Breaking down challenges in literacy

Published November 4, 2018, 12:08 AM

by Roel Tibay

By Angela Casco

“By 2030, ensure that all youth and a substantial proportion of adults, both men and women, achieve literacy and numeracy.”

BOOK 'EM — Police officers of the Manila Police District Mobile Force interacts with street kids during the launch of 'Ang Guro Kong Pulis' mobile library at Manila Bay. (Ali Vicoy)
BOOK ‘EM — Police officers of the Manila Police District Mobile Force interacts with street kids during the launch of ‘Ang Guro Kong Pulis’ mobile library at Manila Bay. (Ali Vicoy/ MANILA BULLETIN)

This is the fourth Sustainable Development Goal the country needs to achieve in the next 12 years, along with every member country of the United Nations.It is one of the many global goals set by the United Nations General Assembly back in 2015 to address global challenges. The goal is to leave no one behind.

To date, the literacy rate among Filipinos remains high, according to a 2016 data from the United Nations Human Development Report. At 97.95 percent, the Philippines still has one of the highest literacy rates among Southeast Asian countries, next to Singapore, Brunei, and Indonesia. The literacy rate of women and men aged 15-24 is at 98.9 percent and
97 percent, respectively.

While the current literacy rate is considerably high, the remaining gap of about 2 percent is proof that there’s still work left to be done. As we start November as the National Reading Month, let us think about the challenges that students and teachers are facing to achieve inclusivity in education.

Pressing issues

The gaps are especially apparent at the community level. Children from far-flung areas often have to walk long distances to attend classes. This challenge in physical accessibility as well as scarcity of schools — almost always — result to students quitting school altogether.

It also adds to the number of out-of-school youth aged 16 to 24, which is still at 3.6 million as of 2017, according to data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA). It’s a significant decrease from 3.8 million the year prior. The issue remains, however, especially in children aged 6 to 11 and 12 to 15. The main reasons cited for not attending school in both age groups were the lack of personal interest, illness and disability, and the high cost of education, or financial concerns.
In a press conference back in June, the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) said its members in schools across the country still face problems like the lack of classrooms and teachers, resulting in overcrowded classes.

This is despite the Department of Education’s (DepEd) persistent efforts in addressing classroom shortages. With the help of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), a total 10,401 classrooms were completed between July and December 2017. In the same period, the construction of 243 Technical-Vocational laboratories were also constructed. At least 7,001 classrooms have also been repaired.

The role of K to 12

The hope then lies in K to 12, the country’s massive overhaul of the education system. What was once a 10-year basic education cycle is now 12 years long, with four tracks for students to choose from: Academic, Sports, Arts and Design,
and Technical-Vocational-Livelihood. Four more strands fall under the Academic track: Accounting, Business, and Management (ABM); Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM), Humanities and Social Sciences (HUMSS), and General Academics.

Its implementation was considered a crucial step not just in moving the education system to the world-class standard the country has been aspiring for so long, but equipping young Filipinos with the necessary knowledge, skills, and attitudes to enter the global workforce.

It was successful in increasing enrollment rates and decreasing out-of-school youth rates. Since introducing Senior High School in 2016, the DepEd recorded the attendance of Balik-Aral learners — or students who returned to school after dropping out — grew from 158,131 learners in school year 2016-2017 to 301,744 in 2017-2018.

Whether or not K to 12 has a positive impact to the national literacy rate remains to be seen. The last Functional Literacy, Education and Mass Media Survey (FLEMMS) report — done every five years — was released back in 2013. It’s the same year the K-12 curriculum was first rolled out and the latest figures are still on its way. What’s certain for now, however, is that there’s still room for improvement.

For more information and statistical updates, read the 2016 Human Development Report or visit the United Nations Development Programme: Human Development Reports website at