By Neni Sta. Romana Cruz
26 December 2015
Philippine Daily Inquirer
At a meeting with publishers at the Department of Education last month, Education Secretary Br. Armin Luistro FSC spoke in strong, uncompromising terms regarding improving the quality of learning materials for public schools and reforming practices in the procurement of such books. It was not the first time he assumed that tone with publishers—and it certainly did not appear like it would be the last. It was a long-delayed follow-up to two earlier meetings during the year when the issue of Department Order No. 44, s. 2013 dated Sept. 26, 2013, imposing a moratorium on the purchase of supplementary reading, reference, and other instructional materials, was the principal topic on the agenda.
DO 44 announced that the DepEd was in the midst of a review of policies and guidelines to ensure that the instructional materials are the most appropriate for the needs of the intended users; that the prices are sufficiently reasonable to allow the government to maximize the use of limited public funds; and that all transactions related to the purchase are “conducted in the most ethical and transparent manner.”
DO 44 also prohibited all education officials from recommending or endorsing any purchase of instructional materials using non-DepEd fund sources, including the Special Education Fund and the Priority Development Assistance Fund, the latter fortunately and hopefully no longer in existence.
At a meeting last January, among the other points of discussion were: the necessary purchase of a large number of books for students numbering 21 million nationwide; the curriculum as the sole basis for the choice of instructional materials; the need for instructional materials for school libraries in the elementary, junior high and senior high school levels, as well as classroom libraries; and the urgent need for instructional materials in the 19 languages for K-to-12 for Mother Tongue-Based Multilingual Education.
The DepEd’s initial major requirement in January was for book publishers to organize themselves into an inclusive group that would speak with one voice. Thus was born the Philippine Book Development Federation or PhilBook.
The meeting last month was thus a most welcome one. The DepEd’s review made it possible for Luistro to announce that the moratorium was coming to an end. From the “long revered” (by some sectors in the DepEd) and seemingly untouchable voluminous list of supplementary materials which have passed the criteria of the Instructional Materials Council Secretariat, a much-needed updated list would be generated. The contents of the old list would be weeded, retaining only titles still relevant, as well as all award-winning books. The identities of the individuals working on the new list are being kept confidential to ensure the independence and impartiality of this body.
It was perhaps the happiest announcement of the day: that finally, the judgment and evaluation of credible, award-winning bodies would hold sway over any individual’s recommendation. The titles vetted by these institutions would make up the new list: the Philippine Board on Books for Young People, the Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards (children’s literature categories), Manila Critics Circle (children’s literature category, which has been discontinued but continues in the National Children’s Book Awards), Caldecott and Newbery Medal winners, and the American Library Association, Carnegie Medal, Michael L. Printz Award, Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize, and Whitbread/Costa Children’s Book Award.
The initial outcry from the publishers concerning the moratorium was that their businesses would suffer. Yet, when Undersecretary Francis Varela, since deceased, asked how much of their yearly income came from the DepEd, no publisher was willing to cite figures.
Luistro sees the publishers’ point of view, and also the inventory of books previously purchased by the DepEd. In an effort to help the publishers, he recommended that should those titles be retained and appear on the new list, they should submit suggested selling prices. No new print runs should be made as only the publishers’ existing stock will be considered for purchase. Additional print runs will be requested as the need arises.
On the book prices, Luistro expressed confidence that these would be reasonable because now, the costs would no longer include add-on expenses previously labeled by company representatives as public relations, promotions, or marketing to “facilitate” their purchase.
Those are totally unnecessary now, Luistro emphasized. In fact, he said, should any inquiries or clarifications be made to any department personnel or office in the DepEd Central Office or divisions other than to the one stipulated e-mail address— firstname.lastname@example.org—that publisher’s titles will not even be considered. He also enjoined the publishers, as he had done in the past, to use that e-mail address to report any unethical practices in the DepEd. He reminded them that he had always made that request, even providing them with his own e-mail address, but had yet to receive any report.
The most important reminder again surfaced at the end of the meeting: Publishing should be more than a business, but must also carry the resolve to produce high-quality, error-free books that our students deserve to have in their hands.
Neni Sta. Romana Cruz ( email@example.com) is chair of the National Book Development Board, a trustee of Teach for the Philippines, and a member of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.