Reading ambassadors that include Department of Education Secretary Leonor Briones, Diosdado San Antonio (left) and Joanna Rodriguez (right) read award-winning Filipino literary pieces during sessions in celebration of National Reading Month. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO
Reading ambassadors that include Department of Education Secretary Leonor Briones, Diosdado San Antonio (left) and Joanna Rodriguez (right) read award-winning Filipino literary pieces during sessions in celebration of National Reading Month. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Microsoft has launched Reading Progress, a free tool built into Microsoft Teams that is accessible for free to 23 million students and 950,000 teachers within the nationwide system of the Department of Education (DepEd).

The launching was part of the monthlong celebration of Reading Month in November, where the DepEd and Microsoft held a series of events designed to hone reading skills and foster a culture of reading among Filipino students for better learning and life outcomes.

"The National Reading Month serves as a reminder to us in light of our performance that we must double our efforts to close the learning gap, particularly in the area of reading, which is the cornerstone of learning," Education Secretary Leonor Briones said.

Themed "Bawat Bata Bumabasa Sa Kabila ng Hamon ng Pandemya" (Every Child Reading Despite the Challenge of the Pandemic), this year's celebration considered ongoing limitations to in-person events and face-to-face classes, schools and learning centers nationwide as it aimed to promote reading, improve literacy and upskill educators with innovative technology solutions.

Reading Progress is an AI-powered tool designed to support and track students' reading fluency, specifically reading accuracy, speed and pronunciation. Students can record themselves through the platform and submit their reading assignments to teachers. Mentors can assess the learners' reading progress through an automatically generated report.

"Technology has been at the forefront of the world's response to Covid-19, whether in healthcare, economic recovery, building digital skills or in this case, sustaining learning experiences for students of all ages," Microsoft Philippines Public Sector Director Joanna Rodriguez said.

"We are committed to supporting the Department of Education's many efforts to empower both learners and educators during this challenging time and to continue delivering innovation and lasting transformation for the Philippines," she added.

Designed for K to 12 learners, the tool has accessibility functions to accommodate those who have dyslexia and other learning challenges.

DepEd conducted weekly reading sessions with reading ambassadors that included Briones, Undersecretary and Chief of Staff Nepomuceno Malaluan, Undersecretary for Curriculum and Instruction Diosdado San Antonio, Undersecretary for Finance Annalyn Sevilla, Undersecretary for External Partnership Tonisito Umali, Director for Bureau of Learning Delivery Leila Areola, and Rodriguez, who read award-winning Filipino literary pieces.

Capacity-building sessions on effective story reading and use of Reading Progress and Microsoft Teams were also conducted to help parents and teachers improve storytelling to learners.

"Through Reading Progress, learners can build reading skills through proactive, independent reading. At the same time, teachers are able to track the progress of their students' reading capabilities more easily and efficiently. Again, we are demonstrating that bayanihan is alive, and thank you once again, Microsoft Philippines, for doing your share in this effort to ensure that children become fluent readers," San Antonio said.

The Reading Progress tool was featured during the Reading Cup, a two-week gamified regional reading contest that assessed the reading fluency levels of students from Grades 7 to12 and recognized exemplary readers. The culminating activity was held on November 29 with the Araw ng Pag-Basa Challenge, where students and teachers nationwide undertook a synchronized reading activity led by Briones.

"Let us make it a habit for our learners to read and enjoy growing up with books," the Education chief said.