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Masayang magbasa sa sariling wika!

The first session of the Asian Festival of Children’s Content—held at the end of May and organized and hosted by the National Book Development Council of Singapore headed by R. Ramachandran—was on developing a reading culture in Asian schools. Addressing teachers, Dr. Chitra Shegar, assistant professor at the National Institute of Education, conveyed an urgent message: We must not only teach children how to read, but [also] develop in them the will and the love to read.

The love to read has been assumed as a logical consequence of learning to read, but research on aliterates and aliteracy prove otherwise. An aliterate, to differentiate from an illiterate, is someone who knows how to read, but does not care to. Unthinkable, I know, for those of us who live and die by the printed word.

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As if the act of teaching were not challenging and heroic enough, teachers are held further accountable for the rise of aliteracy. Teachers need to provide positive reading experiences for children. The school ethos has to “speak loudly that reading is valued,” Shegar said. If we are all in agreement on the importance of reading in learning and the quality of life and do not dispute the fact that reading achievement is related to language proficiency and academic achievement, why are we not paying more attention to it?

An opportunity to celebrate reading in a different way is National Children’s Book Day (NCBD) on July 17, which, for the first time this year, has gained additional legitimacy with its inclusion in the official school calendar of the Department of Education. That imprimatur encourages the public schools to focus on reading for pleasure, especially on that day. The advance notice almost as soon as the schoolyear began happily allows the teachers ample time for planning.

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NCBD is a tradition began by the Philippine Board on Books for Young People (PBBY). This year, in support of DepEd’s mother-tongues initiative, the day’s theme is “Masayang magbasa sa sariling wika (It’s fun to read in one’s own language)!”

To help the teachers plan the NCBD activities, PBBY chair Zarah Gagatiga has released a list of easy, painless and practical book celebration ideas (with my comments in parentheses), such as:

Conduct storytelling sessions in classrooms and libraries. (Invite your principal and local government officials to be a guest reader.)

Organize a Filipino Children’s Book Character Parade. (Forget all those western book characters and focus on homegrown ones!)

Invite a Filipino author and/or illustrator to speak to children. (Call the publishing houses, who will only be too glad to help out. Students should see and appreciate these authors and illustrators as alive and well, as modern idols who don’t have to be six feet under the ground.)

Display winning books of the PBBY-Salanga and PBBY-Alcala prizes in the library. (Check out the PBBY website, http://www.pbby.org.ph, for the complete list.)

Invite parents, school officials, teachers and other members of the learning community to talk about books they grew up with. (Students are always incredulous that these adults were kids too, once upon a time.)

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Drum up this year’s theme by showcasing Filipino books that exemplify the NCBD theme. (A good way to find out what non-English books your library has.)

Publish or display (online or in the school paper) student reviews of Filipino storybooks.

Read a Filipino children’s book or YA (young adult) novel. (A must for everyone, students and teachers, young and old.)

The emphasis on teaching in the early grades using the mother tongue or the first language has everyone in search of resources to use. Of course, it will take time to build up a body of literature in the 12 major languages selected by DepEd for the medium of instruction: Cebuano, Ilocano, Tagalog, Kapampangan, Pangasinense, Bikol, Waray, Hiligaynon, Maguindanaon, Chabacano, Tausug and Maranao.

It may have been forgotten that six years ago, a dear friend and illustrator, Beaulah Pedregosa Taguiwalo, published five translations of a story in English by American author Alice McLerran, “The Mountain that Loved a Bird.” I reviewed it during the pre-MTBMLE (okay, that’s Mother Tongue-Based Multilingual Education) discussions.

It was McLerran’s intent to have editions in languages all over the world. Its first edition was in Japanese and the artwork was by Eric Carle.

Beaulah took up the challenge in Manila, thus, the handsome picture books by well known literary names—in Cebuano by Grace Monte de Ramos, in Filipino by Rene O. Villanueva, in Iloko by Herminio S. Beltran Jr., in Kinaray-a and Hiligaynon by Genevieve L. Asenjo—all with Beaulah’s exquisite artwork. The books are identical, except for the language used. While it is text-heavy for beginning readers, reading the story aloud in the child’s first language will mean a most engaging read.

That seems like a logical first step, translating existing stories into different languages, but respecting the intellectual property rights of the author and the illustrator. For information on these Mother Tongue books which are fast becoming collector’s items, e-mail [email protected]

Neni Sta. Romana Cruz ([email protected]) is chair of the National Book Development Board, a trustee of the Sa Aklat Sisikat Foundation and a member of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.

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TAGS: Asian Festival of Children’s Content, Asian schools, education, featured column, national language, reading culture
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