More Books this School Year, but Problems Remain
by YVONNE T. CHUA
JUST AS classes were ending last March, the Payatas-A Elementary School in Quezon City found itself being asked to accept a delivery for 750 boxes of textbooks. Marivic Panganiban, a principal in the school that serves the congested squatter community of 75,000 people in Payatas, says the books had been intended for the schoolyear that was then drawing to a close.
Panganiban rejected the books initially, because she had nowhere to store them. But the Department of Education (DepEd) instructed her to accept them, so she did. She converted a toilet into a storeroom and filled every available space on the second floor with as many books as she could. She put the rest in a hall on the ground floor, where they now lie soaked in rainwater.
Most of the books were supposed to be distributed to the districts over which the Payatas school acts as head office. Publishers deliver elementary school books to schools districts that in turn take care of distributing these to an average of eight to nine schools. High school titles are delivered directly to the schools.
Up to now, however, many of the books — including the soaked ones — remain unclaimed because, Panganiban says, "the principals don't have the money to rent vehicles to claim the books. They would have to wait until June 16 when they raise the money through the sales in their canteen and the school feeding program." She has heard that the DepEd will release a hauling fee of P1 per book, but the principal says she has yet to receive official word of this.
Panganiban has more textbook woes. Despite a textbook inventory showing Quezon City as already experiencing an oversupply of books in the core subjects, Payatas-A Elementary School remains plagued by a shortage of textbooks for its 5,000-plus pupils. It has no books in Filipino for its pupils in fourth grade and no books in English for those in fifth grade.
This is a story that has become all too common for DepEd officials. Even as they promise that this schoolyear, many of the country's 17.3 million public school children would no longer have to share textbooks in at least three core subjects in the lower grade levels, DepEd officials concede that they still have many obstacles to hurdle before they can give every child a textbook in all the five core subjects: English, Social Studies, Science, Math and Filipino.
Indeed, the DepEd constantly worries over whether or not textbooks — the right quantity, the right quality, the right title — are reaching schools and students. Another constant source of trouble is the phenomenon of the multiple textbook titles for one subject, sometimes as many as 10 to a subject.
Thus, while DepEd statistics show a 1:1 textbook-pupil ratio for Science, Math and Filipino in the lower grade levels, the reality on the ground is far more complicated. Says Undersecretary Juan Miguel Luz: "Actually our ratio is meaningless. I don't put too much trust in the figure. It's the supply side figure — it's the total number of books that have been printed and bought by the department divided by the grade-level population."
Luz concedes there are "mind-boggling" problems in the government's textbook procurement scheme. Other officials, for instance, say that Payatas-A Elementary School's textbook shortage is due to the misallocation of books among the schools in Quezon City. Unfortunately, it is a situation that is repeated in many other parts of the country.
According to the Commission on Audit (COA), there have also been delayed deliveries by suppliers and defective deliveries-such as double pictures, cut human figures, unreadable text and wrong margin sizes-in at least four regions.
Still, there have been improvements in the country's textbook procurement system. Infused with generous loans from the World Bank and Asian Development Bank, the DepEd's centralized procurement is now even being called a success story.
The reforms have resulted in an improved public perception of the DepEd. The Social Weather Stations' 2002-2003 Surveys of Enterprises show the department scoring a positive 43 in its net sincerity in fighting corruption, up from negative nine in 2000, when it was hounded by a corruption scandal involving textbook purchases.
Publishers themselves say that textbook-title evaluation is now more objective. At present, the DepEd uses numerical ratings, recruit evaluators from the private sector (they accounted for a third of the 180 evaluators in the last bidding), strip books of the cover, title page and other marks that would give away the author's and the publisher's identities, and hold the evaluation in an undisclosed place.
Probably the only complaints from publishers these days are that titles that passed one bidding need be to resubmitted for evaluation during the next bidding and are not automatically included in the DepEd's catalog of approved books that its field offices are allowed to buy.
But textbook biddings have not fully escaped allegations of irregularities. In Congress, Reps. Vicente A. Sandoval of Palawan and Aniceto Saludo Jr. of Southern Leyte demanded an inquiry into the latest bidding for projects funded by the World Bank, chiefly because of "the extreme haste at which evaluation of the bids was conducted which took only 30 days." (DepEd records show the process actually took longer than that, starting from the bid opening on Nov. 13, 2002 to the release of the final notice of award to the winning publishers on Feb. 18.)
Then again, while appearing before Congress, DepEd officials were handed an unsigned note by a legislator asking that a consortium of publishers be named one of the winners. Says a DepEd official of what he describes as "indirect pressure" from the lawmaker: "We were taken aback, but we didn't concede."
The DepEd says it already has enough trouble policing its own backyard, suspecting that corruption persists even in its revamped and strictly monitored centralized procurement. Admits Luz: "At the end of the day, we feel we cannot get the right numbers."
The DepEd has reason to smell something fishy. The COA reports that there have already been underdeliveries of 38,438 textbooks procured under the World Bank-funded Social Expenditures Management Program (SEMP) in the divisions of Quezon City, Lipa City, Quirino province and Dumaguete-Siquijor.
Government Watch or G-Watch, a project of the nongovernmental Philippine Government Forum, detected discrepancies between reports of actual delivery of SEMP books at the central office and delivery receipts received at 29 schools districts in Bulacan, Quezon, Cebu, Iloilo and Misamis Oriental.
G-Watch's report says nothing about corruption, stating simply that records at DepEd's central and district offices did not match, and schools divisions were not furnished copies of the delivery receipt and did not have a consolidated report on the deliveries.
