Why Juan and Juana can’t read | Inquirer Opinion

Why Juan and Juana can’t read

/ 04:07 AM December 26, 2020

In 1955, American educator and writer Rudolf Flesch wrote a book titled “Why Johnny Can’t Read and What You Can Do About It.”

While his book tackled the need to shift from one method of teaching reading to children—by sight-reading words—to linking the teaching of words by learning to say those words (phonics), the question of “why Johnny can’t read” has expanded to cover other aspects of formal education.


Here in the Philippines, the question of “why Juan (and Juana) can’t read” expands to other questions like “why Juan and Juana can’t count”; “why Juan and Juana can’t comprehend even the simplest scientific concepts”; “why even unto adulthood, Juan and Juana cannot reason his or her way out of concepts like citizenship, nationalism, civic awareness, and even fake news.”

The year about to end has had more than its fair share of daunting challenges on the education front. Like other young people around the world, Filipino Juans and Juanas have had to forego classroom learning in favor of remote learning via the internet, TV, or radio, or a “blended” combination of distance learning and printed modules. The reason for this is the fear of aggravating the spread of COVID-19, with classrooms viewed as potentially lethal settings for the exposure of schoolchildren to the coronavirus.


From the beginning, this experimental approach to replace traditional methods of formal education has hit considerable snags. First is the poor connectivity and digital infrastructure that has long bedeviled internet-dependent communications in the country. Not only are individuals, households, and businesses suffering from slow service and iffy communications. In many areas, internet service is practically nonexistent, and digital devices are far beyond the reach of poor families.

Long before COVID-19 hit our shores, formal education in the country had been suffering a number of ailments. This was borne out by the dismal results, for the country at least, of international assessments designed to test the capabilities of school-age children. In 2018, the country ranked very near if not in the bottom of a multi-country test. Of 79 participating countries in the Programme for International Student Assessment, the Philippines ranked last in reading and second to last in math and science.

The results of the 2019 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study further confirmed the dismal state of the country’ educational system: The Philippines once more landed in the bottom of the rankings for participating countries based on Grade 4 tests on math and science. One of the findings was that only 19 percent of Filipino students reached the “low intermediate benchmark, which indicated that only a few percent have some basic mathematical knowledge.”

One wonders how much worse the results of such tests would be for the Philippines given the compounded hurdles posed by this year’s events, from the pandemic to the economic fallout from the lockdowns and the problem-riddled “blended” learning approach.

Education Secretary Leonor Briones has announced that the Department of Education is planning to pilot-test in-person classes in January next year given the “relatively smaller” proportion of cases and deaths for children aged 5 to 19. Briones cited a study conducted by Unicef that showed that 91 percent of COVID-19 cases among children resulted from household exposure.

Still, the Asian Development Bank asserts that the plan to open up classrooms early next year “may hike COVID-19 deaths by 8 percent.” In the same breath, the bank also estimates that “stopping in-person classes during the school year 2020-2021 would cost P1.9 trillion in foregone economic opportunities.” This has prompted acting Economic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick Chua to call for a “gradual” resumption of classes while ensuring the safety of all, especially of students.

Indeed, there are steps that should have been taken long before COVID-19, and should be taken during and long after the public health threat has passed. One is the priority given to the budget for education which, like those for health and transportation, has suffered deep cuts in the 2021 budget despite the present crisis.

This came about, said Sen. Panfilo Lacson, after legislators “toyed around” with the government’s allocations so that they could move more than P28 billion to the Department of Public Works and Highways and fund their favorite public works projects. With a pandemic still raging, the bicameral conference committee deliberating on the final national budget is prioritizing infrastructure over health, and while education still gets the biggest pie, the allocation of the DepEd has been slashed by P11.4 billion—at a time when this year’s experience revealed the need for a drastic overhaul of the education system, one that has clearly failed its stakeholders, most crucially, the children on whom the country’s future rests.

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TAGS: comprehension, COVD-19, DepEd, distance learning, education, learning, Leonor briones, online classes, pandemic, Reading, School, students
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