Low proficiency in reading comprehension may threaten global competitiveness
() - February 22, 2010 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - It is conventional wisdom to think that our competency in English gives us a clear-cut advantage in the BPO (business process outsourcing) industry. After all, English is practically our second language, so doing business with Westerners should not pose a problem at all. This kind of readiness has made us a worthy competitor in the global business arena.

However, recent National Achievement Tests (NAT) administered to public schools paint a picture that may threaten that competitiveness. The DepEd reports that there has been a 21.36 percent increase in NAT results from 2006 to 2009. The 2009 NAT revealed a rise in Mean Percentage Score (MPS) of only 66.33 percent from 54.66 percent in 2006, which equates to an improvement of 11.67 percent. The percentage gains were in all subject areas and point to a steady improvement in the primary education of the country’s public school system.

So this kind of progress is supposed to be a good thing, right?

Maybe. Maybe not. Because a 66.33 MPS (from 54.66 in 2006) is still a rather low score. In fact, it’s at the “near mastery level.” What’s more alarming is that mastery is only at 14.4 percent among grade 6 students and 1.1 percent among fourth-year high school students, which means below-mastery scores are a staggering 85.6 percent among the former and 98.1 percent among the latter.

What could be the reason for such “below mastery levels”? In a 2007 interview, Dr. Yolandda Quijano, head of the DepEd’s Bureau of Elementary Education, attributed “reading problems as the main culprit for the poor performance of some students in the NAT.”

This is definitely a cause for alarm because if the upcoming generation cannot read properly, then there is a big chance they will have difficulty writing and speaking well — simple but vital tasks in maintaining that competitive edge in BPO work. If a new generation of professionals is plagued with poor reading comprehension — and all of its consequential handicaps — our share of the BPO market could very well shrink.

To address this concern at its very core, students have to be trained at the earliest age to read well. This means access to a wide variety of quality books at their schools and a program that encourages reading for pleasure — because the surefire way to develop good reading comprehension is by making reading a habit.

Doing so will ensure that our upcoming generation and those after that will be prepared for any challenges that lie ahead. After all, you can’t go wrong with a generation of good readers to take care of business.

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