. While a principal was commending his teachers who were writing these additional materials to address the lack, he admitted that the task added to their already heavy responsibilities. An essential question we had to ask, to the point of rudeness, was: “Are the writers qualified to produce good stuff?” He said a few were more inclined than others.
An alternative waiting to be pursued by the DepEd is to use locally published literature just needing translation into any of the 19 recognized languages, after proper copyright and royalty protocols have been threshed out. It was often the bone of contention in the past, but need it be still in these times of urgency?
I am not even touching on the obvious issue—the high quality of the textbooks that our students deserve—because it merits a lengthier discussion. Just consider the complexity of the problem—at a DepEd meeting with publishers, they were asked: Why haven’t you been answering our textbook calls of late?
It is unacceptable that we cannot focus simultaneously on both the textbook and supplementary materials for students. The Library Hub project is in hiatus, not having served the needs of schools in many areas. One of the last official acts of then Education Secretary Armin Luistro was to lift his administration’s ban on the purchase of supplementary materials. But the present administration has not acted on this, and wants more time to understand the issue.
But for how long can our students wait?
I remain committed and hopeful, seeing encouraging signs in this crusade.
Assistant Education Secretary Nepo Malaluan, chief of staff of the DepEd chief and also vice chair of the National Book Development Board, is taking a hard look at the textbook issue, while individuals like Mercy Fabros and National Artist Virgilio Almario are embarking on a long-overdue proposal: a must-read list for every Filipino student. And it is not because we do not have enough of these titles that should be better known by all.
Neni Sta. Romana Cruz (nenisrcruz@ gmail.com) is chair of the National Book Development Board and a member of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.
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