President Manuel L. Quezon once proclaimed that “the reading of good books or the printed page is one of the most effective methods of bringing enlightenment within the reach of the largest possible number of people, and of promoting the cause of popular culture with its tremendous social benefits”.
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”.
With these words, Quezon designated in 1936 the last week of November of every year as National Book Week.
Also cognizant of the need to inculcate the reading habit, especially among the young, the Philippine Board of Books for Young People (PBBY) organized, starting in 1984, The National Children’s Book Day.
PBBY chose the third Tuesday of July and every year thereafter to celebrate the event. The period holds special significance because it was in July 1889 that Dr. Jose Rizal’s children’s story “The Monkey and The Turtle” saw print in Trubner’s Oriental Record in London.
Meaningful commemorative events and programs have been held in the past during both National Book Week and National Children’s Book Day. Schools, especially private institutions, normally hold any or a combination of the following activities:
mini-book fair, story telling, book hunting, book design contests, poster making contests, trivia games.
The most recent celebration of National Children’s Book Day featured, among others, school group visits to Museo Pambata, a book fair, workshop for librarians, and recognition of award-winning writers as well as illustrators of children’s books.
Supermart chain SM hosted story-reading events both in MOA and in its provincial outlets.
All these are well and good. Considering, however, the tremendous importance of reading as a key to individual and national development, the holding of such events should really be a year-round undertaking.
Incidentally, Muntinlupa City, headed by Mayor Jaime R. Fresnedi, launched during Muntinlupa Cityhood Day last March 1, a mass reading event participated in by more than 19,000 students, parents and teachers. The participants read books while forming a huge human flag at Filinvest Corporate City. In the process, Muntinlupa City reportedly broke the world record for adults reading to children in a single location.
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 of “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.
NSO also ranked the different regions, with NCR enjoying the highest literacy rate.
I suspect, however, that the figures do not reflect the actual reading capabilities of those surveyed.
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.”
Despite the advance status of its member countries, however, OECD predicts that by 2031, “47 per cent of adults (aged 16 and over) will continue to have low literacy skills below Level 3.”
Clearly, 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.