By Estanislao Albano, Jr.
Note: This is our group’s second letter to President Duterte. It is dated and was mailed September 17, 2019 but until now we have not received any reply. I am sharing the letter as background to the third letter which will be published here next issue.
We are both saddened and relieved to inform you that the Department of Education (DepEd) has finally admitted that indeed there are non-readers in high school. In his letter (copy attached) dated August 8, 2019 responding to our letter to you asking for your intervention on the refusal of the agency to acknowledge and act on the reading crisis particularly its silence on the recommendation of the Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS) for it to stop sending non-readers to high school (copy attached), Curriculumn and Instruction Undersecretary Diosdado San Antonio said and we quote: For example, the existence of non-readers in high school which you raised in your letter, does not go unnoticed by the Department. In fact, alleviating such predicament right on the early stages of learning has been a foremost concern.
We are sad because the quality of our basic education has sunk so low there are now high school students who could not read or could barely read. We are relieved because more than one year after the media brought the phenomenon to public attention, the DepEd had stopped pretending that the problem does not exist bringing a ray of hope that finally, the agency will act on the abnormality. To underscore how the DepEd dodged the problem, a separate answer to our letter from Curriculum Standards Development Division Director Jocelyn Andaya dated July 22, 2019 was silent on the issue of non-readers.
Both San Antonio and Andaya took care to enumerate existing DepEd programs and policies to ensure that children could learn to read foremost of which is the Every Child a Reader Program (ECARP). Both, however, did not try to explain how come with all these interventions, the number of non-readers in high school is growing to the point that the PIDS recommended last February that the DepEd should discourage the practice of allowing non-readers to graduate from the elementary.
As far as we are concerned, the primary causes for the disparity between the stated intents of the programs and policies on one hand and reality on the other are the following: flaws in the programs and policies; lack of seriousness in the implementation of programs and policies; and absence of will or even the intent to enforce DepEd standards. The third cause could take the form of deliberately watering down the standard.
For one, implemented properly in its original state, Every Child a Reader Program (ECARP) would ensure all Grade 4 pupils are independent readers because per DepEd Order No. 324, series of 2004, one of the policies supporting the implementation of the ECARP is DepEd Order No. 45, series of 2002, which enforces the policy that every child should be a reader by Grade 3 and that no pupil shall be promoted to the next higher level unless he/she manifests mastery of the basic literacy skills. The prohibition on passing non-readers is absolute and clearly refers to Grade 3 as the level the pupil could not move from unless he has mastered the basic literacy skills.
However, somewhere along the way, the DepEd reworded the intention of the ECARP as follows: to make every Filipino child a reader at his/her own level. The crossroad is no longer specified and may refer to a grade other than Grade 3. DepEd Order No. 14, series of 2018, also excludes the non-reader reading level in the result reporting form of the Philippine Informal Reading Inventory (Phil-IRI), the standard reading assessment tool of the DepEd. The absence of the non-reader column in the reporting form assumes that all Phil-IRI takers are readers thus rendering the ECARP toothless in separating and retaining those who have not mastered basic literacy skills at the end of Grade 3 pursuant to DepEd Order No. 324, series of 2004.
DepEd Order No. 021, series of 2019, titled Policy Guidelines on the K to 12 Basic Education Program which the DepEd issued last month makes it clear that under the K to 12 Program, reading in English is a Grade 2 competency. That despite this K-12 policy non-readers reach high school points to the lack of will and perhaps even the intent to impose the standards. We see the absence of an unequivocal instruction from the DepEd to stop non-readers at a certain grade as the foremost reason we have non-readers in high school.
Mr. President, we therefore reiterate our request for your intervention on the inaction of the DepEd on the non-reader phenomenon by directing the agency to strictly adhere to the K-12 Curriculum or the ECARP timetable in the teaching and acquisition of reading skills such that starting in the next school year, there will be no pupil who has not mastered the basic literacy skills in Grade 3 or Grade 4, as the case may be.
According to our research, the phenomenon of non-readers in high school started some years after the DepEd substituted the old No Read, No Move policy in Grade 1 with the zero non-readers in Grade 4 target but took a turn for the worse with the introduction of the K-12 Curriculum and its Mother Tongue feature in 2012. The slide in the capability of the DepEd to usher children to literacy started more than a decade ago but it cannot be denied that it was during your term that the phenomenon caught the attention of the media and has been noticed by the state think tank PIDS. It is incumbent upon your administration to decisively address the issue because unattended, it will only fester further and stunt the educational development of more Filipino children.
Mr. President, please take up the cudgels for our young children. **