Rays of hope
Nine of 10 Filipino children aged 10 struggle to read simple texts, according to a World Bank (WB) report released last July 2022. This makes the Philippines one of the countries with the highest rate of “learning poverty” in the East Asia and Pacific region, and among the lower-middle-income economies. The international lending institution considers pupils between Grades 4 and 5 as being learning deprived when they are unable to read and understand short and age-appropriate texts. WB estimates that as many as 91 percent of children in the country at late primary age “are not proficient in reading.”
Data culled from the 2019 Functional Literacy, Education, and Mass Media (FLEMMS) report reveals that only 53.4 percent of elementary graduates can read, write, compute, and comprehend. This information is quite revealing, considering that the Philippines has a very high literacy rate of 97.95 percent as of that year.
The worldwide pandemic has aggravated the sordid state of learning outcomes of our young children, since they faced several challenges in education services delivery, which was mainly through online, internet-based teaching.
In the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), despite the current drop in the region’s poverty rates, only less than 10 percent of the households have access to internet service providers. In Marawi City, five years after the devastating Marawi siege, internet service is quite expensive for impoverished members of the city population. Many of them became poor as a result of the siege. There, internet services can be accessed at P1,000 per megabit per second (mbps), which means that if you want a fast and stable service of at least 15 Mbps, you have to pay P15,000 a month. This is quite a hefty sum for ordinary wage earners who get less than P20,000 monthly pay.
Those who were provided learning modules also were disadvantaged, as module materials were not quality-checked before they were distributed. Moreover, these materials needed the guidance of older members of the family, but in the BARMM where literacy rates are lower compared to the national rates, many children had to learn on their own. I heard anecdotal reports about some children who relied on older relatives or friends to answer the questions in the modules for them.
Since these children are expected to replace the current adult population two decades from now, being poor readers within the first few years of their education can pose problems for them later on. The future will revolve around the use of high technology in communications, where one’s ability to read and understand messages conveyed through electronic media is quite crucial.
But there are rays of hope coming from older children or among the youth themselves. Several groups of youth volunteers teach learning-deprived children in remote barangays to read and understand what they are reading. One of these groups is the Streets to Schools (STS) Teacher Volunteers who have reached the far-flung village of Barangay Buan, Panglima Sugala town, in the island province of Tawi-Tawi. In an interview with the Inquirer, STS founder Qjiel Mariano said “there is no place too far when fueled by their goal to bridge education gaps in the country.”
Since April 2022, STS has reached at least 873 students through its program of distributing school supply kits and building community libraries in remote communities. STS believes that these are the ones that need their assistance most. In the village of Buan, they have constructed a mini-community library through STS’ collaboration with other local nongovernment organizations like Angat Buhay Youth and Tau-Spartan.
These youth teaching volunteers are like rays of hope in a country currently facing gloomy skies ahead because of runaway inflation that has spiked the prices of basic commodities. Truly it is the youth that keeps our hopes high; they are our future. We cannot rely on our jaded government officials who are more steeped in their old, greedy ways; they are no longer able to provide hope and inspiration for the next generations.
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