Ph second to last in the world: Probe into nonreader issue urgently needed | Inquirer Opinion
letter to the editor

Ph second to last in the world: Probe into nonreader issue urgently needed

04:00 AM January 15, 2021

In the wake of the Inquirer’s February 2020 report on the alleged existence of 70,000 nonreaders in Bicol, Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian and the Alliance of Concerned Teachers party list asked the Department of Education (DepEd) to release the nationwide results of the Philippine Informal Reading Inventory (Phil-IRI), the reading assessment tool of the DepEd, which was stonewalled by the latter.

It took foreign entities to provide the data that the DepEd should be regularly apprising the country about. We refer to the part of the report of the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) on the results of the 2019 Southeast Asia Primary Learning Metrics (SEA-PLM), which stated that 27 percent of our Grade 5 pupils who sat in the assessment could not read based on the SEA-PLM definition of reading literacy, which is “understanding, using and responding to a range of written texts, in order to meet personal, societal, economic and civic needs.” The report said that the pupils were still at the stage of “matching single words to an image of a familiar object or concept.”


But, with that smoking gun that indeed a large proportion of our studentry is illiterate as attested to by no less than the Unicef which, along with the Southeast Asia Ministers of Education Organization, conducted the SEA-PLM, Gatchalian and ACT Rep. France Castro have so far done nothing beyond giving comments to the media on the very poor performance of the country in the assessment.

With neither legislator revealing any concrete plans to utilize the nonreader data after almost a month, apparently they do not realize the explosiveness of the information. Either that or they know the value of the information, but are not serious in addressing the root cause of the literacy woes of our public schools. In both instances, the two legislators were seemingly nonchalant when they asked for the Phil-IRI data from the DepEd.


If there are members of Congress who truly care about our country’s faltering education system, the Unicef nonreader figure can enable them to make a rough estimate of the total population of nonreaders in our public schools, especially in the elementary grades. It is common sense that Grades 4 and 3—the Phil-IRI assessment starts with Grade 3 in Filipino—cannot have nonreaders less than the 27 percent in Grade 5. Assuming that the Grade 6 figure has fewer nonreaders, it is safe to say that at the very least, a fifth of Grade 3 to 6 students are nonreaders. Is this sorry state of our reading literacy not worth the time of the education committees of the Senate and the House?

Now compare that to the practically zero incidence of nonreaders starting from Grade 2 less than 20 years ago, before the DepEd tinkered with our reading standards by moving the reading cut-off from Grade 1 to Grade 3. Should’nt the DepEd be accountable for the stupid and costly decision, and should likewise be told to restore the time-honored “No Read, No Move” Policy for Grade 1? Genuinely concerned legislators, anyone?

The nonreader problem is to blame for our landing in the bottom of the 2019 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, if we consider that under the K- to-12 curriculum, reading in English is taught in the second half of Grade 2, to be continued in Grade 3. Which means those who learned to read were only reading for a year in the test language when they took the examinations. Also, with 27 percent of our SEA-PLM takers unable to read the questions, no wonder we ended up second to the last in the survey. Shouldn’t the DepEd be taken to task for shaming us before the world?

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TAGS: ACT Rep. France Castro, Department of Education (DepEd), education, nonreaders, Reading, reading literacy, Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian
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