Catching up with reality | Inquirer Opinion
EDITORIAL

Catching up with reality

/ 05:15 AM January 19, 2024

The Department of Education’s (DepEd) “Catch-Up Fridays” directive is a welcome initiative, one that may in fact be long overdue, but its “abrupt” implementation has predictably earned it brickbats from affected sectors.

The program was formally started on Jan. 12, just two days after the DepEd issued a memo about it, thus catching teachers and school heads by surprise, according to Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) chair Vladimer Quetua. The abbreviated lead time left teachers “ill-equipped” to implement the program since they did not even undergo proper orientation, he added.

DepEd’s memo states that half of all Fridays of January will be dedicated to reading, while the other half will be devoted to peace, values, and health education.

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The learning program is DepEd’s response to the low ranking of Filipino students in reading, mathematics, and science, as seen in the results of the 2022 Programme for International Student Assessment. The Philippines ranked 77th out of 81 countries globally in the student assessment conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development for 15-year-old learners.

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Drop everything and read

“We are seeing that the quality of education is not really good and we are going to start with teaching the students how to read. There are a lot of nonreaders and slow readers so we need to give them one day where they will do nothing but practice and learn how to read,” Vice President and Education Secretary Sara Duterte explained when she introduced the “Catch-up Fridays” concept in November 2023 during the culmination of National Reading Month.

To improve the reading skills among Filipino students, the program sets aside Fridays for exercises meant to advance reading comprehension, among them such activities as “Drop Everything and Read,” “Read-A-Thon,” fora, and sessions with resource persons.

Meanwhile, the values education taught during the second half of the day is expected to make students more mindful of their physical and mental health, while the “peace education” they’re introduced to will tackle such issues as school bullying.

Haphazard implementation

But why burden such a laudable program with a rushed, haphazard implementation? Among the problems identified were the lack of preparation for teachers, the need for a diagnostic test to gauge the reading level of learners and for measuring the program’s impact, as well as the bad timing that posed on teachers’ and students’ schedules as the program was rolled out when exams were coming up.

While DepEd has assured that teachers and school heads would be given proper orientation and training within the month “on strategies to implement [the program],” critics have pointed out the on-ground realities that the agency must also deal with to fully address the country’s learning poverty.

Among the most apparent is the heavy load of teachers, who are often given administrative tasks on top of their teaching assignments. How would “Catch-Up Fridays” impact their hours and affect their focus on teaching? Do they even have a say on how they can contribute to the learning program? Quetua asked.

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Collaborative sessions

Aside from the lack of reading skills, there are other problems hobbling the students’ capacity to learn, the ACT chair said, adding that the government should allocate sufficient funds to the education sector to help solve the perennial classroom shortage, the lack of teaching and learning materials, and the need for more education support personnel.

With DepEd using a nongraded approach to the reading activities, how will the learning program be assessed for effectivity, some observers have asked. Who will evaluate the students’ “reflection journal” to monitor their progress?, they also pointed out.

To be fair, the DepEd has acknowledged that teachers should engage in collaborative sessions to share best practices in implementing “Catch-up Fridays.” It added that schools are “highly encouraged to forge and strengthen stakeholder engagement” to gather support and sustain the program’s implementation. Still, the memo could have been more specific on how this collaboration and engagement can be put in place, with DepEd at the helm.

Underlying causes

While sensible and doable, the learning program can definitely use some fine-tuning, including further consultation with teachers and school heads to iron out obvious kinks, and the necessary funding to address the underlying causes behind the students’ tepid response to learning activities. Are they too hungry to focus on the lessons, too tired from walking long distances to school, or too distracted by the work their parents expect them to do after class?

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While there are no instant solutions to such longstanding learning problems that are rooted in poverty, the DepEd’s “Catch-Up Fridays” is a good start that addresses the specific need to improve reading skills to advance basic comprehension among students. It can certainly use support from various sectors to make its impact.

TAGS: DepEd, opinion

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