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Reading: the key to everything

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About a year ago, in his presentation in one of the literacy policy dialogues of the Department of Education, Marcial Salvatierra of the Education Development Center (EDC) said we could significantly improve the reading competency of learners in the early grades through a focused set of interventions implemented consistently over time.

The EDC is an international nongovernment organization based in Waltham, Massachusetts, and at that time, Salvatierra was the chief of party here. He was describing a USAID-funded project called “EQUALLS2” (Education Quality and Access for Learning and Livelihood Skills) and the Whole School Reading Program that was being run in selected school communities in Mindanao.

After just six months of continuous work, the students who were initially reading below prescribed norms could now read at their grade level.

Last year, the EDC won the bid for a $23-million USAID project called “Basa Pilipinas.” Salvatierra was named chief of party of the program, which was formally launched last January.

Basa Pilipinas aims to improve the reading outcomes of over one million early-grade readers through “improved reading instruction, enhanced assessment capability, and increased availability of quality instructional materials and reading books in the classroom.” Hewing to the DepEd’s Mother Tongue-Based Multilingual Education (MTBMLE) policy, Basa Pilipinas produces textbooks and reading materials in the selected mother tongues (i.e., Ilokano, Sugbuanong Binisaya and Maguindanaon), Filipino and English.

It seeks as well to strengthen systemic capacity to effectively implement the Language and Literacy component of the K-to-12 curriculum through targeted technical assistance.

I had the chance to speak to Salvatierra a few days ago when he invited the Eggie Apostol Foundation to the Basa Pilipinas National Reading Month culmination event held at the DepEd’s Bulwagang Karunungan. He said that since the program started, 5,000 teachers have been trained and 150,000 students have been reached thus far.

He is confident that he and his colleagues are on track to meet the target of one million readers in the next three years.

Assistant Secretary Lorna Dino, speaking on behalf of the DepEd, underscored its commitment to reading when she remarked that all teachers—not just those who teach language subjects—and all education officials should be reading advocates. “The reading competency is much more difficult to master if we do not cultivate and nurture the love for reading among our learners, in our schools and in our communities,” she said.

Robert Burch, chief of USAID’s Office of Education, said that “reading is without doubt the foundation of all future learning and is the major determining factor of success in school.” He said that with this belief as a key partnership driver, Basa Pilipinas is enjoying a high degree of ownership at the national, regional and division levels because USAID has been working closely with the DepEd for the past two years.

Burch said that USAID has also formed partnership arrangements with The National Bookstore Foundation, the Philippine Business for Social Progress, Seameo Innotech, and Save the Children Philippines.

He also said that through the Partnership for Growth that then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario signed in 2011, “we have embarked on a journey alongside the government of the Philippines to assist them in reaching their goal of inclusive, broad-based and sustained economic growth.” He added: “A highly literate workforce that is able to compete globally and respond to the 21st-century needs of the Philippines is paramount to accomplish this goal. And ensuring all children can read is the first step to ensure the economic future of the Philippines.”

A few years ago in a joint lecture titled “When Reforms Don’t Transform,” Cynthia Rose Bautista, Dina Ocampo and Allan Bernardo submitted that all education reform in the Philippines must first answer two fundamental questions: What kinds of knowledge and skills will enable Filipinos to participate effectively in the world of work and also to transform their communities and societies? What kinds of knowledge and skills will enable citizens to build better futures for themselves and for others in their communities?” (Bautista is now a commissioner at the Commission on Higher Education. Ocampo is education undersecretary for programs and projects and a key personality of Basa Pilipinas.)

In their lecture, Bautista, Ocampo and Bernardo also said that in current reform discourses, students need to learn competencies, and not just knowledge and skills. (Bernardo defines competency as the ability to successfully carry out a task with complex requirements that include both cognitive and noncognitive knowledge and skills.)

They likewise maintained that “the key competency that should be targeted by all school systems is subsumed under the expanded definition of functional literacy, which is the capacity to access, integrate, evaluate and manage information and knowledge.”

This expanded definition is now a key feature of learning goals in truly reformed educational systems. In addition, reformist educational systems include “transformational citizenship” as an important learning goal, where citizenship is conceived of as involving the competencies to make societies and communities better for all people.

Butch Hernandez (butchhernandez@gmail.com) is the executive director of the Eggie Apostol Foundation and education lead for talent development at the Information Technology and Business Process Association of the Philippines.


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