Thursday, September 17, 2009

Ensuring Textbook Quality

To ensure quality textbooks in the private school system, every school or school association like the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines (CEAP) should set up a textbook procurement system that requires all prospective books to go through an evaluation committee that has clear and established procedures.

Private schools should have an adequate screening system that carefully evaluates the books that they require parents to purchase for their children. If the schools effectively evaluate books before prescribing them, then the publishers will be forced to produce those of better quality knowing that there will be no market for substandard publications. After a textbook has been determined by reliable evaluation to be of good quality, only then should there be other considerations (e.g. discounts & incentives) for any procurement decision.

Unfortunately, it has been reported that some schools make their procurement decisions primarily on the basis of the discounts and incentives (e.g. low-interest loans to finance a school building, expensive gifts like a new school vehicle, or sponsorships of local and foreign trips of teachers & administrators) offered by the publishers. This practice is a major reason for the entry of poor quality books in some schools.

How can the National Book Development Board help private schools and their associations? The NBDB has a Textbook Review Service in which experts from different centers of excellence evaluate books or manuscripts that are voluntarily submitted by publishers and schools. Results of the evaluation are considered by the Governing Board, which then urges the publisher either to take into account the minor or major recommendations of the evaluators or, when the book has been determined to be of poor quality, to stop its production and sale.

Since 2008, the NBDB has given Quality Seal Awards to encourage publishers to produce better books. The agency solicits nominations from schools and publishers for the best books initially in Mathematics and English used in basic education. Six Math books and 1 English book so far have been awarded. These books were judged on the basis of content, editing and design.

I recommend that associations like CEAP should formulate and require their members to adopt a Code of Ethics in Textbook Procurement in which violators will be held accountable and which will promote fairness to the learners, their parents, and the publishers, and respect for rules and procedures.

Such a Code should make it easy for school administrators to answer questions like the following:

Is it right to solicit or accept gifts and sponsorships from publishers and suppliers?

Is it right for a school to demand high (e.g. 40%) discounts from the publishers and then sell the textbooks to the parents at the original prices?

Is it right for a school to monopolize the supply of its required textbooks especially before the opening of classes? (Some schools prohibit the publisher from making the books available through commercial outlets that might sell them at lower prices.)

In the particular case of CEAP schools, which are owned and managed by religious institutes or members of the clergy, should not Catholic parents rightly expect them to be models of fairness and accountability in their textbook procurement?

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