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The Learning curve

Read, for a change

This is not the best of times for schoolchildren and their parents, who always strive to keep their school-age children busy and preoccupied—and this time, especially safe from crowds and the dreaded coronavirus.

With the sudden mandatory holidays, parents seem unprepared, as I would be, too. Overheard while I was doing groceries—when I found myself wondering if I should

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panic-buy, too, except that I did not know honestly what I needed to hoard—was a young mom speaking to her child on the phone: “I know you have been awake and have been told to take your breakfast several times. If it is still not done when I get home….,” and there followed threats of harsh consequences.The main distraction and preoccupation for students come from their handheld devices, as we all know. I was hoping against hope that the President, in his Thursday’s long-winded, rambling press conference, would recommend that instead of the general “Mag-aral ng mabuti,” he would say, “Magbasa kayo.”

The addiction to devices brings to mind Pope Francis’ words that my husband always reminds me about at mealtimes: No mobile phones—communicate, rather than connect, which is what mobile phones are for. “At that table, there is the kind of silence that you might find at Mass. But they don’t communicate with one another.”

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An amusing development in the United States since last year is the hiring of highly paid coaches who help families wean their children from devices. What was life like before smartphones? The measures the coaches give are basic but forgotten. According to the New York Times article, “Now Some Families Are Hiring Coaches to Help Them Raise Phone-Free Children,” the coach begins by asking, is there a jump rope or a jungle gym around? Is there a piece of cloth that can be used as a cape? What about a ball? Parents are asked to remember what they did as children and, after a long while, they recall painting and looking at the moon. Yes, back to the simple joys of childhood.

Another telling question from these hired coaches for screen addiction: Are you asking the children to put away their phones while yours is on your lap?

Let’s help our children rediscover the many joys of reading. I might have said it all about the importance of reading for students, but I will not tire of repeating them. Especially when I continue to receive letters from public school teachers like Letlie Zoilo Semblante, a high school teacher from a university in Cebu, and Achilles Zerda, a senior high school teacher from Surigao, who both ask just how to motivate their students to read. Zerda has the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) results in mind and is concerned, from his personal experience, about tutoring a Grade 11 student reading at kindergarten level.

I especially appreciate Education Secretary Leonor Briones’ statement objecting to the idea of mass promotions in view of the suspended classes and end of the schoolyear calendars gone awry. She referred to past experiences when that had been tried and was shown to be utter folly—with students promoted year after year without having the required skills, because that was the simpler way to go for teachers. Perhaps at this time, we badly need the sobering reminder of the dismal results in Reading and in Math of the country’s first-ever participation in the Pisa. We cannot afford to be distracted.

Virus or not, there is the 2021 Pisa to be ready for, and the imperative to strengthen curriculum, teacher quality, learning spaces, and community engagement as embodied in the Department of Education’s “Sulong Edukalidad.” The Philippine Business for Education, a nonprofit founded in 2006 by the country’s top CEOs, is the business community’s response “to the need for greater education and economy alignment.” I like its slogan, “Education is our business.” It ought to be everyone’s business if the country is going anywhere.

World-class education for all Filipino schoolchildren—a dream we all share. But they need to learn to read and comprehend first.—————-

Neni Sta. Romana Cruz ([email protected]) is a member of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.

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