Friday, September 16, 2011

Fully Functional Instructional Materials Council?

The Instructional Materials Council Secretariat (IMCS) of the Department of Education has this (sole) official mandate: "Provide technical assistance to the Instructional Materials Council in the formulation and adoption of policies and guidelines, in the development, evaluation, and procurement of textbooks and other instructional materials."
The IMCS is the Secretariat of a more important body, the Council, which is supposed to make final decisions on textbook procurement & to oversee the evaluation of instructional materials for all public elementary & secondary schools.
Besides the DepEd Secretary & the 2 directors of the bureaus of elementary & secondary education, who are the members of the Instructional Materials Council? Does the membership include recognized textbook specialists from the private school system? Perhaps the Council should also include a competent representative of a relevant citizens organization or civil society group.

How often does the current Council meet as a whole body? Are there official records of its meetings? When was its last meeting? Is its Secretariat pro-active enough in ensuring that the Council is fully functional & has complete membership that holds meetings periodically or as often as necessary?
On a related matter, the IMCS, the Secretariat of the current Council, seems to be on the verge of persuading some high officials of the DepEd to ask Congress to return to the DepEd the responsibility of publishing the textbooks for the public school system.
Should the tasks of writing and producing the textbooks be returned to the DepEd and taken away from the textbook publishers of the book industry, when the DepEd through the IMCS has not yet been able to establish a solid track record in implementing an efficient and effective evaluation system for the textbooks available for procurement?
What makes the IMCS so sure it can do better in the whole publication process (with research, writing, evaluating, editing, and designing activities)?
The IMCS would point to the past, especially the era of the Marcos dictatorship, when the Department of Education produced its own textbooks through an Instructional Materials Development Corporation. Can the IMCS produce enough studies from independent & competent researchers that have compared textbooks before & after the 1995 privatization of DepEd textbook procurement, & which show that the DepEd-published textbooks were clearly superior?

For public school textbook procurement reform, I reiterate my proposal to remove the actual evaluation of the textbooks from the responsibilities of the Secretariat of an incomplete Instructional Materials Council. The IMCS does not have enough experts of its own, but usually taps many external experts from public and private academic institutions.
Also, given the budgetary constraints of the IMCS, it gives relatively low compensation to the external experts, and thus the IMCS neither attracts the best experts nor provides enough incentives for the experts to exert their best efforts in the evaluation process.

It would be more efficient to decentralize textbook evaluation by accrediting appropriate departments of reputable academic institutions and Centers of Excellence like the UP National Institute of Science and Mathematics Education, the Ateneo de Manila Department of English, the UST Department of Science, the De la Salle University Department of Filipino, etc. to evaluate the textbooks.

The role of a reconstituted & fully functional Instructional Materials Council then would be to accredit those institutions and centers, which can charge reasonably competitive evaluation fees from the textbook publishers. In this way, the DepEd can do away with its complex 5-step evaluation system, which unfortunately has allowed some low quality textbooks to squeak through owing to the loopholes created yet obscured by the sheer complexity of the system.

In this scheme, the Instructional Materials Council would consider for DepEd procurement only those series of textbooks that obtained seals of approval from the accredited institutions and centers, and it should require that the names of the approving institutions and centers be prominently displayed on the textbooks themselves. The risk of ruining their reputations would push the institutions and centers to make sure that they do a good job.
The Council would do occasional random checking in which, if it found a low quality textbook among those that an accredited institution had approved, it would pursue an established process to remove accreditation from the negligent institution.

In this scheme, the competition in the public school textbook procurement system among publishers whose textbooks obtained seals of approval would be on the basis of price and some technical requirements and no longer on textbook quality.

This proposal is consistent with National Book Policy #5, which provides that “the State shall support an efficient book utilization program for educational institutions.” Also, Implementing Policy 5.5 states: “the Department of Education shall initiate measures to decentralize evaluation of textbooks, references and other instructional materials particularly those which are locally developed and/or intended for specific geographic areas or cultural communities.”

The DepEd's over-centralized and complex system of large-scale textbook procurement strongly attracts attempts at grand corruption that involves some textbook publishers and those DepEd bureaucrats who discover the loopholes created and obscured by the complexity of the system.
(Comments are welcome.)

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Words without Borders

The National Book Development Board believes that the promotion of lifelong learning through readership leads to genuine human development, national poverty reduction, and book industry development in the medium to long terms.
We live in a world of words, words that work and don’t work, words that matter & don’t. Words in books can cross safely and become active beyond the borders of time and space, especially if leaders & policy-makers will continue to adhere to the UNESCO principle & the 1950 Florence Agreement on the free flow of information & knowledge.
Also, words and books that endure and spread are products usually of substantial investments in time, effort & resources on the part of creative persons and entrepreneurs. To develop authorship and the creative sector, the NBDB initiated and guided the enactment into law of the National Book Development Trust Fund to support through annual grants Philippine authorship in science and technology and other learning areas where more Philippine publications are needed.

For the very first set of Trust Fund grants, the NBDB received a total of 24 applications from budding & veteran authors. For our upcoming Book Development Month celebration this November, at least 3 deserving authors will receive grants of a minimum of 200,000 pesos each for submissions under the categories of the English Novel, Health & Wellness, and Environment & Biodiversity including Climate Change Adaptation. As the interest of the Trust Fund grows, a bigger number of grants over a wider set of categories can be given next year.
Like government support for authors, the book industry has improved through the years. The private sector has been the main driver of industry growth. Government has not been & should not be the main driver, but certainly government has the important role of preserving and enhancing the environment for healthy competition and growth in a book market with domestic and foreign players.
Through the years, I have been privileged to witness how the Philippine book industry has grown. With the spread of the digital revolution, I am confident that the fundamentals of our book industry have become solid & strong enough to meet the challenges and to grasp the opportunities of this revolution.

May we see book readership & book development in the coming years flourishing with more Philippine publications in printed & electronic forms that cross the borders of time and space, more books that contribute to lifelong learning, books that help us live with more wisdom, joy, or peace so that, whenever we turn to the book of day-to-day life, we do better in enriching its pages with trustworthy words and meaningful works, words and works that cross the boundaries of ignorance, indifference and intolerance.