Your Kids Can’t Read

I was going to write about what has happened with the Visiting Forces Agreement between the Philippines and the United States, and the past that has gone and probabilities that may come along with it, but this morning, I awoke with a clanging cymbal of a news report about the large mass of Bicolano children who can’t read. I have certainly come across ten to twelve year olds who can’t decently decode written symbols when asked to, but there couldn’t be that many of them (or could there be?).

“Of the 70,000, 18,143 are pupils in Grades 3 to 6, data released by Grace Rabelas, education supervisor for curriculum and learning management division of DepEd Bicol, showed. Rabelas said the rest of what she called “nonreaders” were in Grades 1 to 2. The data were based on results of pretests administered by the Philippine Informal Reading Inventory (Phil-IRI) between July and August 2019. The finding is another proof that the Philippines’ ranking last in reading among 79 countries and economies in the 2018 Program for International Student Assessment (Pisa) is not a fluke.” (

Okay, so, why did they publish only the Bicol results???? Are we the worst performing region? The reports did not seem to indicate that, but it ever so emphasizes the large number of pupils in Bicol schools who can’t read, implying a less than average mental capacity of people in these here parts of the archipelago. What is this? Some sort of propaganda? In the tradition of the reference to Naga as the hotbed of shabu? I believe that a fairer presentation of data would be one that includes all regions ranked in order. I would suppose that release and publication of such reports have a constructive nature and would be the basis for reinforcing literacy programs to decrease the number of non-readers, but the public deserves the complete data. Don’t mistake this for bitterness or a crab mentality to also pull other regions down, but the report obviously singles out Bicol without any form of reference to our neighbors. For all we know, this situation could be the national norm, or higher than the national average, but how could we tell without the other data?

On the other hand, we have to admit that the Filipino’s (not just the pupils’ and students’) English proficiency has been on a decline for decades now. I’m not too sure with proficiency in communications with the national language. I believe we can cite some reasons on the downward direction of communicative skills. For the sake background, we have to understand that language as a cultural element is more caught than taught, more experienced than explained. In the 1980s and the decades before that local , TV (a medium widely accessible to many of the public) is in English. Newswatch was in English. I remember looking forward to Airwolf and Knight Rider. Yes, there were John en Marcia and Manok ni San Pedro, but we had a healthy dose of the English language on local airwaves (not that we had cable TV then). At 5 pm, children would come home to animated series in the English language. After the EDSA Revolution when ABS-CBN could finally flex is muscles, TV Patrol was broadcast in Tagalog, but The World Tonight at 10 pm would still be cast in English, so there was some of that culture to catch. Now, we have grown in or love for the national language that all evening news programs are in Tagalog, and not only do they dub cartoons in Tagalog, they also do the same with Hollywood movies. (Don’t mind the Chinese and Korean imports. Of course, we wouldn’t understand those if they wouldn’t be dubbed in a comprehensible format.)

In recent years, Filipino popular culture has witnessed the rise of a running joke that English language especially that which is spoken in a good intonation and accent, makes people’s noses bleed. Then everyone laughs. In the middle to late 1990s among Filipino youth, the coño was looked upon and sometimes ostracized. (In case you’ve forgotten the word, it refers to people who belong to upper class of society with signature clothes, cars and English in American accent.) Who would want to be looked down upon? Of course, people want to belong. So, social sophistication along with good spoken English became socially unacceptable.

However, business process outsourcing industry which requires its work force to speak English in an American accent takes much of its employment among Filipinos. We are still big exporter of nurses who nowadays have to pass a certain level of English proficiency to be granted work permit. So, maybe the kids don’t do as well as they did before, but they would learn when the need calls for it.

“Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy…” Revelation 1:3