education in the Philippines

[OPINION] How can teachers develop a reading habit among learners?

Jeric Olay

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[OPINION] How can teachers develop a reading habit among learners?

Guia Abogado/Rappler

Our students don’t have access to reading materials – the printed ones. It’s time for the department to issue a book that contains nothing but short fiction and poems.

One time, I came across an obsolete book. Produced by the defunct Bureau of Public Schools, it had a quirky, large “Philippine Prose and Poetry’’ printed on its cover.

Now that the implementation of the Matatag curriculum is on the horizon, what if the Department of Education (DepEd) developed a book akin to the one I found at a local library? The new curriculum puts a premium on the development of Filipino students’ integral skills, such as reading comprehension.   

One way to tackle the dwindling reading comprehension among our students is to democratize reading. 

Our students don’t have access to reading materials – the printed ones. Most of them don’t have books at home. Books in schools are also scarce. It’s time for the department to issue a book that contains nothing but short stories and poems. Since the selections found in instructional textbooks are relatively limited, the book will work as a supplement. 

Local flavor

In the book Philippine Prose and Poetry, all works featured were penned by local authors, hence the title. What I admired most, as evident in the choice of selections, is the book’s purpose of developing the learners’ “taste for good literature.” 

And what is more effective than introducing stories close to the students’ hearts, selections that tap something into their lives, if not the lives of people dear to them? In choosing titles, DepEd must consider several criteria, one of which is relatability. 

Relatability matters, for it might spark the learners’ interest. 

There are a great number of magazines and journals from which the department can source selections. They might pick some, for example, from Philippines Graphic, named Kislap-Graphic at the time Philippine Prose and Poetry was distributed to public schools. Today, the magazine continues to publish the works of budding and veteran writers. 

Just recently, Philippines Graphic partnered with local governments to bring the works of local authors to schools.

The department might promote Mindanaoan writers. For sure, they could mine good titles from Dagmay. I hope the founding editors will revive this online literary journal.

The teacher’s role

One reason why a student shuns the idea of reading is that he, along the way, finds it difficult to understand the meaning of a text. That’s why another criterion to consider is readability. The selections to be included in a book must vary from simple to difficult, given the varied abilities of learners. 

Now, the teacher enters the scene. The teacher should have the freedom to decide which selections in the book are best for his reading class. In any case, a student will unarguably find it hard to “assimilate” all the details of any story. Misapprehension happens if he is not guided, which is why the teacher should help the student unlock the meanings of some terms, at the very least, and explain to him any references – for example, cultural references – used by the writer.

How can a teacher raise a reader if he himself is not a reader? A student feels the joy of reading if he understands what he reads, and the teacher should not assume that the student achieves it by himself. It’s the teacher’s job to make reading less taxing on the learner’s part.

Gone are the days when we spotted students busy reading or leafing through some pages of a novel during vacant hours or while waiting for dismissal time. So how then can we raise a reader? It’s difficult due to imprecise notions about reading. Some students find reading boring or punishing because, for them, it’s only an academic task, wherein they must read because the assessment might ask the characters of the story or perhaps let them think of an alternative ending. Should teachers share in the blame?

First, provide them with books

So how, for the umpteenth time, can we raise a reader? The recurring answer remains: It’s difficult! Nonetheless, let’s give it a try. But, first, let’s provide the students with books. 

Lots of problems have torpedoed the education department recently, but these problems have not sprung out of nowhere. These are old problems that have worsened because what has been provided is only a band-aid solution.

Say, for instance, the Catch-Up Fridays program. Though the project’s rationale is to enhance the reading competence of the learners, unfortunately – and ironically – DepEd has not produced reading materials exclusive for it. Students were not provided with reading choices, and teachers were not provided with reference material for their reading activities. 

Though the program’s future is not certain due to a change of leadership in the bureaucracy, the issue it tries to address will remain. Only time will judge if the Catch-Up Fridays program is a band-aid solution to a widespread crisis. A book like Philippine Prose and Poetry could have added strength to the program.  

As a senior high school teacher, I noticed that many students couldn’t write. Oh, another educational problem! They can’t write simple sentences. If only they knew that they could learn basic syntactic rules through reading. If only they knew the benefits of reading. What a feast for the eyes it would be to see a student or two plowing through a story! 

I told myself not to keep grousing over this dispiriting reality, for I am a language teacher. There’s always the usual guilt, but I console myself by trusting the power of a village. The Department of Education provides us “weapons,” and we, teachers, work on the frontlines.

Cultivating a reading habit is a long-haul flight, but we’d crash midflight if we didn’t provide the students with books. We can’t shrug off what’s essential. It’s time, as I’ve emphasized earlier, to make reading more accessible to learners by developing a book like Philippine Prose and Poetry. –

Jeric Tindoy Olay is a senior high school teacher and a poet. He hails from Macrohon, Southern Leyte.

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