Tell it to SunStar: On non-reader issue

PERHAPS in anticipation of our foregone failure in the 2018 Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa), on Nov. 22, 2019, the Department of Education (DepEd) unveiled Memorandum No. 173, series of 2019, titled “Hamon: Bawat Bata Bumabasa,” its supposed answer to the worsening problem of illiteracy in basic education. Alas, however, the issuance only highlights the agency’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 to the magnitude of its failure. While it is now public knowledge that there are non-readers and struggling readers in high school, the word “non-reader” could only be found in an enclosure and not the body of the memorandum.

But the fatal flaw of the measure is its perpetuation of the DepEd’s reluctance to enforce its policies as to which grade the child is supposed to learn to read in and what happens to the learner who cannot read at the end of 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. While the declared means to its goal is to strengthen the Every Child A Reader Program (Ecarp), it is silent on the policy of the Ecarp per DepEd Memorandum No. 324, series of 2004, that only those who demonstrate mastery of the basic literacy skills could move on to Grade 4.

The appalling inability of the present DepEd to teach reading stems from its 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 on 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 making teachers the scapegoats for the growing number of non-readers in the middle and secondary grades because teachers are not autonomous and the agency has quality assurance procedures.

Needless to say, for so long as the memorandum is not amended to include a provision clearly stating that the reading cutoff of the K to 12 Curriculum or of the Ecarp will be followed and more importantly, that any child who could not read 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 next, all but ensuring that we will continue to be the object of derision in the Pisa in the future. — Estanislao C. Albano Jr., casigayan@yahoo.com