Incomprehensible incomprehension


    AMID the elation over the torrent of medals being won by our athletes at the 30th Southeast Asian Games came a bummer: a report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) showed that the Philippines did poorly in a test of reading comprehension (not to mention math and science).

    Meaning, people couldn’t grasp the meaning of what they were reading. Meaning, we may have a high percentage of literate people – those who could read – but it turns out they don’t understand what the heck they’re reading.

    It’s like you’re singing a Brazilian love song at the top of your lungs because you know how to say the words con todo accent pa, but you don’t know what those words mean pala.

    But did it really take an international agency — the OECD — to tell us what we already know? Isn’t it obvious, say, on the streets, where signs say One Way or No Parking or No Waiting – and yet motorists counter flow, park, or have drivers idle their cars while waiting for the amo?

    (Admittedly though sometimes those signs are strategically placed so they can’t be seen — or can’t be seen early enough by a motorist — so that by the time he sees it it’s too late because he has already committed a violation and a traffic enforcer is already walking over to issue him a ticket! And an Osmeña (get it?) is no longer enough to get him out of the hole he is in.)

    We can read but we do not understand. Heck, we all (or most of us? Many of us? Some of us?) get to read the Philippine Constitution from Preamble to the last period in the last sentence of the Transitory Provisions and yet…

    We can read the oath of office for public officials wherein we swear to preserve and defend the Constitution and yet…

    We can read, and even recite, the Panatang Makabayan and yet… Iniibig ko ang Pilipinas?

    Ang Pilipinas talaga? Baka kayong mga Taga-Manila eh Manila lang ang iniibig ninyo kasi siya lang ang inyong binabalik-balikan!

    We can read. The signs say “Stand behind the yellow line; No pushcarts beyond this point; Empty your pockets.” To some Filipinos in the many airports of the country these signs are not big enough apparently.

    We can read. We boast of one of the higher rates of literacy in the world. Or at least in the developing world. Or at least in the region. Whatever. But now it turns out that, all along, we don’t understand what the heck we are reading!

    No wonder.

    No wonder investors seem to prefer neighboring countries to our own. They have rules. We have rules. Except that there are times when we ourselves don’t seem to know we have rules. Because we change the rules in the middle of the game. No investor likes that — unless he is the one pushing for a change of rules!

    But wait: why is it that the same Filipinos who seem unable to comprehend what they read when in Manila – sige na nga, the Philippines – are transformed into able readers with high levels of comprehension when they’re abroad? Di ba?

    Is it because the water being piped into our homes by the greedy oligarchs is impure and it affects our comprehension? Is it because the TV shows broadcast by the big network whose franchise won’t be renewed dumb us down? Is it because traditional media is all fake news and unreliable and you have to listen to Salvador Panelo for the official interpretation of the word?

    Or is it because Pastor Apollo wants to punish those who do not believe, by turning them all into idiots?

    So, the OECD says, Filipinos are an uncomprehending lot. I agree, but I will hasten to add a qualifier – they are an uncomprehending lot when they’re home.

    They are definitely not an uncomprehending lot when they’re abroad.

    “Why is that so?” is the $64,000 question.


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