International Literacy Day: Empowering Early Grade Readers in the Philippines
The power of reading to a young learner is immense. In honor of International Literacy Day, IREX recognizes two Filipina master teachers and alumni of the International Leaders in Education Program (ILEP), Rowena Hibanada and Christine Guinicaran, each working to advance early grade literacy.
Evidence from recent international early grade reading assessments conducted in the Philippines revealed wide regional disparities between early grade readers there, with nearly one fourth of young readers unable to read a single word of grade level text in certain regions. The findings have sparked an effort within the international community to address the needs of young readers there. Alongside these efforts, at the local level Hibanada and Guinicaran leveraged the skills they gained through ILEP to assist hundreds of young readers in their respective school districts in the Philippines.
To meet the needs of early grade readers in her community, Hibanada recognized that she would first have to confront the shortage of primary teachers there. Equipped with the student-centered teaching methodologies she gained through ILEP, Hibanada spearheaded a multi-grade peer tutoring initiative between students in her high school and primary students in the Multinlupa City area of the Philippines.
"Reading is an essential skill because it is needed for all future learning," remarked Hibanada in describing the need for the peer tutoring initiative. "The teachers in kindergarten can only do so much, since the ratio of kinder teachers to students is 1:55."
With the facilitation skills she learned through ILEP, Hibanada addressed the challenge of teaching large classes to read through training her high school students to employ tactics such as reading aloud, reading along, and mentoring with early grade learners who were struggling with reading skills. But Hibanada wanted participating students to have more than just literacy skills—she wanted them to have books as well. So, as part of the project, she initiated a book drive, eventually collecting over 1,000 children’s books for the Bayanan Elementary school library, a participating primary school in the area. Hibanada noted that the "environment of helping each other was translated into improved reading skills, leadership and higher self-esteem and in the end improved academic performance among the kinder students as well as the high school students."
Guinacaran took a different approach to literacy enhancement. After observing the need to link literacy to student motivation, Guinacaran initiated a "summer reading carnival" for students taking make-up summer school for classes they did not pass during the school year. Building upon the facilitation skills and student-centered teaching methods she gained during ILEP, Guinacaran used the carnival to turn what would normally be "boring tasks" into competitions on different reading-related activities, such as spelling bees, speed reading, crossword puzzles, and synonym and antonym quizzes.
For struggling readers lacking encouragement and motivation, the carnival was more than just fun—it was the first academic success many had ever experienced. "Can you imagine the pride the students felt when they received their awards? I think it was the first time for all the winners to receive academic awards," said Guinacaran. "They were very proud of themselves." The summer reading carnival was so well-received that it will become an annual event in her district.
For Guinacaran and Hibanada, using the tools they learned through ILEP was not just about addressing a system-wide educational need in the Philippines—it was about empowering young learners with tools they will use for the rest of their lives.