But the Instructional Materials Council Secretariat, which coordinates procurement of SEMP books and now titles under the Third Elementary Education Project (TEEP, also funded by the World Bank), is bothered by what it suspects are forged signatures of school personnel on some inspection and acceptance reports submitted by winning publishers. In one instance, too, only one person signed for all the books intended for 20 schools districts when there ought to have been 20 different signatories.
DepEd's Luz, meanwhile, fears some of the publishers have underdelivered to generate savings. After all, the drastic drop in the prices of textbooks sold to the central office (as much as 40 percent) has left publishers with very slim profit margins.
To further complicate matters, several districts in Caloocan, Mandaluyong and Quezon cities have failed to distribute the SEMP books to schools under them, says COA. In Mandaluyong, books delivered by a publisher on April 30, 2001 were given to schools only on June 1, 2002.
These kinks leave a black mark on an otherwise impressive record of some publishers who have braved tough terrains, bad transportation systems, calamities and conflicts to deliver the books. SD Publications, which has consistently won in the DepEd textbook biddings since 1999, has even gotten help from New People's Army rebels in the north and requested military escorts down south. SD administrative officer Arne Madrilejos says, "The rebels helped when they saw we were bringing textbooks for the children."
In an unprecedented move, the DepEd is now involving civil society — G-Watch, Procurement Watch, Namfrel and Mincode, among others — parent-teachers associations and other groups to monitor the deliveries of the millions of textbooks bought under the SEMP and TEEP to all the 6,000 delivery points. It has also set common delivery dates for publishers, who are now being asked to deliver within five days to a provincial division and three days to a city division. And as a safeguard against forged signatures, the DepEd has updated specimen signatures of authorized receiving personnel.
Winning publishers welcome the participation of civil-society monitors, saying this will ensure transparency. But they say the five- and three-day delivery timetables may be unrealistic in big schools divisions like Pangasinan, Camarines Sur, Cebu, Bohol and Iloilo, each of which have more than 100 high schools.
And while the DepEd's new efforts may help take care of the deliveries, the multiple titles fiasco may take even more doing to correct. Laundrywoman Lucy Tipanin, for instance, recounts how she began to notice that her son, now nine years old, often did not do his homework. Tipanin, a Quezon City resident, says she found out that the reason was that the boy could not locate the assignments in his books.
Each school year, her son had been getting a textbook in all the core subjects, save for Sibika. The teachers, however, were using textbooks different from those the boy had. In fact, only a handful of his classmates received books that matched those that the teachers were basing the lessons on.
At first, Tipanin's son tried borrowing the "right" books from his luckier classmates. But he gave up when other pupils proved much quicker in borrowing them.
The problem can be traced partly to the 1995 passage of Book Publishing Industry Development Act, which dismantled the government's 20-year textbook monopoly. The DepED used to prescribe one title in one subject for all the public schools. It bought the rights to titles from private publishers and then printed millions of copies for public schools.
The new law allowed local publishers to sell titles to public schools (provided the titles get into DepEd's list of approved textbooks). DepEd also let principals choose the books themselves.
By 2000, schools had a choice of 458 titles or as many as 12 textbooks per subject, per grade. Many ended up with various titles for one subject. Says the COA: "There were cases where students did not have a common book for each subject."
In some schools, as many as 10 titles in one subject were distributed to just one class, says Luz. Other schools had teachers who picked one title and put the others, especially the non-SEMP titles, in storage. In the end, four to 12 students were sharing one book.
Ironically, procurement made through foreign loans seems to have worsened the situation in some subjects. DepEd has conducted three rounds of procurement under SEMP since 1999. A number of titles that won the first round were replaced by other titles in the second and yet another set in the third.
In addition, textbooks bought under the TEEP and the Asian Development Bank-supported Secondary Education Development and Improvement Project (SEDIP) were not always similar to those bought through SEMP. Three biddings held under SEMP and SEDIP have resulted in three different titles being bought for Araling Panlipunan in first year high school.
There were also the textbooks schools divisions bought using their operating funds or local money. On many occasions, these were different from the SEMP, TEEP and SEDIP titles. In Quezon City, for example, DepEd supplied "Math for Everyday Life" for third grade, the schools division bought "Math for Everyday Use," and the local school board ordered "Keeping Up with Math."
Madrilejos's theory is that some schools divisions and local governments could not order a number of the titles under the foreign-funded projects because these are not yet included in the DepEd's catalog of approved textbooks. The catalog was last updated in 2000.
A Quezon City-based publisher, however, says purchases of some schools divisions and local governments have been influenced by the amount of bribes publishing houses offered, resulting in school and local officials deliberately disregarding accredited titles.
DepEd is now working on a textbook redistribution scheme. Luz says it would be "a statistical nightmare," but the DepEd has already told education officials to allocate whole sets of textbooks to schools. Later, it may set up local trading stations so schools can swap titles and accumulate enough similar titles for a class.
In the meantime, Lucy Tipanin frets that her son is slowly losing interest in school partly because he lacks the proper books. Her son's grades are falling, she says.
DepEd officials know they need to make more refinements in their textbook and other programs if the academic performance of public schoolchildren is to improve.
The national averages in the 2002 national diagnostic tests in English, Math and Science were a low 38 percent to 42 percent in grade school, and 28 percent to 30 percent in high school. The figures are hardly a leap from those posted five years before, when public-school children were found to be learning only about a third of the skills they should have been taught.