What are Filipinos reading? | Inquirer Opinion
Gray Matters

What are Filipinos reading?

/ 04:20 AM April 23, 2024
What are Filipinos reading

It’s World Book Day so I thought I’d pick up on the National Book Development Board’s (NBDB) 2023 Readership Survey. I made a mental note to look up the complete survey and got around to doing that over the weekend.

But first, a quick backgrounder about the NBDB, which was set up in 1995 as a government agency under the Department of Education. Its vision is “to develop a culture of reading” that logically, should feed into the goal of developing a globally competitive book publishing industry.

The NBDB has been conducting national readership surveys since 2003 and I was quite impressed reading the latest one, done just last November with 2,400 respondents from throughout the country.

I’m not going to write about all the findings of the NBDB survey, picking out stuff that I felt are particularly relevant, even urgent, for our times, with hopes that our educators and book publishers pick up on the figures, not just what sells (because the findings on what sells actually depressed me) but what might make a difference for the lives of Filipinos.


Let’s look at how book reading fared among leisure activities. The bad news first: reading books ranked eighth among 10 leisure activities. I thought it’d be good to give the other forms of leisure from the first, down to reading books: watching TV (48 percent), cooking (36 percent), listening to music (30 percent), talking to friends (30 percent), browsing social media (25 percent), gardening (21 percent), surfing the internet (19 percent) … and then reading (17 percent). You figure out what each of them meant, especially “talking to friends.” I imagine, too, browsing social media might be a bit more like sports.

Sports, real sports, probably mainly basketball, did come in ninth, after reading, with 11 percent.

There’s good news: shopping came in 10th, and at 10 percent of respondents. But hey, couldn’t surfing the internet be for shopping as well, or, hope springs eternal, could it have included reading e-books?

The other set of particularly useful findings relates to the preferred non-school book reading materials. The question asked was “Have you read any of the following non-textbook books in the last 12 months?” For adults, the “best-seller” was the Bible at 64 percent, down from 72 percent in the 2017 survey, but still quite high. Not only that, asked about the frequency of their reading the Bible, 60 percent said they did so daily for less than an hour while 31 percent said Bible-reading was daily, for one to two hours.


The Quran was mentioned by 8 percent of respondents, which is actually quite impressive because the percentage of Muslims in the country is just about that figure.

My feelings are ambivalent about those Bible-related findings. After all, this is a country where quotes from the Bible are everywhere, the Ten Commandments especially, on police station walls. And which province is it, or city, that requires bible quotations on tricycles?


I think the religious groups might want to find out what “reading the Bible” entails, what motivations are, and what impact it has on people’s lives, and behavior.

I would be interested, too, in finding out if people are aware of the expression “Abrahamic faiths” for Judaism, Christianity, and Islam because the three religions’ sacred books do have shared texts or passages. You would think that would mean more peaceful relationships among the three faiths.

I grumbled reading that only 10 percent of NBDB respondents cited having read social science books in the last year, trailing behind the 14 percent reported for “business, management, economics, and money” books. “Art and culture” came in with 8 percent, the same percentage for “language studies, literature, communications, and media studies” and with STEM (science, technology, engineering, and medicine) books.

No wonder the Philippines has been at the bottom of the cellar in the Programme for International Student Assessment Studies (Pisa) conducted worldwide to measure competencies among students for reading, math, science, and life skills. The NBDB survey should remind us that reading is a key here: if you don’t have basic reading competency, you can’t expect people to move on to science and math.

I want to end up wearing still another hat, as someone who occasionally has to interview job applicants. Oh, but I’ve had so many applicants claiming they “love” reading and books. I should be asking them what kind of books. I’ll remember the wide range of responses in the NBDB surveys, from the Bible top of the list and, at the bottom, guess what, “sex, erotica,” which was cited with a “- -,“ close to zero I guess. But I can believe that, if you mean reading rather than watching. Big help that’s going to do for our Pisa ratings!

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