He further added that “it is desirable that the task of arousing a widespread interest in the reading of good books be recognized as a highly patriotic duty as well as a privilege”.
While Quezon designated in 1936 the last week of November of every year as National Book Week, reading must really be a daily habit.
Reading, one of the three basic skills that we need, must be nurtured as early as possible and the best reading teachers are, naturally, our mothers.
In the online reference “Jose Rizal: Life and Works”, a story is told of how our national hero developed the reading habit. His mother taught him to read using a Spanish reader called El Amigo de los Ninos (The Children’s Friend).
At the start, the young Rizal was asked to read the book aloud which he did so but with difficulty. Noticing this, Rizal’s mother took the book from him and said “I going to read you a story. Now pay attention.”
Rizal recounted years later the impact of that story reading session:
“On hearing the word 'story' I at once opened my eyes wide. The word 'story' promised something new and wonderful… I settled down to listen. I was full of curiosity and wonder. I had never even dreamed that there were stories in the old book which I read without understanding. My mother began to read me the fable of the young moth and the old one. She translated it into Tagalog a little at a time.”
To emphasize the need to develop the reading habit among the young, Rizal later wrote his version of the Filipino folklore “The Monkey and the Turtle.” Rizal’s version saw print in Trubner’s Oriental Record in London in July 1889, just two years after the publication of his first novel “Noli Me Tangere”.
Incidentally, I came recently came across a rare book “Yahin, Nihay” written for adult readers-tellers of stories. Fully illustrated in color, the book is written in Filipino (but with English translation) by Lawyer Eliseo Alampay. It tells of two beautiful sister caterpillars. One (Yahin) metamorphosed into a normal butterfly. The other (Nihay), by design because she wanted others to envy her, became a golden butterfly.
The need to inculcate the habit of reading becomes especially imperative with the advent and tremendous developments in broadcast and in the film industry which tend to convert many, especially the young, into passive learners.
The National Statistics Office (NS0) declared in 2010 an increase in “the number of people who can read and write in any language or dialect in the Philippines compared to 10 years ago.”
The Census of Population and Housing (CPH) showed that of 71.5 million individuals who are 10 years old and above, 97.5 per cent or 69.8 million were literate or could read and write.
I suspect, however, that the figures do not actually capture the actual reading capabilities if we are to use international reading benchmarks.
The Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has categorized reading abilities into 5 levels, as follows:
“Level 1 – Very poor literacy skills
“Level 2 – Has capacity to deal only with simple, clear material involving uncomplicated task.
“Level 3 – Adequate to cope with the demands of everyday life and working in an advanced society.
“Levels 4 and 5 – Strong skills. Individuals at these levels can process information of a complex and demanding nature.”
Against those benchmarks, more needs to be done in order to raise our reading skills on a national scale. The battle has to be waged both in the homes and in the classrooms. In both arenas, the young must be given the proper learning environment and the proper facilities to give them a good start.
That will be quite a challenge for parents, teachers and the community.