The Techie Librarian goes to the Philippines

As part of the Teachers for Global Classrooms program, I traveled this summer to the Philippines, where I was able to learn more about Filipino culture, as well as getting a small glimpse into the Filipino education system as it was in Bacolod City, the region where I was hosted for the majority of my stay. As part of this global education guide, I feel that it will be useful for you, my fellow educators, for me to include my reflection on my trip and what I discovered while there.

To read about my travels as they happened, please visit my travel blog: The Techie Librarian goes to the Philippines. Throughout my travels, I focused most intensely on reading and access to reading materials, and especially to school libraries, library materials, and library instruction.

My Essential Question

The US education system has a strong emphasis on creating good readers, and this is an essential part of the common core standards. How is reading treated in the upper levels of Filipino schools, and especially how do schools support the creation of readers, especially through libraries and access to reading materials? How and to what extent is reading, and especially pleasure reading valued in Filipino schools? How is this impacted by the problems inherent in education in a developing nation, especially resource scarcity?

My Conclusions

First, and foremost, I would like to begin by stating that any answer to the essential questions above based on less than three weeks’ time in the country, spent almost entirely in one city, and based on experience within that city in only two schools, both of which were private, cannot possibly even approach a comprehensive look at reading and access to reading materials in the entire country. That said, I report here what I was able to find out, however limited that may be.

My trip to the Philippines began in Metro Manila, the capital city of the country. While there, we were able to visit three different schools, one private girls’ catholic school, one public school with a vocational focus, and one public science magnet school open only to qualified applicants. In addition to this two day experience in Manila, I spent two weeks in Bacolod City, where I was able to spend a considerable amount of time in Colegio San Agustin Bacolod that served students from pre-K to community college level, a private catholic school, and one day each at La Consolacion College Bacolod and La Salle College, also private catholic schools serving elementary up to community college levels as well.

The largest area of difference I observed in regards to access to reading materials was between the school libraries of the private schools I visited and those of the public schools. While each of the schools I visited contained a school library and some sort of library staff, the private schools I visited each had a fully credentialed librarian offering library services to students, as well as fairly well-stocked libraries with a wide range of current reading materials appealing to the ages of students served at the schools. Some of the private schools had multiple libraries to serve the different ages of students, including one school that had an elementary library, a high school library, and a college library on campus, all of which were very well stocked.

The public schools, on the other hand, even the science magnet program which had a very nice brand new facility, had very little to offer their students in the way of reading materials in their school libraries. At both schools, the libraries were small rooms, no larger than the smallest classrooms, with very small collections of books, most of which were obviously the castoffs of American schools, and were horribly out of date. Furthermore, at one of the public schools, library hours and services were provided only partially, and by a teacher who had been enlisted to also serve as librarian when not teaching a class. I found, however, that even at these schools, the students who wanted to read did so. When asked where they got their books, they told me that they purchased them. I also asked about public libraries in Bacolod while I was there, and was told that the public library had very limited hours, all of which were during the school day on weekdays, and that the collection was not really a reading and borrowing collection, but more of an archival collection of old books on what they called “Filipiniana” or local Filipino culture.

Although there were wide discrepancies in school libraries, access to reading materials in the classroom was consistently non-existent. Because teachers all had to move from class to class, they had no space of their own, and did not provide classroom libraries for their students. Nor did any of the schools provide class sets of novels for study in the classrooms. Those schools that used textbooks required that their students purchase their own, and for the most part I observed classes using either photocopied excerpts of novels or summaries for study of literature in classes.

It would seem, then, from my limited experience, that access to reading materials, both curricular and for pleasure, suffers in the Philippines, much like it does in many communities here in the United States, from a severe gap between the haves, those who can afford to buy books for their children at home and thus keep them reading, and the have-nots, those whose only access to reading materials is through whatever small library program their school may offer.

Another observation must weigh in here, however, and that is the language gap between many of the students and the reading materials provided to them. Although English is taught from a very young age in the Philipppines, complete mastery of it is not always obtained, especially when the students are young, and it is the native home language of next to none of the students I observed and talked to. This further complicates the attainment of reading and the enjoyment of reading, as ALL of the reading materials I saw in both classrooms and libraries are in English.

The combination of these two factors would seem to be enough obstacle to keep the majority of the population from actually being readers, and this was provisionally backed up by my personal observations of the houses we visited. Even the teachers’ houses did not have books in them for pleasure reading at home, and not many of the adults I interacted with seemed to self identify as readers. I did see bookstores, especially in Makati, which was a more affluent and worldly area of the capital, and I did encounter students who said they liked to read – in fact, they were often reading the same books that kids at home loved, including The Fault in Our Stars, and the Hunger Games series. But again, those kids were finding, purchasing and reading books mostly on their own in the public schools. And even in the private schools, where the libraries were much better stocked, did not have enough personnel to bring the books the kids through classroom visits and book talking, but rather depended on the kids bringing themselves to the library.

My initial reaction to all of this, quite honestly, was to be dismayed, especially at the state of the libraries in the public schools. I was comparing them to the school libraries I know and love in California, and not really considering that the school districts I know were also in pretty affluent, well-educated communities that value reading and especially libraries. It made me wonder what I would find if I were to go to some of the poorer schools in the United States, and how it would compare. I know that even in California, when the budget crisis hit, access to libraries and especially to credentialed librarians was one of the first things cut from most schools. And I have to remember that the Philippines is a developing nation – it still suffers from quite a bit of poverty and resource scarcity, and it would seem that access to pleasure reading materials and school libraries, although recognized as important and desirable pretty much universally in both countries, don’t top the list of priorities in either of our countries when budgets are tight and so many other issues are facing our schools.

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