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How To Rise From Our Poor PISA Ranking In Reading Comprehension
  • Can 15-year-old Filipinos read?

    That is the big question raised by the results of the 2018 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISAof the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which our Filipino students took in 2018.

    The results released last December 3, 2019, yielded a 340-point score of the Filipino students against the average 487 points in reading comprehension. An analysis of the test also shows that only one over 10 students are capable of distinguishing fact from opinion when reading an unfamiliar text.

    In math, the Philippines garnered 353 points and 357 points for science. The average score for both math and science is 489 points.

    Do these scores mean that young Filipino readers are at the end of the line compared to other teens around the world?

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    Based on the PISA report, the reading comprehension test items were mainly taken from informational texts. The test included more items coming from expository* texts, which included informational texts, newspaper articles, and other texts heavy with content.

    In a typical Filipino classroom, however, reading lessons are typically anchored on narratives. Filipino learners are more attuned to reading narrative texts with more conventional plot and text structures.

    (Editor's note: Here is an explanation on the difference between narrative and expository texts from The Pen & The Pad: "The purpose of a narrative text is to tell a story. It contains characters — real or imaginary — a plot, setting, conflict, climax, resolution and conclusion. An expository text includes factual information that's designed to educate readers, typically involving research, and has a more formal style.")


    To familiarize students with expository or informational texts, our schools need libraries that really serve their purpose as learning centers where students can read narrative texts and expository texts. A proposed solution can be awareness among teachers that reading is not only following events but also processing information.

    Exposure to encyclopedias, almanacs, atlases, newspaper articles, and digital texts will develop the students’ ability to gather and evaluate information necessary to build literacy skills for the 21st century.

    Unfortunately, there is a shortage of informational and digital texts in our classrooms due to the lack of connectivity and functional libraries, especially in far-flung areas. The availability of learning materials, technology resources, and connectivity are some of the main concerns of educators in both the public and the private sector.

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    Reading instruction is also exclusively assigned to language teachers. Content area teachers — teachers of Math, Science, and Social Studies — do not see their part in the improvement of literacy instruction. In truth, however, literacy instruction is the responsibility of all teachers.

    All teachers are reading teachers. Problem-solving in math and science relies on understanding and logical processes. Critical analysis of social and global issues depends on the learners’ ability to distinguishing fact from opinion and taking on perspectives based on textual evidence.

    The young Filipino reader desires to read, but there are no available materials in their hands in our schools.

    While conducting research on adolescent literacy, I asked my students, “Mahilig ba kayong magbasa?” They answered in chorus, “Opo!” With a wide grin, I happily asked, “Ano ang binabasa ninyo?” They replied, “Wala po.”

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    We have to provide books for our children. We have to give them a voice in making their choice of reading materials, whether printed or digital.

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    Literacy instruction in the Philippines will improve if we expose our students to a variety of learning materials, and we all take responsibility in teaching them to read. And when we provide them with choice, we give them a voice. Reading in the 21st century is not just reading words and understanding a story. It includes processing information and applying one’s knowledge to daily living.

    So what is the cause of alarm after our dismal performance in the PISA? Maybe many of those who were tested had fallen from what researchers say “the Grade 8 cliff”? They need a more direct and explicit reading instruction to address their reading gaps.

    The report given to the Department of Education will provide us baseline data for curriculum improvement and planning. It will help curriculum planners and policymakers in crafting reforms for the future of the Filipino child.

    Initially, all of us will think that it is the responsibility of the education sector. But, as parents, we can also participate by exposing our children to various learning materials and guiding them in the choice of printed and digital texts.

    With our concerted effort from the academic community and the home, the Filipino child can read words and eventually understand the world.

    Want to develop and improve your child's reading comprehension skills? Click here for some tips and tricks.

    Frederick Perez finished his master’s degree in Reading Education from the University of the Philippines-Diliman with a master’s thesis focusing on adolescent literacy. His research interests include reading intervention and remediation, adolescent literacy, and reading in the content areas. He is currently the assistant principal for Academics at Xavier School Nuvali and president of the Reading Association of the Philippines (2019-2020). He hopes to build community libraries and train teachers in the countryside. He may be reached at rap.president1970@gmail.com or fredericksottoperez@gmail.com.

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