Reading in the eyes of Global Teacher Prize finalist

By Ma. Teresa Montemayor

MANILA -- The sun shines its brightest, his floating school glides smoothly over the river as he puts right mispronunciations in the singsongy reading of stories, eager learners heed his corrections.

This was how 32-year-old teacher Ryan Habitan Homan described his usual reading class back at their far-flung community in San Jose, Donsol, Sorsogon.

The Global Teacher Prize top 40 finalist is a firm believer that the ability to read is every child’s greatest weapon against any form of abuse.

“Through reading maraming matutunan ang mga bata, hindi sila maloloko ninoman (Through reading, children will learn many things, they will not be fooled by anyone)," Homan said in an exclusive interview with the Philippine News Agency (PNA).

Reading: Basic tool in learning

Homan emphasized the importance of reading, saying it is a basic skill that can bring both children and adults to different worlds and inspire them to have big dreams.

“Reading is a basic tool in making the learners understand the subjects na tinuturo sa mga bata. Kapag ang bata marunong magbasa, they can understand the different subjects like Math, Science, English and Filipino (Reading is a basic tool in making the learners understand the subjects taught. When a child can read, they can understand the different subjects like Math, Science, English and Filipino),” said Homan who currently teaches Grades 4 to 6 students at the San Jose Elementary School in Donsol.
Homan explained young children who cannot read are often bullied -- they feel defenseless and insecure. Hence, they must be taught how to read so they’ll feel empowered and capable of pursuing higher studies.

“Ang mga batang marunong magbasa ay may self-confidence silang tinatawag na maipagpapatuloy nila sa high school or even college (Children who can read have self-confidence to continue their studies in high school or even college),” Homan said.

According to Homan, reading is best learned through physical books. He said this is especially true for students until primary level as young learners need to touch and be engaged in every page of the book for better comprehension.

“Hindi ako against sa e-books, sa videos ganyan, gumagamit din naman kame ng mga e-learning, pero sa experience ko iba ang progress sa pagbabasa lalo ng maliliit na bata kapag humahawak ng libro (I’m not against e-books, videos, we also use e-learning, but in my experience, the process of learning especially among young students is different when they hold books when they're learning to read)," Homan said.

Teaching reading: Homan’s advocacy

Being the first teacher in his community in Sorsogon, Homan took it upon himself to teach every child he knows to read through his Balsa-Basa and Walk with Knowledge projects.
Financial constraints did not stop him from establishing the Balsa-Basa project in 2013 when he noticed that kids in his community were having difficulty going to school for various reasons.

"Because they (kids) don't go to school, I put up a floating school in the river. I use this to reach my students in the mountains every Saturday," Homan said.

He said he spent PHP5,000 for the "balsa", while non-governmental organizations donated books and other supplies for his floating school. One of the challenges in maintaining the project is that he has to change the "balsa" every year since it rots easily, he said.

While these projects are globally-recognized and well-supported today, their beginnings brought a lot of hardships to Homan.

The main problem Homan had to solve back then was the lack of interest of parents in his reading program. They would rather have their children help them harvest coconuts than send them to Homan’s mobile schools.

“To the parents, learning reading is a waste of time. They stop their children from studying because of the harvest season. So, the children become seasonal students,” Homan said.

However, the parent’s resistance did not last long. When they saw the impact of Homan’s advocacy to the community and to the world, they volunteered their children to learn reading. Some parents even volunteered themselves as teacher assistants.

Teaching reading: Homan’s passion

Teary-eyed, Homan shared how he used to spend all his money just so he could buy reading materials for his students.

“Dumating sa point na isinisangla ko ang ATM ko para makabili ng books, nagagalit na ang asawa ko (It has come to the point when I pawn my ATM just to buy books and my wife gets mad at me),” Homan shared.

Homan said he has faced, and he continues to face challenges regarding his reading advocacy but he just can’t stop.

“Nakikita ko ang sarili ko sa kanila na talagang hirap, sino pa po ang tutulong sa kanila kundi ako na teacher din. Sabi nga po kahit saan ka ma-assign, sabi nga wherever you are planted, you grow (I can see myself in them, truly poor, who else would help them but me, a teacher. As they say, wherever you're assigned, wherever you are planted, you grow)," Homan said.

Homan, with his life experiences as an educator in a remote community, couldn't emphasize enough the importance of teaching illiterate children how to read.

"Teachers must have passion and not just focus on the pain brought by lack of resources, being assigned to teach in the mountains or separation from family. Pain is part of our mission as teachers to help every child read," Homan said. (PNA)