We have senior high school graduates who cannot read
The ruinous effect of the mass promotion practice of the Department of Education (DepEd) on reading literacy is progressive. We had zero nonreader incidence before the DepEd scrapped the “No Read, No Move” policy under which no Grade 1 pupil would be promoted to Grade 2 unless he could read and began accepting nonreaders to all the grades ushering in the era of mass promotion in 2001. But by 2005, the national elementary nonreader incidence had hit 1.74 percent rising to 2.56 percent in 2006 (“Philippines: country case study” by Rhona Caoli-Rodriguez). There was no mention of high school non-readers in the report.
However, in 2012, the DepEd issued DepEd Order No. 39, series of 2012 setting the policy guidelines for implementing a reading and writing program in secondary schools implicitly admitting that illiteracy had already spilled over into high school. It is clear that the program covered nonreaders because while the order did not mention the word “nonreaders,” it allowed the engagement of trained professionals “to provide scientific and systematic interventions” including reading teachers “to teach reading.” Secondary students who can read do not need specialized reading teachers to teach them to read.
Recently, University of Philippines professor Maria Mercedes Arzadon claimed that sometimes, mass promotion even results in nonreaders making it to college. I also have met two teachers who attested there are senior high school graduates who cannot read.
The presence of nonreaders in high school and our staggering learning poverty rate prove that a great number of our students will not exert enough effort to learn to read if they know they could be promoted even without the skill. Sadly for the country, the DepEd is still doubling down on its “no reading cutoff” policy even after we descended to the level of Zambia and Afghanistan in education quality (per the latest learning poverty report of the World Bank) due to the abolition of the “No Read, No Move” policy.
However, there are remnants in the DepEd that believe that a return to the practice of retaining students due to failure to learn to read is the solution to the literacy crisis. At least three DepEd regional offices—the National Capital Region (NCR), Cordillera Administrative Region, and Northern Mindanao (Region 10)—have responded to the rising illiteracy in their areas with reading cutoff policies.
In the case of the DepEd-NCR, it issued Memorandum No. 067, s. 2014, prohibiting the promotion of Grade 3 pupils who could not read in both Filipino and English a month after this paper exposed that among Grade 6 pupils in Valenzuela City, 11 percent were non-readers and 83 percent frustration level readers (“Valenzuela gov’t allots P300M to save slow and non-readers among students,” News, 2/9/14). Alas, the issuance is not worth the paper it is printed on. The 29 Grade 7 nonreaders of the Sauyo High School in Quezon City featured in the GMA 7 documentary “Pag-asa sa Pagbasa” on Sept. 1, 2018, were in Grade 2 when the policy was issued and were the DepEd-NCR serious about enforcing the policy, the students would have been stuck in Grade 3 until they learned to read.
What happened to the “No Read, No Pass” policy of the NCR proves the claim of Arzadon that there are times when the unwritten mass promotion policy prevails over all other considerations.
It is not helping that even now that we already have illiterate senior high school graduates, the Second Congressional Commission on Education is reportedly still looking for a copy of the DepEd mass promotion policy before it tackles the injurious practice.
Estanislao C. Albano Jr.,