Saturday, May 29, 2010

Reading between notes

NOW, notebooks are in the news, their prices monitored by parents and authorities, their covers and binding scrutinized by non-government organizations for harmful substances like polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and lead.

But after school starts, notebooks plummet from the view of the public, the monitoring bodies, even students and mentors.

It’s a reality that may explain why we are a nation of 15 million illiterates.

According to a 2003 study conducted by the government, 11 million Filipinos were found to be functionally illiterate while four million lacked basic or simple literacy.

These were the findings of the Functional Literacy, Education, and Mass Media Survey (Flemms) conducted by the National Statistics Council, the Department of Education and the Literacy Coordinating Council.

Using the Flemms definition of terms, the four million pure illiterates cannot read or write in any language or dialect. The 11 million functionally illiterate lack the reading, writing and numerical skills needed for day-to-day survival or relating.

What’s the link between an ordinary notebook and the ability to solve problems, follow directions and fill out forms?

Notebooks are hardly used independently by young people.

From elementary to college, notebooks are generally used by students to copy board notes made by their teachers or classmates. The pages almost always reflect exercises students make during class or assignments they perform at home.

These activities are all required of students. When do the pages show a student’s own research to deepen class discussion or freewriting to explore personal insights on a subject?

At the end of school, the unused leaves at the back of a notebook are stark reminders of what might have been: of math exercises that a student could have done after class to understand better principles and formulae; of essay drafts that might have rewritten and expressed better one’s ideas in one’s own words.

In the lower years, notebooks guide parents in participating in their children’s education. Dutiful mentors scan notebooks during dismissal or while waiting for their children to finish tutorials or dinner. A classmate’s notebook is borrowed when a student is absent or blackboard notes were not completely copied.

But the older the student, the more personal should be the stake in one’s notebook.

This presumes that by high school, the student should be independently reading and learning. Reading promotes a habit of highlighting read words or phrases, either because these are memorable or are not understood and must be looked up. When one does not own a book and cannot freely note on its margins, a notebook becomes an essential companion for a reader.

Classroom textbooks and lectures, too, have their limits, with the explosion of information on the Internet. Using online access, a student may leap from the reading and assimilation of other people’s ideas to self-articulation and interaction with other Netizens through a web journal or a blog.

According to the 2007 i-report, “A Nation of Non-readers,” Filipino students are less competitive because their learning is rarely self-driven or internalized.

Lacking functional literacy, a person is limited in his options for employment and vulnerable to crime. Educational statistics show that illiteracy leads to closed doors and dead ends, with 85 percent of juvenile inmates in the United States functionally illiterate and 16- to 19-year-old girls with below-average reading skills having six times more chances of having illegitimate children than their reading peers.

Use that notebook, please.

( 0917-3226131

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s May 30, 2010 “Matamata”

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