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The Learning curve

Reading without books

Every single day, the discussion in the national and the educational scene shifts: To open or not to open on Aug. 24? Safety or the economy? Wait and sit still till the coming of the vaccine?

I laud Education Secretary Leonor Briones’ firm resolve to open on Aug. 24 at all costs, with all the innovations and modifications in lieu of the typical classroom setup.

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The Department of Education officials are deferring to presidential preferences regaring face-to-face learning, and are doing their utmost to think out of the box.

It cannot be purely online, because it would discriminate against those with no access to the internet, plus there’s the reality of our dismal internet connectivity.

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The much needed repertoire of techniques cannot also be limited to the pen and pencil worksheets variety, because that would insult our students’ intelligence and go against what the joy of learning and being curious should be all about.

It sounds like a good compromise that for students who need more teacher assistance, small clusters of students can meet with their teachers periodically.

Our family driver was lamenting that it is neither easy nor enticing for his grade school daughter to learn from the mobile phone—the screen is too small, the home setup is not conducive, and the Wi-Fi connectivity is unreliable and expensive as it depends on prepaid cards.

My heart went out to him and I did not know how to respond.

Public school teachers always write me to say how they would want to help their students become better readers, understanding how reading and comprehension are key to success in school and in real life.

They ask for tips, and while I have a sackful of them, I hem and haw because the very basic requirement is to surround the students with books. But where are the books?

There are many other ways, of course. As teachers wonder how learning in the time of the pandemic can thrive, I offer one basic, failproof solution.

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Read at least a book a day with or to the learner.

Reading a book, whether fiction or nonfiction, will lead to a rich discussion of other topics, aside from the opportunities for enriching vocabulary, promoting curiosity, exploring possibilities, unleashing the imagination.

This sounds like a simple technique, but even this is understandably difficult in homes with no books and no available adults with the time and the energy to work with their children at the end of every workday.

Let us not forget the old dictum: If a child is a reluctant reader, it is only because he has not yet found the right book. And that’s a task every parent, every teacher, every caring adult has to help discover.

There are three other very helpful tips that circumvent our dire situation of accessibility to books. Successful TV anchor Boy Abunda proudly recounted during Sa Aklat Sisikat! training sessions for public school teachers that his mother, herself a teacher, taught him to read in their town through all the wooden signs announcing the professions of the house owners, whether a doctor, a lawyer, a notary public.

And look at the bookworm he grew up to be, even lugging then a carry-on suitcase full of books to show his current reading interests.

Related to this is to make use of whatever print materials there are within reach. It is possible to have a print-rich environment—another technique to nurture readers—without a library by using product labels.

Teachers have found it helpful to collect labels or boxes of products used in everyday life, to be used as sources of vocabulary and reading exercises for students.

Another idea is to have the student write stories complete with illustrations, and staple the pages to resemble a book. These homemade books may be read to siblings or other students.

This is a good time for the public school system to upgrade and expand its teaching techniques as it seriously looks at other ways of teaching and learning.

What a boost that budgetary concerns should not be an issue, as Malacañang reassures. After all, when all is said and done, when the results of the Programme for International Student Assessment of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development turn dismal once more, guess who will be caught holding the bag.

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

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