Government think tank contradicts itself on reading crisis
By Estanislao Albano, Jr.
In its policy note titled “We need to invest more in learners, learners, learners!” released last month, the Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS) said that for the Philippines to reach the average global reading proficiency in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) of 487 points, it must quadruple its education spending.
With the suggestion, researchers Jose Ramon Albert, Lovelaine Basillote, and Mika Muñoz swept the real causes of the terrible reading skills of our students under the rug by making it appear that the problem is primarily about money. This raises the eyebrows because in the earlier policy note “Pressures on Public School Teachers and Implications on Quality” issued in 2019 February, the state think tank identified the promotion of learners who could not read as one of the “perverse” effects of the DepEd’s inordinate obsession with the “zero dropout rate” chimera. The PIDS found the problem so serious, it urged the DepEd to stop the practice of sending non-readers to high school. Albert was even one of the authors of the previous policy note.
It is hard to understand why the authors made the unrealistic suggestion of multiplying our education spending to cure our reading literacy woes but did not give their readers an idea as to the gravity of the problem that it warrants the quadrupling of resources to resolve. They wanted to solve the problem of high school non-readers in their previous policy note but did not even mention the phenomenon of non-readers when they recommended a final solution to our reading literacy woes.
Since the PIDS is convinced quadrupling the funding for education can solve our reading literacy problem, I am challenging the government think tank to disprove my conclusion that it was the twin decisions of the DepEd back in 2001 to replace the “No Read, No Move” Policy with the “zero non-reader in Grade 4” target and then to stop enforcing any reading cut off altogether which sent our reading literacy on a tailspin and created this reading literacy crisis.
While at it and since they believe that enhancing the Mother Tongue-based Multilingual Education (MTB-MLE) will likely improve learning skills significantly, they should also prove that the delay in the teaching of English reading competency in the K to 12 Curriculum courtesy of the adoption of new language policy is not a major contributory factor to the weakened reading proficiency of our students in English which happens to be our medium of instruction and local and international test language. In the new curriculum, reading in English is only introduced in the second semester of Grade 2 in contrast to the previous curricula which began and finished the job in Grade 1.
If Albert, Basillote and Muñoz want to see how devastating these harebrained policies of the DepEd are, all they need to do is compare the reading performance of students of private schools and public schools. Private schools maintain the traditional “No Read, No Move” Policy and they practically have no non-readers in Grade 2. They also snubbed the MTB-MLE, according to the PIDS policy note “‘Starting Where the Children Are’: A Process Evaluation of the Mother Tongue-Based Multilingual Education Implementation” (June 2019), and their learners read in English at the end of Grade 1. On the other hand, at the very least, 5 percent of public elementary school graduates could not read.
As further proof that the determinant of reading proficiency in public schools are the calamitous reading policies of the DepEd and not underspending in education, the average education allocation from 1980 to 2000 was 2.69 percent of the GDP and there was no non-reader problem then while in 2019, the funding was 3.9 percent of the GDP and the Grade 5 non-reader incidence then was 27 percent according to the findings of the Southeast Asia Primary Learning Metrics student assessment survey (SEA-PLM 2019 Main Regional Report).
In sum, even if by a miracle, the funding for education is quadrupled if the DepEd does not stop the practice of making non-readers feel at home in all grades including in high school and does not restore the English reading competency to Grade 1, there will be no change in the execrable reading literacy of our students. If the PIDS really wants to help, it should instead simulate how our reading literacy levels will respond when and if the DepEd admits and rectifies the above-stated devastating blunders, or even just implement the earlier PIDS recommendation to disallow the promotion of non-readers to high school.**