Editorial: Back to reading and writing

WHAT can be done for Filipino students, described recently by Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia as “very confused?”

The Cebu governor found “dismal and embarrassing” the performance of Filipino students in the 2018 Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa), reported Rona Joyce T. Fernandez and Wenilyn B. Sabalo in a Dec. 17 SunStar Cebu report.

Since the year 2000, the Pisa is taken every three years by 15-year-old students around the globe to assess their mastery in mathematics, science and reading. Taking the Pisa for the first time, Filipino students scored the lowest in reading, compared to their peers in 78 other countries. The country was ranked second to the lowest in math and science.

A number of factors affect a student’s performance in a test. The backlash of public opinion though reflects the deepest fears of parents and other citizens holding misgivings about the Philippine educational system.

These apprehensions are confirmed by studies tracking the performance of Filipino learners. According to the Philippine Institute for Development Studies’s (PIDS) research, “Pressures on Public School Teachers and Implications on Quality,” which was published in February 2019, approximately “10 percent of incoming Grade 7 students in public schools are either non-readers or are frustrated level readers.”

To remedy the non-reading deficiency, the Cebu Provincial School Board (PSB) passed two resolutions moving that schools prioritize academics over extra-curricular activities and urging for a moratorium on the use of Cebuano and Filipino in teaching core subjects starting June 2020.

The PSB resolution prioritizing academics addresses a PIDS finding that less time is allocated to learn skills under the current curriculum.

The “virtual decommissioning of procedures,” such as “memorization, frequent spelling drills, and theme writing,” effectively used in the past to reinforce reading and related skills, should be probed by authorities, according to a Dec. 12 article posted in the PIDS website.

Reading has a complementary skill, writing, which must be nurtured as it also strengthens reading skills. There is a reflexivity involved in the processes of reading and writing, which encourages a person to comprehend, think and express feelings, concepts, theories and other ideas of increasing abstraction and complexity.

To engage with youths who have a digitally-enhanced preference for non-linear reading, greater affinity for images than for text and frequent use of language variations such as hybrid or constructed languages, emoticons and abbreviations in their daily speech and digital communication, teachers should adapt in their methods of teaching reading and writing.

In public school classes crammed with students, how motivated are teachers to assign essays and writing assignments to students? More importantly, are these essays read, reviewed and returned to the student with suggestions tailored to address his or her proficiency, limitations, and interests?

Writing is nurtured by a habit of reading and vice versa. Students should not only limit themselves to reading academics-related textbooks and other references. They should be encouraged to read for leisure, borrow novels from their school or public libraries and write book reviews and essays about insights and other reflections from reading.

Before replacing Cebuano and Filipino, our mother tongues, with English as the medium for instruction—a controversial move—students, educators, librarians, parents, government officials and other stakeholders should “soul-search” to examine how we have been educating, or miseducating, our youths.

More than revealing our global standing with other learners, the non-reader problem exposes the fragility of a society which, if unable to read and write, may be incapable of thinking and acting critically.