7 JUNE 2007
THIS MONTH'S FEATURES
FACES OF CHANGE AND CHANGELESS PLACES
i R E P O R T — A N A T I O N O F N O N R E A D E R S
THE FUNCTIONAL literacy rate in the country is more realistic — but again, it may be overstated, even though it is measured by a test and not the subject of a survey question. Curiously, the test itself is called the Functional Literacy, Education and Mass Media Survey (FLEMMS), which is done by the National Statistics Council in partnership with the Department of Education and the Literacy Coordinating Council.
While the overall rate for the entire country rose slightly in 2003 versus 1994, seven of 15 regions fell over the same period with Regions II, VIII, IX, X and XI showing drops in both simple and functional literacy rates.
More revealing is functional literacy by age group based on the 2003 FLEMMS: Adults closest to college graduation age (20-24 and 25-29 years) showed functional literacy rates of over or close to 90 percent. But school-age children (10-14 and 15-19 years) showed rates far below the 100 percent that would be assumed since functional literacy is based on a grasp and facility with the ‘three Rs’ (reading, writing, and arithmetic) that we hope our children are mastering. The numbers, however, say otherwise. (See Table 3)
Grade 3 (10 years old) is a critical year in terms of formal schooling. Since preschooling is neither compulsory nor part of the package of free public education guaranteed by the Constitution, Grade 3 marks the third full year of basic education for children who attend public elementary school and the year when the facility to read, write, and do the four operations of arithmetic with competence is expected. (Less than 20 percent of those who go to public elementary school actually attend a full year of preschool education.)
Dropping out before this grade level thus becomes a major contributor to the lack of functional literacy, which in turn has a negative impact on adults and their eventual work productivity. This is assuming, of course, that by the end of Grade 3 (or the third year of formal full-time schooling), our children’s competence in the three ‘Rs are being honed fully. But as we are seeing, that may not be happening in far too many schools.
WITH LOW-LEVEL literacy comes poor reading skill. In elementary schools in the Division of Manila, reading test scores reveal that only one-sixth to one-third of pupils can read independently at the desired grade level. By the end of the elementary cycle (Grade 6), over one-third of elementary graduates were identified as “frustrated” readers; another one-third were “instructional” readers. Both levels are below the desired reading level at the end of the elementary cycle. (See Table 4)
What is troubling, in my view, is that the Philippine Informal Reading Inventory (Phil-IRI) test is hardly a robust test and tends to score in favor of even poor readers. The DepEd has resisted using international test instruments based on the argument of cultural soundness (or lack thereof on the part of international tests with regard Philippine culture). The tendency to go with an “easier” test, however, defeats the purpose of measuring results.
If Metro Manila shows a higher literacy level than the rest of the country but low levels of reading competence, one can only expect even lower reading scores in other regions of the country with less endowments and educational facilities than the National Capital Region.
Here then is the crux of the problem: With poor reading comes poor learning.
In high school, science and math learning require a degree of reading ability since much of what is learned is actually self-taught. The classroom experience in science is expected to focus on experimentation. Learning basic facts and theory in science is supposed to be read as preparation for this. Since Filipino schoolchildren have shown low levels of reading, science and math proficiency are similarly poor because much of what is learned is not self-driven or internalized; rather, it is passed from teacher to student in the old-school rote learning fashion. This largely explains why so few high-school graduates are equipped for university-level science and the subsequent lack of a technical/technology culture among our working population. Without such, the manufacturing and technical sector will continue to be weak in this country — explaining to a large extent our lack of competitiveness in the global economy.
Poor reading is also a reflection of poor language proficiency, whether this be in English or in the national language. One sees this immediately in the language proficiency of public school teachers.
In 2003, responding to the reality that English language proficiency was sorely lacking or being lost among Filipinos of all ages, then Education Secretary Edilberto de Jesus embarked on a nationwide campaign to raise the language proficiency of public school teachers beginning with high school teachers.
Starting with over 53,000 secondary teachers teaching English, science and math — languages that require a good degree of English communication skills — a Self-Assessment Test in English (SATE) was administered to determine the proficiency level of these teachers. Only one-fifth (19 percent) passed with a score of at least 75 percent correct. While the vast majority were able to answer more than 50 percent of the test questions correctly (65 percent), close to one-fifth were obviously deficient in English and should not have been teaching subjects that require a degree of English communication skills in reading and writing. (In education scoring, a mark of 75 percent or more constitutes “mastery.” A grade between 50 percent and 75 percent is considered “nearing mastery.” A grade below 50 percent is a measure of “no mastery.”)
Email us your comments about this article, or post them in our blog.