The Philippines is a lingually diverse nation with over 100 language groups all over the country. Recognizing this diversity and knowing full well the evidence that children learn best in the mother tongue, the Philippine Department of Education (DepEd) introduced the Mother Tongue-Based Multilingual Education (MTB-MLE) Policy in school year 2012-2013. This means that learners in the foundational level (i.e., kindergarten to grade 3) will be taught using their mother tongue in all learning areas except in Filipino and English.

DepEd Bureau of Learning Delivery (BLD) has been leading the development of literacy primers in mother languages to ensure that there are sufficient teaching and learning materials to support literacy development early grade reading. Currently, DepEd uses 19 mother languages in teaching - Tagalog, Kapampangan, Pangasinan, Iloko, Bikol, Ibanag, Sinugbuanong Binisaya, Hiligaynon, Waray, Bahasa Sug, Maguindanaoan, Maranao, Chavacano, Ivatan, Sambal, Akeanon, Kinaray-a, Yakan, and Sinurigaonon.

Use of Technology for Literacy Development in Remote Learning

For young children, learning how to read requires having teachers and home learning partners who can consistently scaffold them through this learning process. However, when schools closed due to the COVID-19 global health crisis, many children in low-income families where they are first generation learners lacked support from adults at home who have the ability to teach them to read and write. With limitations in mobility and access to learning materials and services, even teachers were not able to provide direct instruction to these learners thereby exacerbating their marginalization in education.

Increasing Access to Quality Literacy Materials through eBooks

To ease the impact of learning loss due to the classroom closures, DepEd moved towards digitizing its resources in partnership with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). USAID through All Children Reading Philippines (ACR-Ph) implemented by RTI International, procured a software called “Kotobee” and distributed 200 premium licenses to teams of e-resource developers from each of the 19 language groups. The ICTS unit trained the teachers on the use of the software while the BLD and education specialists of ACR-Ph provided guidance on how to make the primers engaging as well as developmentally and culturally appropriate for young learners [see the eResources review toolkit]. With this initiative, teaching and learning resources to promote literacy development in early grades can be more accessible to teachers and learners in both online and offline modalities at minimal cost.

One ebook is dedicated per letter in each language’s alphabet and each ebook includes audio for hearing sounds of letters, words, and phrases; video that is engaging for learners and helps them match words and pictures or see how a letter is written; and games with feedback to practice skills. The lessons in each ebook are carefully sequenced to follow the learners’ stages of reading development. There are also formative assessment exercises that help teachers monitor the progress of the learners. The resources are accessible on the DepEd Commons, but to facilitate offline use, they were also repackaged in an open source, downloadable, and easy-to-navigate learning management system called Moodle™ which home learning partners could install in their own devices.

USAID also procured 300 tablets and 25 laptops and loaded them with the teacher-developed interactive e-book primers to reach learners without access to technology and internet connectivity. These devices were then distributed to select schools associated with the Kotobee development teams in Bicol, Western Visayas, and Maguindanao through the support of ABC+, another USAID project implemented by RTI International, as well as in Cagayan Valley, Central Luzon, and Zamboanga.

Learning to Read in Mother Tongue Using Technology

The language teams provided the resources offline and at home for children who cannot go to school because of ongoing school closures. Three months into the deployment of the initial set of tablets, positive feedback has been communicated to the project. Quotes from the learners showed the following insights:

I learned a lot from the Kotobees. It helped me understand and answer my modules better.” (Kate, 6yo, Grade 1 Pupil from Aklan)

“I like using the Kotobee. It was fun and easy. I liked the stories and the writing activities in Kapampangan. Mama rarely helped me answering them because I can do them by myself. She only helped me with the letter Bb. Now I can read Kapampangan words better.” (Kevin, 6yo, Grade 1 Pupil from Pampanga)  

“What I liked most about the Kotobee is that it is like learning with a teacher because I can hear her voice and the animation looks like her. It makes me feel like I’m in the classroom reading with Teacher Sharon.” (Andrea, 6yo, Grade 1 Pupil from Aklan)

Home learning partners are equally happy with the outcomes for their children.

