Why can’t our students read?
Was there really no good news to be said about Philippine education today? Philippine Business for Education (PBEd) chair Ramon del Rosario opened this week’s Policy Forum on “The Next Big Thing in Education” with the information that Filipino graduates do not possess the skills demanded by industry and that the Philippines has one of the highest youth unemployment rates in Asia. Based on the latest International Labour Organization data, 21.7 percent of our youth are not in education, employment or training as of 2017. “This goes back to the poor learning that happens in our schools as evidenced by low scores in the National Achievement Test. Although there are noble efforts to arrest these trends, they are at best sporadic and in grave need of coordination.”
Dr. Nene Guevara, president and CEO of Synergeia Foundation, shared results from a study that covered 91 local government units in the country of Grades 1-6 students. For schoolyear 2017, prior to any reading intervention, 53 percent were frustrated readers and 23 percent independent readers. Twenty-three percent could not comprehend and 7 percent could not read at all. How can these students ever cope with the demands of school? It was clear that a comprehensive approach is needed to address this by strengthening teacher content skills along with parent education to help make them realize how important reading is for success in education, and providing students with attractive workbooks to help hone their reading skills. A question to ask: Are teachers themselves competent readers?
With administrators requesting for computers rather than books, the notion that technology, rather than the mastery of basic reading skills, should be prioritized prevails. Can technology solve the reading challenges of the typical student today?
PBEd president Dr. Chito Salazar focused on the important aspect of developing a workforce for the future, whatever jobs still nonexistent today will emerge in all likelihood. He admitted that the education sector may be the slowest to catch up with innovations, and strongly espouses the development of the student’s basic competencies and creative thinking, a quality that is now prized more than the usual other skills. Salazar advocated closer coordination between curriculum developers and the Department of Education, the Commission on Higher Education, and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority so that the curriculum reflects the needs of the industry.
The World Bank, for the first time, devoted last year’s Annual Report to education. Gabriel Demombynes, World Bank program leader for human development, emphasized the main theme of the document: that schooling is not the same as learning. The student’s physical presence does not automatically translate to learning, as many other factors are also involved. Children who haven’t had a meal before coming to school will not be open to learning. Aside from the critical issues of nutrition and school infrastructure is the pressing one on teacher preparation.
Studies have shown that the most effective teacher training method is not the large-group mass training we are familiar with. It is a good social gathering for teachers, but of little value. Demombynes calls it the spray and pray method—spray some ideas and hope and pray they influence teachers. The more difficult training model that would require more administrative planning is the coaching model, where master teachers work closely with the teachers.
All these were facts and figures we have always known or suspected. But to hear them again validated was truly disheartening.
Education Undersecretary Nepomuceno Malaluan did offer some good news: public education is almost universal today with larger access for all and the development of the National Educational Academy of the Philippines. The DepEd may have the largest budget among departments equivalent to 3 percent of our GDP but Unesco’s stipulation is 5-6 percent. All agreed that money isn’t everything and neither is access—but quality needs to be addressed. And, basic of all, our children have to learn to read.
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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