Children’s books and young adult (YA) books, either written in or translated into the mother tongue, can boost reading literacy among young learners and will be a key driver of collaboration and cross-cultural exchange among ASEAN member-countries in the coming years, announced reading advocates during the Asian Festival of Children’s Content (AFCC) Circle Philippines, slated from Nov. 15-17.
The inaugural AFCC Circle in the Philippines (AFCC Circle PH) is organized by the Vibal Foundation, in partnership with the Singapore Book Council (SBC), National Book Development Board (NBDB), National Library of the Philippines (NLP), International Board on Books for Young People – Philippines (IBBY-PH), and the Filipinas Heritage Library.
Ms. Kristine Mandigma, Program Director of Vibal Foundation
While the AFCC conference originated in Singapore, its adoption in the Philippines is envisioned to lay the groundwork for an extensive network—“a circle of friendship”—that will connect different partners (educators, librarians, storytellers, publishers, translators, illustrators, and other advocates) actively promoting reading across the ASEAN region.
“For those of us who can’t go to Singapore every year for the AFCC, at least we have AFCC in each country,” said Kristine Mandigma, Program Director of the Vibal Foundation and concurrent President and CEO of Vibal Group, Inc. “The foundation plans to support this on an annual basis…We hope, next year, to invite other countries so that children will be exposed to the literature of other Asian countries.”
Fixing a reading crisis
The three-day conference consists of a series of talks and workshops by experts and practitioners in the field of early childhood education to provide insights on nurturing a lifelong love of reading in children. The AFCC Circle PH explores strategies for building children’s literacy competencies at a time when reading literacy has declined, resulting in learning poverty. Filipino learners have consistently underperformed in both local and international reading assessments. Based on the latest data from the DepEd, approximately 91% of young Filipinos are unable to read and understand simple text by age 10 (between Grades 4-6).
The AFCC Circle PH communicates how imperative it is to respond to the reading crisis through its event theme: “Read!
There are currently hundreds of reading initiatives at play in the Philippines. To streamline these efforts, DepEd has revamped the national curriculum and designed an overarching National Reading Program (NRP). The policy document detailing the NRP is currently under final review, earmarking a budget of Php1.9 billion for material resources, inclusive of contextualized reading materials.
Ayette Ferriols, Supervising Education Program Specialist at the Bureau of Curriculum Development of DepEd, suggested that Filipino learners could’ve performed better in assessment tests if the test language had been localized. However, she also indicated that there is no one root cause of the current problem and that it is systemic in nature. “We need to work together to establish a reading culture,” said Ms. Ferriols.
Charisse Aquino-Tugade, Executive Director of the National Book Development Board, urged industry proponents to harness the underutilized potential of children’s books as tools for early education. “We want children to be able to read. We want to create educational materials and strategies that can make smart, kind, empathetic, and critical thinkers—our future citizens and leaders—effectively instilling these values to encourage kids to think for themselves, and for the good of their communities,” she said.
The importance of context
The trend of using the mother tongue to boost reading literacy is not new. The National Library of the Philippines (NLP) has conducted a capacity-building program for library personnel to develop children’s books in their mother tongue. “The books are now part of the NLP’s children’s book collection,” said Dolores Carungui, Chief Librarian at NLP. Story sessions hosted by public libraries also draw from The Asia Foundation’s Let’s Read project, a database of Asian books translated into different Asian languages.
There are eight major languages in the Philippines, although the DepEd is currently in the process of recognizing 29 additional languages and dialects on top of the 19 already recognized. Storytellers are encouraged to publish in any of these local languages or, as in the case of the Vibal publishing group, provide a bilingual edition.
“We have been working to make sure that every child has access to quality books–ones in their mother tongue, ones that are [reflective of] their own context and can therefore empower them to tell their own stories in their own voices,” said Ms. Aquino-Tugade of NBDB, whose Book Nook initiative features at least 1,000 books in the local languages. “There is certainly no lack of interest among our young learners and their teachers in reading and in writing their own stories.”
Local made regional
While AFCC is regional in scope, it hits the mark when it comes to the localization of books. Since its inception, AFCC Singapore has selected a country of focus to be featured in the conference itself. Since 2022, that country focal has also been invited to participate in the AFCC Co-Translation Project. “Singapore and a partner country will each select children’s books and have them translated into each other’s languages. These books will be distributed for free to children in each respective country,” said William Phuan, Executive Director of the Singapore Book Council (SBC).
Two countries—Thailand and Vietnam—have participated in the project to date, with around 1,000 translated books distributed in each country. To mark 55 years of diplomatic relations between Singapore and the Philippines, the latter will again be the country of focus for AFCC Singapore in May 2024. The Philippines will also participate for the first time in the AFCC Co-Translation Project.
“Southeast Asia has a population of close to 690 million people, which is almost 9% of the total world population. That’s a huge market for readers, and for our books to be translated, copied, and reread. Imagine that each of these books will be in the hands of our children across the region. Imagine the readership and the cross-cultural understanding that we can achieve,” said Mr. Phuan.
SBC and Vibal are currently in the process of selecting the books to be translated. [JP1] “Vibal Foundation’s goal here is to support all these initiatives and to foster the children’s love for reading,” said Ms. Mandigma.