education in the Philippines

[OPINION] My thoughts on DepEd’s ‘Catch-up Fridays’

Jeric Olay

This is AI generated summarization, which may have errors. For context, always refer to the full article.

[OPINION] My thoughts on DepEd’s ‘Catch-up Fridays’

Raffy de Guzman/Rappler

'As a senior high school teacher, it pains me to accept the reality that, at their age, many SHS students can’t write'

Upon hearing the news about DepEd’s plan to keep Fridays for reading activities, I couldn’t help but ruminate on past memories when I was still in grade school. Could they as well rekindle the quite underrated home reading reports? Apart from our first encounter with agronomy, where we grew veggies and rummaged distant lots for organic fertilizers, reading stories formed a large part of our elementary days. We had to read because a home reading report was compulsory.

Unlike today, most pupils then had no internet access. We relied on physical books. But books were scarce, except for what was available in the teacher’s mini-library. Common sights in the mini-library were Bato Balani magazines, and I couldn’t forget that in those times, thick Collins and Webster’s dictionaries and encyclopedia sets were nothing short of a prized collection.

Since it was the pupils’ volition to select a story, short fiction from the ever-familiar English For All Times reading textbook became our staple. Some chose fairytales and legends from slim and cheap books that they bought from “mysterious” peddlers, and some picked moral tales from Aesop’s fables.

Unknowingly, the home reading activity made some pupils voracious readers. And in terms of their comprehension, they had to read seriously for them to take in the needed details for their reports, such as characters’ traits and the moral or lesson of the story, and for them to come up with the story’s summary.

On my part, this reading activity played a role in building my affinity and love for words and language in general.

Home reading, once a perennial activity, has lost its spark over the years. In 2010, the Department of Education (DepEd) advised public elementary teachers not to give homework on weekends for “pupils to enjoy their childhood and spend quality time with their parents without being burdened by the thought of doing lots of homework.”

Because of the very nature of home reading, this too was affected.

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Nowadays, however, there are still some teachers who ask their pupils to make home reading reports. They conduct the activity on a quarterly basis, and yes, they followed the old format.

If making home reading reports affords the pupils opportunities to obtain vocabulary, make sense of the basic syntactic rules, and develop their reading habits, then this type of activity is not at all asinine.

And how about bringing the idea of home reading to high school and assign two readings each quarter? This might be a good move but not promising because many students are already AI-reliant. They let ChatGPT create their reports. 

The line from one of the late National Artist for Literature F. Sionil Jose’s think pieces still reverberates: “Truly, development starts at the grade school level, with our very young.” So, if we want to develop a love for reading among our young learners, then giving a new life to home reading activities is an option.

As a senior high school teacher, it pains me to accept the reality that, at their age, many SHS students can’t write. Of course, common reasons are associated with a lack of knowledge on sentence-level rules, which could have been learned in their previous years, especially in elementary. I suspect it’s the “messy” competencies that have obscured the view for teachers to really hit the targets. I could only wish that the newly-conceived MATATAG curriculum would change the course. Another reason that carries weight is that these students don’t read. Reading precedes writing. Which is why, from the very start, at the grade school level, these students should have been fed with a good number of stories.

Issues such as learners’ inability to read, write, and comprehend are no longer surprising, for we are being slapped by these realities through a myriad of research findings and the results of international assessments.

Now, the education department has to implement policies, but be mindful of half-baked ones, to address what needs to be addressed pronto. And they need to take into account that just because it sounds revolutionary, it also works as imagined.

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Education Secretary Sara Duterte-Carpio’s latest policy, though still verbal, offers new hope to the learning crisis that has since crawled like metastasis to the core of the country’s educational system.

In the proposed policy, one day is allotted for the literacy program — this has never been observed in the department’s history. As written on the department’s website, Philippine public schools will allot a free day (every Friday) for learners to read. The goal is to cultivate a reading habit. 

Though the policy on paper is yet to be released, I hope that this does not turn out to be half-baked and curated hastily. The education department said that they will prepare age-appropriate materials. If I were to be asked, they have to choose selections that are companionable. Readability must be a chief criterion. And in choosing short stories, they have to put a premium on works by local or regional writers. Works that are rich in local color, vernacular expressions, and themes that reflect local values and practices establish connections, thereby facilitating quick understanding of the text that the learners have read. If these criteria were considered, who knows, the program might also be instrumental for the development of the learners’ sense of nation and identity. 

But the chief essence of the program, which is to raise a reader, will not be felt if the grassroots-level implementors don’t read. I’m referring to our teachers. The problem arises when teachers assign reading tasks, but they themselves haven’t done close reading, or worse, haven’t fully grasped the meaning of the text that they have given.

While waiting for the specifics, which will be released in December, I also keep my hopes high that DepEd will mention and revitalize the time-honored home reading activity as a supplementary to the “Catch-up Fridays” program.

The Department of Education is set to implement the program by January next year. – Rappler.com

Jeric Olay is a 27-year-old educator and poet. He teaches language and literature at Ichon Nationl High School in Macrohon, Southern Leyte.

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