Reading as antidote to ‘learning poverty’

‘Manila Times’ Chairman and CEO Dante ‘Klink’ Ang 2nd interviews Jose Maria ‘Toots’ Policarpio, chairman of the Philippine Educational Publishers’ Association, on SMNI’s ‘Business and Politics’ program in Makati City on Jan. 12, 2023. PHOTO BY J. GERARD SEGUIA

THE World Bank, the United Nations Development Program and other multilateral organizations have raised the alarm bells about the low scores of Filipino students in Southeast Asian assessments of elementary school students in mathematics, sciences and English. The Philippines, once on top of the heap in Asian educational rankings, performed dismally.

To help address the “learning poverty” in the country, schools need to teach the love for reading because that is where it all starts, a Filipino book publisher and expert in educational technology said.

“You can teach children the sciences, mathematics and all the other stuff, but at the very core of this would be the love of learning and the love of reading. I think these two can be interchanged,” said Jose Maria Policarpio, executive director of the Philippine Educational Publishers Association in an interview on “Business and Politics” a fortnight ago in the Saturday program hosted by Manila Times Chairman Dante “Klink” Ang 2nd on SMNI.

Policarpio knows whereof he speaks. He has extensive publishing experience and served for 25 years as senior management executive with one of the top educational publishers in the Philippines. He noted that the way to instill the love for reading is to expose children at a very young age to interesting reading materials.

His suggestion is to expose young children to big picture books with big letters and colorful art. Print has to compete with television, social media and online apps. That is why there is a need to make the printed books dynamic and interesting. The objective of learning is to pique the readers' curiosity so that they can ask questions and discover insights for themselves.

Policarpio said there is evidence that well-read people are “generally more interesting; they can carry a good conversation, and they can relate better with people. Those are the basic, soft qualities you need when you grow up as an adult; to be more productive, to be able to relate well with other people. Being well-read is a very big plus in your development as a person.”

That is why there is a need for the educators and parents to intervene. Parents should guide their children when using social media and online apps, making sure that they read educational materials. Ideally, preschoolers and toddlers should not be exposed to technologies and gadgets first. They should be exposed to books to make them love reading because, as Policarpio said, “You cannot replace the love for learning with technology.”

With the K to 12 program, Grades 1 to 2 use the mother tongue approach, wherein the subjects in the first two grades are taught in the native language. There is also a need, therefore, to have teaching materials in the mother tongues so the students and teachers can access these learning materials.

When children are mature enough, then they can be slowly introduced to technology. The mind of a child is like a sponge; it absorbs anything very quickly. Books can be introduced to them at an early age so that when they are big enough and can make better decisions, ideally, that is when they can be introduced to technology.

Policarpio also believes that “actual printed paper and books” will stay despite the proliferation of gadgets. “These warning signs of printed paper and books disappearing have been bandied about since 10 to 15 years ago with the advent of the tablets and reading gadgets. The world has been saying that this is the death knell for the printed page, but up to now books still outsell the digital versions,” he said.

Let us also reiterate the need to implement Republic Act 8047, or the “Book Publishing Industry Development Act,” which mandates the creation of a public library in the country's 1,600 towns and cities. Some public-school libraries in far-flung areas do not even have school libraries. The creation of a public library in the heart of the town can help alleviate this difficult condition. The alternative is an ignorant population, which does not bode well for the nation.

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