Transparency, resolve, leadership needed in solving non-reader problem

By Estanislao Albano, Jr.

“Unfortunately, as things are, the lack of leadership, seriousness and resolve in the effort to lick the problem which has already brought us national shame and dragged our educational system to the lowest levels is all too obvious. “

With the Region 5 Department of Education (DepEd) revealing that the school year 2019-2020 pre-test of the Philippine Informal Reading Inventory (Phil-IRI), the DepEd’s reading assessment tool, had smoked out more than 70,000 pupils who could not read in both Filipino and English 18,143 pupils of whom are in Grades 3 to 6 (“70,000 Bicol pupils can’t read – DepEd,” February 17, 2020 inquirer.net), there is no reason whatsoever for the other regions not to follow suit. Neither could the national DepEd now refuse to publicize the national reading profile. Under DepEd Memorandum No. 255, series of 2005, which pertain to the conduct of the Phil-IRI, the DepEd is supposed to prepare a national reading profile. Unfortunately, however, the DepEd has not disclosed the report even once and it is high time it did so we will know the extent of the problem and of course, lead the way in being transparent about the problem.
The teachers and school officials involved in the promotion of the Bicol non-readers beyond Grade 3 should be called to explain their decisions. While there may be factors for the difficulty or inability of the children to learn to read such us those cited in the article, the DepEd has policies setting the timeframe for the teaching and acquisition of reading skills. DepEd Order No. 45, series of 2002, states that only those who have mastered the basic literacy skills could be promoted to Grade 4 and likewise DepEd Memorandum No. 021, series of 2019, vests reading competency in Grades 1 and 2.
Apart from clarifying why the policies have been set aside in the case of the 18,143 pupils in Bicol, the answers of the DepEd personnel involved will be material in settling the question of who are responsible for the de facto mass promotion policy in our public schools. This is so because illiterates in Grade 4 onwards are the most damning evidence that that unqualified learners are being promoted in our public schools en masse The DepEd and the teachers blame each other for the aberration with the former alleging that the promotion of the ineligible is a result of misinterpretation of the promotion policy while the latter ascribe the malpractice to the system and their superiors.
Finally, with just a month left in the school year, the DepEd must decide what to do with the identified non-readers in Bicol and those still to be identified during this school year elsewhere. DepEd Memorandum No. 173, series of 2019, titled “Hamon: Bawat Bata Bumabasa” which is supposed to be the agency’s solution to the non-reader phenomenon does not say when a child is supposed to become a proficient reader and likewise, what to do with him if he fails to attain the skill at the end of the said school year. This renders the program practically toothless. Too, the reference to Grade 3 as deadline for school children to acquire reading skills in old issuances pertaining to the Every Child a Reader Program and the Phil-IRI has been dropped from DepEd Order No. 14, series of 2018, which sets the guidelines for the Revised Phil-IRI.
If the DepEd continues to leave the question on when to stop promoting a child who could not read hanging indefinitely and thereby leave each teacher, each school, division or regional office to their own devices as far as addressing the problem is concerned, we have not seen the worst of the reading crisis yet. To begin with, not all regions are as transparent about the problem as the DepEd-Bicol. As of this point, more than half the regions have not acknowledged the reading problem. Unfortunately, as things are, the lack of leadership, seriousness and resolve in the effort to lick the problem which has already brought us national shame and dragged our educational system to the lowest levels is all too obvious. **

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