“He used to get frustrated easily when we answered the modules in Kapampangan because he couldn’t read the words. Now he does them by himself. I just check the activities when he is done.” (Susan, Mother of Kevin)

“I just let her download the ebooks in my phone. She’s really enjoying them. I hope the teachers will make more ebooks like these.” (Beverly, Mother of Andrea)

Going through the ebooks has become my bonding moment with my child. It makes me happy to see her enjoy her lessons and learn from the ebooks.” (Karen, Mother of Kate)

Next Steps Towards Improving Access to Early Grade Literacy Resources

At present, over 280 interactive ebooks in 14 Philippine languages have been downloaded more than 21,000 times from the Department of Education - Commons (, DepEd’s digital OER repository. More teachers from different language groups also continue using Kotobee to create interactive lessons—in literacy, numeracy, and other subject areas—for the learners. More tablets will be distributed to other language groups in the coming months as USAID ACR-Ph and ABC+ projects partnered with SMART Telecommunications and Philippine Business for Social Progress to distribute SMART School-in-a-bag kits to 100 remote schools in the country. Each kit contains 1 SMART Pocket Wi-Fi, 1 laptop, and 10 LTE tablets each loaded with eresources for learners.

The pandemic surfaced several barriers for many children in terms of access to quality learning materials and experiences especially those in most deprived and marginalized communities. But these challenges led to stronger partnerships, more committed education leaders, and more creative teachers. By maximizing technology and thinking innovatively, they addressed the challenges head on to make every child a reader and a resilient learner.


Figure 1Kevin (not the child's real name) is learning about words beginning with the letter Ww

This is Kevin, a grade 1 learner from Pampanga. According to his mother, Celine, Kevin enjoys attending their weekly online classes and is quick to answer the teacher’s questions during those sessions. But this is not the case in reading.

Celine shared that Kevin found reading in Kapampangan challenging. Though he knew some of the letters, he could not associate the sounds to them. “I tried to teach him letter sounds and syllables but they’re different in Kapampangan so answering the modules was also hard for him. He gets frustrated and easily loses interest.”

This changed when the tablets loaded with interactive literacy resources in mother tongue were distributed beginning December last year in 5 language groups including Akeanon, Chavacano, Ibanag, Ivatan, and Kapampangan.

Through the funding support of USAID, more than 200 teachers received premium Kotobee software license to create animated video lessons that teach about letters, letter writing, letter sounds, and word-picture associations. There are also interactive activities such as puzzles, coloring sheets, read-aloud activities, and many more. The resources are in an open access, downloadable, and easy-to-navigate learning management system called Moodle which home learning partners could install in their own devices.

After the orientation with the teachers, deployment to the learners immediately followed and Kevin was among the first recipients of the tablet. Kevin shared that learning using the e-resources was fun and easy. He enjoyed the stories and the writing activities in Kapampangan and of the 29 letters in the Kapampangan alphabet, he only needed help with the letter Bb and he can now read Kapampangan words better.

The same is true for Andrea, a Grade 1 pupil from Aklan. She said that learning to read in Akeanon using the e-resources fun and easy. When asked what she liked the most about the e-resource, she said that “it is like learning with a teacher because I can hear her voice and the animation looks like her.” She added that using the e-resources make her feel that she is in the classroom reading with her teacher.

Figure 2 Andrea reading Akeanon resources in her Mama Beverly's phone (Not their real names)

Her mother, Beverly, added that before they received the tablet, her two children have been downloading resources from DepEd Commons, too. She shared, “my phone’s memory is almost full of e-resources from DepEd Commons because my two children kept on downloading videos and ebooks. We find them helpful in understanding the modules, too.” She hopes that DepEd continues to make such resources available for learners. “It makes studying more fun for Andrea and her brother. It has become our bonding moment, too,” Beverly added.

At present, interactive literacy ebooks are available in Waray, Bikol, Yakan, Surigaonon, Akeanon, Kapampangan, Ibanag, Ivatan, Chavacano, Tagalog/Filipino and Pangasinense in the Department of Education - Commons ( These resources can be downloaded for free through a partnership with local internet data providers in the country. Meanwhile, more tablets are on their way to other language groups in the coming months. Check this video to know how to access the Kotobee resources in DepEd Commons: Accessing MTB-MLE Resources on DepEd Commons - YouTube

This assistance is part of USAID’s All Children Reading Philippines, a four-year, Php250-million ($5 million) task order buy-in project that supports DepEd in improving reading outcomes for early grade learners with focus on impact, scale, and sustainability through provision of evidence and capacity building activities for the successful implementation of strategic EGR initiatives.

All Children Reading Philippines is implemented by U.S.-based RTI International with DepEd.

About the Expert

Maria (Phil) de Leon is an Education Research Officer for the All Children Reading - Philippines project, based in Manila.