Collective Effort for Functionally Literate Filipino Children

Education is among the 17 Sustainable Development Goals that serve as a global call to action to end poverty and ensure that people will live in peace and prosperity by year 2030. At the center of this goal is literacy as it is deemed necessary in advancing critical thinking, which is at the core of our ability to respond to various economic, social, and environmental mayhems many regions are experiencing. United Nations furthered this and recognized literacy education as a major tool for reducing poverty, enlarging employment opportunities, advancing gender equality, improving family health, protecting the environment and promoting core democratic values.

The term literacy has often been understood as a set of reading, writing and counting skills (numeracy). Similarly, Education for All (EFA) 2000 Assessment defines literacy as the ability to read and write with understanding a simple statement related to one’s daily life. However, these definitions are far too simplistic to capture the complexity of this term. To contextualize the term, various civil service organizations propose quite different ways of defining literacy, but a common theme emerges. Literacy is a continuum of learning that will enable individuals to achieve their greater potential and to understand digital, text-mediated, information-rich materials in varying contexts. Going beyond basic literacy, the goal now is to achieve functional literacy which United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) defined as “skills that contribute to socio-economic development, to developing the capacity for social awareness and critical reflection as a basis for personal and social change.”

While literacy education’s role in attaining the 17-point SDGs is now being recognized globally, many still fall short on this. The challenge of illiteracy remains rampant in many countries, including the Philippines.

Situating Functional Literacy in the Philippines

World Vision works in Zamboanga del Norte for more than 5 years already. Building classrooms, reading hubs and donating learning materials, are part of the organization’s commitment to improve the reading and writing skills of students.
A person’s functional literacy is closely linked with level of education. However, according to the 2013 Functional Literacy, Education and Mass Media Survey (FLEMMS), only 6 out of 10 Filipino children are able to proceed to high school or secondary level. The survey also shows that one in every 10 or about 4 million Filipino children aged 6 to 43 was out-of-school. The figures may speak for itself, but the reasons behind it seem to be more alarming.

While it is true that literacy is an education concern, it is actually linked to other societal issues, including poverty and malnutrition. In 2017, the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) released the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) which reveals that 6 out of 10 families in 2016, and 5 out of 10 families in 2017, were deprived of basic education. In fact, education gets the largest share in the overall rate of deprivation related to poverty at 36.9% in 2017. To contribute to the global call of ending poverty, World Vision launched projects like Community Managed Savings and Credit Association (CoMSCA), Natural Farming System, and Local Value Chain Development that continuously help communities achieve economic resilience. In the realm of health, World Vision launched programs concerning infant and young child feeding (IYCF) and HIV and tuberculosis awareness, banking on the stance that a healthier community is a foundation of more literate Filipino children.

For Dr. Gina Cruz, Department of Education’s Senior Education Program Specialist for Malabon, another closely related concern revolves around the children’s declining interest to read. “Hindi ko alam kung ang excitement na nararamdaman ninyo ngayon ay katulad ng excitement na naramdaman namin noong panahon namin kapag nakakahawak kami ng libro. With the advent of technology and the internet, the competition now is very hard. The challenge now is paano natin gagawin na useful pa rin ang books and reading in the presence of the internet (I am not certain if teachers and children nowadays feel the same excitement we felt before whenever we read books. With the advent of technology and the internet, the competition now is very hard. The challenge is how we would make books and reading still relevant in the presence of the internet),” says Dr. Cruz during World Vision’s turnover of 330 big books to Longos Elementary School.

Hence, World Vision makes every effort to find a balance between cultivating the culture of reading and introducing innovative technology-based learning tools to reignite children’s passion to read, study, and finish their schooling. In 2015, World Vision introduced the Culture of Reading (CoR) program in the province of Sarangani to improve children’s reading and comprehension skills, encourage parents to support their children’s learning, and train teachers to use appropriate teaching approaches for particular grade levels. Today, DepEd Sarangani has already institutionalized the program across the 280 schools in the division mandating at least 30 minutes each day for kindergarten to grade 3 students to have reading activities.

“We at World Vision aims to help the vulnerable children achieve a full life by equipping them with necessary skills, and that includes [quality] education. This includes improving the Filipino children’s functional literacy—skills beyond the basic and skills that they can use in their everyday lives,” shares Geomel Jetonzo, World Vision’s Education Technical Program Manager.

The 3Ps towards More Literate Filipinos

world vision sponsored children reading.

Achieving literacy is not an overnight endeavor but it surely requires continuous improvement. Hence, World Vision adapts the 3Ps approach in their education initiatives. The first P stands for policy, which refers to legislations that will support and promote quality education in the country with the help of partners in and out of the government. At present, World Vision supports the Department of Education’s “Brigada Pagbasa: Sama-sama, Tulong-tulong sa Pagpapaunlad ng Kultura ng Pagbasa”  under the Brigada Eskwela program that aims to improve functional literacy skills by using both digital and non-digital approaches, identifying low-cost strategies to improve access to and the quality of education, and building inclusive learning environments. Brigada Pagbasa will include literacy interventions of all non-government organizations in the Philippines.

Another crucial component is the presence of a platform that will enable people to come together and contribute to improve literacy and the lives of children through innovation. Hence, World Vision implements a ground-breaking project known as ProFuturo to let Filipino children and teachers use technology-based tools in their classrooms. “Marami po kaming nagagawa sa [ProFuturo] tablets. Gumagawa po kami ng arts gaya ng logos, animations, and avatars. Mas enjoy po mag-aral. (We can do a lot of things using our [ProFuturo] tablets. We can make our own logos, animations, and avatars. It made our lessons more fun),” shares Ash, a grade 6 student in Concepcion Elementary School, one of the partner schools of ProFuturo in Malabon.

Lastly, World Vision recognizes that all initiatives, however big or small, require participation amongst the people. That is why the organization continues to tap other CSOs, local government units, private organizations, and individuals in carrying out all education-related activities in Filipino communities. After all, achieving more literate Filipino children is not the sole responsibility of a single sector but requires synergy.

Our goals are to protect Filipino children, save their lives, reduce their suffering, protect their livelihoods and strengthen their community. Children are at the center of everything we do. They are the key to a bright future for these communities.

“Together we can change the world for Children.”