It takes a village
My generation, I’ve often thought, loves reading, not least because we were given excellent role models in media. While the nerd-geek stereotype exists and continues to sometimes be an object of ridicule, Hermione Granger, Belle from “Beauty and the Beast,”and others gave my generation an example of how a love of books and reading can be endearing, helpful and even heroic. It also doesn’t hurt that the most popular stories we see told in film and TV originated from science fiction and fantasy books and graphic novels.
The last 20 years have seen a surge in openness and accommodation to this culture of reading locally, and businesses readily capitalized: where in the early aughts one had to scour only National Bookstore, obscure stores and secondhand bookshops for the latest in nonmainstream material, we now have Fully Booked and other specialty stores catering to readers of every genre. The Manila International Book Fair and reader conventions have grown tremendously in popularity and attendance. Fandom itself continues to feed a culture of reading, writing and publishing online.
There is no longer an argument over whether the Filipinos are a “reading”people. What does raise concern is that the Filipinos, or at least the younger generation which was surveyed, might not be reading well, or well enough to understand. The results of the global survey on reading comprehension by the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) challenged our country’s pride in its high literacy rate, since it’s quite clear that reading is not the same as understanding. Many also tut-tutted that this lack of reading comprehension is responsible for so much of the drivel that goes on in social media: we see users with either poor reading comprehension or tiny attention spans fall prey to easily-shared fake news or clickbait headlines. It can also, I admit, be an occasion for humor: I’ve seen more than one Facebook seller post a selling price for an item, only to receive the painful inquiry, “How much po?”
Doubtless this lack of functional literacy and poor discernment can make daily life challenging. It’s even more sobering that, with the rise of social media, reading comprehension impacts everything from national health to politics; one wonders how much fear-mongering would have perpetuated the antivaccine craze if the average Filipino reader could understand the concept of herd immunity.
Comments by other authors and by the Department of Education itself point to a lack of access, both to adequate and appropriate reading materials, as well as skilled, consistent instruction, for the underprivileged young and those in more remote areas. However, it should be pointed out that the blame for social media illiteracy (and its impact on national politics) doesn’t lie solely with the government’s educational programs, and with the young under their care.
Data from the United States, Thailand and Nigeria have pointed out that those most likely to spread fake news — i.e., those who have the least digital literacy — are the elderly, regardless of sex, race, income or education. We can hardly force our elderly to sit down in classrooms and learn about the nuances of digital truth, but it does go to show that a culture of discernment and a thirst for factual content should be fostered in all age groups, and that at least, part of the responsibility lies with those who have long been out of school. If our generation was inculcated with a love of reading, then the next generation should also have role models on responsible, cautious and discriminating media consumption and sharing. It takes a village to raise a digital-savvy, fact-discerning child.
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