MANILA (INQUIRER/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) – After two years of distance learning and with months to go before the resumption of face-to-face classes in November, nine out of 10 Filipino children are still struggling to read simple texts by age 10.

That makes the Philippines one of the countries with the highest rates of “learning poverty” in the East Asia and Pacific region and among lower-middle income economies, the World Bank said in a report released on Friday (July 22).

Learning poverty means being unable to read and understand short, age-appropriate texts by the age of 10.

Based on World Bank estimates, as many as 91 per cent of children in the Philippines at late primary age “are not proficient in reading”.

Compared with that of its neighbours in the region, the Philippine learning poverty rate was higher by 56.4 points and more than double the regional average of 34.5 per cent.

It fared even worse among lower-middle income countries, with the figures reflecting an abysmal 80.5-point gap with its peers.

The problem, according to the World Bank, is compounded by the significant number of out-of-school youth.

“In the Philippines, 5 per cent of primary school-aged children are not enrolled in schools. These children are excluded from learning in schools,” it said.

As in most other countries, learning poverty is higher for boys than for girls.

The World Bank identified two reasons.

“First, the share of out-of-school children is higher for boys (5.1 per cent) than for girls (4.8 per cent). Second, boys are less likely to achieve minimum proficiency at the end of primary school (91.7 per cent) than girls (89.2 per cent) in the Philippines,” it said.

The World Bank considers schoolchildren who are unable to reach minimum proficiency levels in reading tests to be “learning deprived.”

“All children should be able to read by age 10,” it said.

“Reading is a gateway for learning as the child progresses through school and, conversely, an inability to read constrains opportunities for further learning. Reading proficiency is also critical for foundational learning in other subjects,” it said.

The country’s ballooning learning poverty rate coincided with the closure of schools in 2020 and 2021, which forced educational institutions to resort to at-home classes that were either module-based or online.