By Milwida M. Guevara
The pre-occupation of the country with the drug problem, a change in the Constitution, and a shift to federalism has sidestepped a more serious problem—Juan cannot read. Imagine a nation of non-readers! I remember Mr. SyCip who warned that if children cannot read, they will be poor, and if they are poor, they will be pressured to sell their votes.
We were so distraught to see that almost one-half of elementary students in communities we work with are frustrated readers. They are unable to say English words correctly, and more importantly, understand what they are reading. What brought about this predicament? Did we really think that the K-12 program had the magic to improve the quality of basic education? Or was the system so overwhelmed by the several reforms that were introduced at the same time, i.e. the use of the Mother Tongue, the change in the curriculum, and adding two more years to basic education?
No single factor can explain why our nation is producing children who are non-readers. It has resulted from years of top-down reforms which are unresponsive to the needs of children. It came as children and their parents became more pre-occupied with television, facebook, texting, and computer games, instead of reading. It was affected by teachers having less and less classroom time because of the many reports and non-teaching activities that they are required to do. It was a consequence of parents failing in their responsibilities of being “Nanay and Tatay” teachers to their children. It is an outcome of ineffective training programs on how reading skills and communication skills of children can be developed. It came with the belief that education can be improved by providing more inputs such as school buildings, instructional materials, computers, and school supplies. It is a consequence of hunger, and failure to recognize the needs of special children in public schools such as those with poor eyesight, hard of hearing, dyslexic, and autistic.
My heart is moved with pity as children are unable to say the sounds of English letters correctly. It reminded me of my deep frustration when I was unable to read a single word when I was working in Krygysztan. The letters were all in Russian and I did not know how they should be sounded. I got lost most of the time because I could not read the names of streets and could not ask for directions because I did not speak the language. I only got by using hands and body language.
Our children face a similar predicament in English. They cannot say the sounds of the letters of the English alphabet correctly and are unable to blend them to form words. And if they can say the words, they do not know what they mean.
Last week, I asked a student if he were a boy or a girl. This was after the class was taught how to pronounce “girl” and was shown a picture of “Dora.” Instead of answering “I am a boy”, the boy kept repeating his name. Obviously, he did not understand what “girl” means. There must be hundreds of children like him who just go through their lessons without any understanding. They are not used to ask questions. And their teachers are overburdened with work other than teaching. They have little time left to give every learner the attention that he needs.
Teachers have their own limitations in reading and in communicating in English as well. Only 1/5 of 53,000 secondary school teachers who took the Self-Assessment Test in English got a score of 75% (J.Miguel Luz). In another assessment, a quarter of the teachers who were tested in Mindanao had scores below the fifth grade level and 43% scored below the basic reader level (EDC).
Can children find help from their parents? How can they if their parents are poor readers themselves and would rather spend their evenings watching “Kardo” on TV instead of reading with their children? One teacher commented that TV and computer games have become surrogate parents.
The children are in pain and their future is imperiled. If we can only have less politics and work together to solve the reading problem!