Changing the culture of learning in the Philippines

Published August 28, 2021, 11:00 AM

by Noel Pabalate

Reading specialist Daisy Jane Cunanan-Calado discusses points to consider in education reforms

LEARN BY HEART A regular classroom setup pre-pandemic (Ali Vicoy)

After participating in various international assessments where the Philippines ranked the lowest in reading, math, and science, the Department of Education (DepEd) vowed to continue implementing reforms to improve the quality of education in the country. With the awareness that comprehension is fundamental in learning, DepEd had focused on the reading proficiency of students. 

In 2019, DepEd launched the initiative called “Hamon: Bawa’t Bata Bumasa” or 3Bs to bridge literacy gaps among learners. The following year, the department used Research O’clock as a venue to learn from studies that addressed the challenges in basic education, which still included reading literacy. With these programs, among others, the DepEd’s aim was to uplift the education standard, which eventually could also give better results in future international assessments.

What else could be done? According to reading specialist Daisy Jane Cunanan-Calado, apart from participating in international assessments, we should develop our own culture of assessment, which focuses on cognitive ability in major subjects to improve instruction or the methods of teaching as well as profiling of students who really need attention.

“It will surely require budgets, but let’s invest properly in what could be beneficial to everyone in the long run. Don’t be scared to spend on education research and evaluation in the Philippines because we will reap the benefits afterward,” says the center director of ReadPlusPh.

Daisy explains that diagnostic tests must be done on a regular basis to see if instructions match the level of the students. And while we do have the Philippine Informal Reading Inventory (Phil-IRI), we also need to have students undergo other reading comprehension assessments. “Instead of re-teaching, we have to consult experts on how to do a remediation program that targets the root of the problem—comprehension,” she adds.

Comprehension is required in all subjects, Daisy emphasizes. “We have to remember that decoding is not reading. Reading is making sense of print,” she says.

A public teacher in grade three (who wants to keep her identity private) shares how she reads stories in class. After reading a paragraph, she would ask her pupils questions regarding certain details like who, when, what, where, before proceeding. Toward the end, she would then ask the final question “why?” This approach is way better than the old-school method of reading the whole story first before inquiries and clarifications are made.

Daisy points out that teachers need to explore more strategies that already exist, which do not require budget allocation, and do not lead to a program overhaul. Citing a study titled “Improving Reading Comprehension through Higher-Order Thinking Skills” by Brigitte A. McKown and Cynthia L. Barnett at Saint Xavier University Chicago, Illinois in May 2007, the reading instructor highlights the solution strategies composed of predicting, making connections, visualizing, inferring, questioning, and summarizing in helping students improve comprehension.

‘Students must take part in their learning. Teachers need to facilitate learning by allowing students to learn concepts with consideration to their knowledge of words and the world. They should walk students through greatness if we want them to be great.’

“Student involvement plays a vital role as they are at the heart of the instructions,” she says. “Asking them to make predictions, establish connections, visualize text content, ask questions and summarize or retell events of texts read would completely change the comprehension game.”

Is this workable in the classroom? “Yes, it’s more challenging and it requires so much time. But we need to go the extra mile for the students to really learn. Also, it’s worth it because it will make their job easier in the future classes,” answers Daisy.

“Students must take part in their learning. Teachers need to facilitate learning by allowing students to learn concepts with consideration to their knowledge of words and the world. They should walk students through greatness if we want them to be great,” she says.

Daisy notes that teachers can facilitate better if they have sufficient training on solving problems in learning. “We can’t deny the fact that several trainings are being done. But teachers who are on the grassroots need to be involved in the planning stage because they are the ones who experience difficulties and see directly if there’s something wrong in the education program. It’s a matter of being sensitive to what teachers really need to improve their instructions.”

An instructor at the University of the Philippines Open University (UPOU), Daisy believes that training should begin with Education majors in college because they are the next teachers who will build a nation.

Daisy’s proposals can be considered as going back to basics. Yet, due to the load of work that needs to be done, it is not as easy as learning ABC and 123. It is not only worth it but we must invest time, effort, and resources in any solutions to change old practices that do not work anymore. They just need to be done, if we want a better future.