On Reading: Notes from the field
The Programme for International Student Assessment’s (Pisa) release of their study’s disheartening results was welcome news for me. Finally, it was an assessment that validated and reflected our experiences as teachers on the field.
For years, we’ve been slapped with data showing blossoming and fruitful literacy rates in the Philippines, and that experience has been jarring for many of us teachers. Each time an organization comes out with celebratory press releases announcing that Filipinos are highly literate, are superior when it comes to the use of languages, and are well-read, we go straight to the survey’s methodology and wonder if the enumerators ever reached our parts, or if they even stepped out of their offices.
Pisa ranking us dead-bottom out of 79 countries when it comes to reading comprehension, on the other hand, made so much more sense. For its honesty in allowing Filipino students to be subjected to assessment, the Department of Education (DepEd) must be lauded. This is a huge step forward from the naivete of the department’s “no child left behind” policy and other half-baked regulations that merely pad the rushed and rocky implementation of the K-to-12 program.
It’s difficult to pinpoint a step-by-step strategy to address low reading comprehension levels, an idea that borders on the abstract. It’s best to imagine the problem as a game of pick-up sticks: There’s no one way around it — there shouldn’t be — although there are ways to win the most points and to get to the bottom of things.
Perhaps the first and easiest step would be to make good books available for young learners, in libraries, in bookstores in malls and in local bookshops. The National Book Development Board was aggressive with this at the start of 2019, though the effort seems to have fizzled out. A little change in the content, though, is needed — for DepEd to include more current Filipino writers and less of the problematic and antiquated ones: more Glenn Diaz and less F. Sionil Jose; more Gina Apostol and less Krip Yuson; more Nick Joaquin, readings on and rereadings of Nick Joaquin, and less of the dead end, one-dimensional Zaides.
Another side to the question of availability is whether the teachers and their students have the skill and patience to discuss these books in class. My answer would be a resounding yes, seeing how some of my colleagues and students respond to the challenge of literature. However, these books must be also given more time — time that, unfortunately, the overcrowded syllabi accompanying “outcomes-based education” do not give.
But, to be fair, I should say that there is no unwillingness to give reading more time in school. There is, however, the “challenge” for teachers to make reading “fun,” in the time of social media and the internet. Ironically, students seem to love reading short pieces on Facebook and fluff on Wattpad, just as there are teachers who seem to only do their research online. This shouldn’t necessarily be taken the wrong way, and academics could capitalize on this. Perhaps, in some cases, we could study Wattpad, some Netflix shows and the workings of social media in parallel with the canon and new literature. Besides, there are free, perfectly legal and unabridged copies of classics and self-published works of good caliber online.
What’s obvious is that we need to depart from stunting literature classes to serve the purpose of GMRC lessons. This makes literature bland. This style is devoid of relevance—it misses the point and complexity and nuance of books, and it is killing reading comprehension and critical thinking altogether by distilling all that happens in books into convenient dichotomies: good or bad, right or left, etc.
Lastly, while I am in agreement with the Pisa ratings, it needs to be reframed in such a way that we don’t only see ourselves relative to how other countries are performing. Instead, we should see the results as a tool to reshape the flattening of education that’s being done in the name of globalization. Never mind how we are perceived by other countries. We should junk all the rhetoric that stemmed from “we need to shift to K-to-12 because we’re the only ones not K-to-12,” an unsound assumption from the beginning. I believe that learning to read well, especially works of our own, will teach us how to do this—to decolonize our perspectives and to stand on our own.
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DLS Pineda finished his undergraduate and master’s degrees in UP Diliman before moving to Agusan del Norte to teach. Tweet @dlspineda
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