DepEd solution to reading crisis: Too little, too late

By Estanislao Albano, Jr.

“ However, the action of the DepEd is not entirely futile because at least now the agency has acknowledged the crisis it has tried to run away from for years now….”

More than five years after the problem was first brought out in the open through the shocking discovery of the Valenzuela City LGU that one of every 10 Grade 6 pupils in the public schools in the city in school year 2013-2014 could not read (“Valenzuela gov’t allots P300M to save slow and non-readers among students,” PDI online, March 9, 2014), the DepEd finally  addressed  the reading crisis. Alas, DepEd Memorandum No. 173, series of 2019, is  itself a proof of the DepEd’s lack of true intent to end the non-reader problem.
To begin with, the DepEd did not even have the humility and honesty to admit the magnitude of its failure. While it is now public knowledge that there are non-readers and struggling readers in high school and recently, Undersecretary for Curriculum and Instruction Diosdado San Antonio was forced to admit that the DepEd is aware of the phenomenon, the memorandum tried to make it appear the problem is only deficiency in reading proficiency and does not extend to total absence of the skill. It was only in an enclosure the word “non-reader” appeared.
The fatal flaw of the measure is it perpetuates the DepEd’s refusal to enforce its policies as to which grade  the child is supposed to learn to read and what happens to the learner who cannot read after the term. It does not say if it will impose the standard in the K-12 whereby children are supposed to read in Mother Tongue and Filipino in Grade 1 and English in Grade 2. It does mention strengthening the Every Child a Reader Program (ECARP) but does not specify if it will impose the purpose of the program which is to allow only those who demonstrate mastery of the basic literacy skills to move on to  Grade 4 per DepEd Memorandum No. 324, series of 2004.
The erosion of the capability of the DepEd to teach reading to the point that some teachers estimate 20 percent of the current Grade 6 population will be retained if the agency stops the promotion of non-readers to high school starting next school year is the lack of intent and will to implement the K to 12 or even just the ECARP cut off on the learning of reading. DepEd officials vehemently deny the agency has a policy prohibiting the retention of non-readers explaining that the policy is for teachers to subject identified slow learners to intervention so that in the end of the term they could cope which they claim is being misconstrued by some to be a “mass promotion” policy. But what they are not saying is that the DepEd does not check on the children at the end of the term thus what usually happens is whether the child has learned to read or not, he would still be promoted to the next grade or how else would we have non-readers in high school?
DepEd Memorandum No. 173, series of 2019, is a smoking gun of the existence of the de facto “mass promotion” policy of the DepEd because why the need to intensify “advocacies for reading to make every learner a reader at his/her own grade level” if only deserving pupils are being promoted by DepEd? The DepEd hierarchy should stop unfairly blaming the teachers for the abysmal failure because teachers are not autonomous and the DepEd has quality assurance procedures.
Needless to say, for so long as Memorandum No. 173 is not amended to include a provision stating that the standard of the K to 12 Curriculum or the ECARP will be followed and more importantly, that a child gets stuck in the grade until his status as a reader is validated, the measure is doomed. Non-readers and frustrated readers will continue hopping from one grade to the other.
However, the action of the DepEd is not entirely futile because at least now the agency has acknowledged the crisis it has tried to run away from for years now. Previously, the regional offices addressed the concern on their own with no national policy to guide them. **

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