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  • Telling it like it is

    By Neni Sta. Romana Cruz
    24 January 2015
    Philippine Daily Inquirer

    I like it when public officials do not mince words and say it like it is, with little need to resort to euphemisms or politically correct language.

    You’d think that it being the first meeting of the New Year, it would just be a friendly meet-and-greet with Philippine publishers concerned with the Department of Education’s 2013 moratorium on the purchase of supplementary materials by anyone and everyone. But no, Education Secretary Armin Luistro wanted to tackle the issue head-on. He prefaced his remarks with a declaration of the unhappiness he felt over the implementation of the moratorium, the practice involving the peddling of supplementary materials, and the significant budget of publishers that goes to agents’ activities that breed corruption (yes, he dared say the “C” word) in government, as DepEd personnel are lured with personal incentives. He stated the obvious: A company’s marketing expenses will be slashed with the abolition of the practice.

    The education secretary pointed out that these underhanded “marketing” tactics will eventually kill the publishing industry, especially the publishers who produce quality materials and observe the legitimate rules of the game. Excellently produced books from writing to publication will nurture the industry and make such a difference in the attitude of the students (and the teachers, too) toward learning and reading. Thinking beyond the Philippine market, how many of our books today would pass the standards of the Asean market?

    Luistro reminded the gathering that early in his administration, he had given his personal e-mail address to publishers with a standing agreement to report to him the names of any DepEd personnel in the central office or in the provinces involved in irregular transactions. He never got a single such message.

    There have been at least two occasions where Integrity Pledges were signed by members of the industry in similar assemblies. Apparently, the signatures were not deemed binding—or there would have been no need for a 2013 moratorium.

    Recent cases that seem to justify the status quo were described by the DepEd. Its teaching modules have been copied verbatim by publishers who sell these to private schools. There is also the familiar tale of a slim book clearly overpriced at P600.

    The statements that kept being repeated by Luistro and the two undersecretaries in attendance, Francis Varela (for finance) and Dina Ocampo (for programs) were categorical. We need to be united in efforts to improve the quality of learning materials in our public schools. Reforms in the procurement of poor-quality and overpriced materials by DepEd personnel need to be in place and fully supported by the industry. A pricing formula needs to be established and enforced. We must purchase only the best books for our 21 million students, who deserve nothing less.

    The evolving needs of the DepEd in view of the K-to-12 curriculum were the core of Ocampo’s presentation. These curriculum guides continue to be posted on the DepEd website for public information (http://www.deped.gov.ph./k-to-12/About/curriculum guides).

    Ocampo outlined the department’s key concerns highlighting the concern over literacy: the lack of quality of curriculum materials being offered to the DepEd; the standards for classroom libraries for K to Grade 3; the standards for school libraries for elementary school, junior high and senior high; read-aloud and practice-reading materials for K to 3 in the mother tongue, Filipino and English; the creation and use of mobile libraries; the increasing usage of Library Hubs.

    She also identified concrete ways for possible engagement with the DepEd: participating in workshops for better exchange; proposing new ways of providing school libraries that are more relevant, effective and useful; preparing proposals to supply, maintain and monitor the use of books, and to make Library Hubs function well; preparing lists of books suitable for content, leisure reading, research, and for use in the classroom; and assuring quality in the creation, review and market study of instructional and library materials.

    These are nontraditional and novel ways for the DepEd and the industry to work together in answer to the department’s immediate needs.

    The publishers proposed a temporary lifting of the moratorium—a suggestion that was unacceptable to the DepEd. The blunt question asked was: Does such a lifting mean a return to the old ways of doing things?

    Luistro’s challenge to publishers was to agree among themselves which organization or federation would best represent them and their interests in the ongoing dialogue on setting the conditions that would make the lifting of the moratorium a reality. This is not an easy task considering the diverse publishers’ groups and their specific interests. But neither would it be impossible, though admittedly difficult, to find representatives who are beyond reproach and with unblemished records as publishers. However, it is hoped that the industry will rise to the occasion for the sake of every Filipino student.

    The education secretary was unequivocal and firm as he challenged the industry: “The moratorium will stay if the DepEd is not convinced that the publishers are not ready to engage us.”

    What a painful and tragic irony if the department engaged in the nurturing of young minds would continue to be mired in unacceptable unethical practices. It would be lamentable and unforgivable.

    Neni Sta. Romana Cruz ( nenisrcruz@gmail.com) is chair of the National Book Development Board, a trustee of Teach for the Philippines, and a member of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.

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