Letter grade | Inquirer Opinion
Editorial

Letter grade

/ 11:31 PM November 19, 2011

The sound you hear is a thousand pages turning. Amid the riot of airport dramas and the possibility of a constitutional crisis, the month of November has also been declared National Reading Month by the Department of Education, and it may be argued that among the three topics, it is the importance of reading that trumps the other two.

Filipinos have traditionally considered a good education as part of the great Filipino dream. Part and parcel of that is the gift of reading and writing. Literacy has always been a valued capacity dating back to pre-Hispanic times, when the writing system known as baybayin was in common use. Under the Spanish, knowing one’s letters was both a mark of prestige as well as a method of subjugation, as the colonizers decided who would learn to read and who would not. The arrival of the Americans turned reading and writing English into a requisite part of daily life.

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Today, functional literacy – the ability to read, write, compute and comprehend – is considered a regular component of citizenship in a country where public education is free up to the secondary level. Yet even those who fail to graduate high school are expected to be literate –because everyone is expected to be literate.

The numbers bear this out. The 2008 Functional Literacy, Education and Mass Media Survey, also known as FLEMMS, found that approximately 67 million Filipinos between the ages of 10 and 64 were functionally literate, a stunning functional literacy rate of 86.4 percent, up from the already impressive 84.1 percent recorded by the 2003 FLEMMS.

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So most Filipinos can indeed read, but that does not mean they enjoy reading. While most students would be treated to a regimen of required reading, many Filipinos effectively stop reading for themselves after they graduate either high school or college.

It is for this reason that the DepEd came up with National Reading Month as well as its Every Child A Reader initiative, an ambitious nationwide synchronized reading program anchored by the schools. “DepEd is initiating programs that would promote reading and literacy among the pupils and students, motivate our youth to learn from the lives and works of eminent Filipinos, uphold one’s own heritage and values and make reading a shared physical experience,” Education Secretary Armin Luistro said in a memorandum. The DepEd was tasked to formulate more innovative programs to encourage students to read, among them a synchronized reading program. Malacañang has come out in wholehearted support of this initiative. In a statement, deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said, “We strongly encourage parents, grandparents and guardians to read stories to their children to rekindle their interest in reading.”

One common concern propelling National Reading Month and its ancillary events is that Filipinos were flocking to the Internet in massive numbers and eschewing traditional dead-trees books as a source of information and education.

The interesting thing is that participating on the Internet actually requires a good amount of functional literacy. English is the chosen language on the Net and to move about, to thrive and live a digital life requires the ability to read and, if not write then at least type, in English. You still have to know what you’re seeing and what you’re typing. That makes reading and writing a concern for both the public and the private sector. Luistro said so in his memo: “Schools are recommended to partner with nongovernment organizations and the private sector to foster cooperation within the community and optimize the success of these activities.”

One such private endeavor is the Philippine Daily Inquirer’s own Read-Along program. Started in 2007, the program aims to connect dedicated storytellers with schoolchildren from all over the country, making stops at over 18 cities and provinces since its inception. Along with government efforts, it is such private initiatives which may make the difference in ensuring a continuous rise in the functional literacy rate as well as a growing love for books, whether old-fashioned or digital.

This is the best excuse to start reading that book you said you’d always finish as well as read to our children. National Reading Month reminds us that these arrangements of letters and symbols can ensure that the Filipino keeps reading all the way into the future.

That sound you hear? It is the sound of countless Filipinos scrolling and typing. It is the sound of a nation turning a page – and moving forward.

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TAGS: Editorial, education, literacy, National Reading Month, opinion
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