Every start of the school year, our adviser hands out textbooks for the entire class. She would call our names one by one and instruct us to pick a number of books from a pile. Since we were always called alphabetically and my surname starts with M, I keep an anxious look at the diminishing pile, wondering if there are still Science or Math books left. I didn’t mind if I don’t have English or History books. I only want Science and Math.
I wouldn’t mind having all the books, of course. But even if I want to, that is not possible.
In a public school, the number of students grow every year but the number of books do not. Some students will have books for Math, English, and History only while others will only have Science and Filipino. I don’t recall a time when all of us received books for all the subjects. It was even rare that a student had the complete set.
This was the case when I first attended school, in 1983. This was the case when I finished high school, in 1993. This is still the case today.
The problem with today’s school textbooks do not end there. Let me share what schoolteacher Antonio Calipjo Go discovered. After 10 years of studying textbooks, Mr. Go came to the conclusion that half of the public school textbooks in English, Filipino and Social Studies were “defective.” In 2002, he found 400 errors in a single public elementary textbook. And only last June, he again uncovered a lot of errors in seven Social Studies textbooks.
One almost feels relieved that many printed books are still in warehouses and cannot be distributed to school children because of assorted legal cases that involved the publishers. But then again, it’s disgusting how our tax pesos are wasted twice over on this matter. Our children either don’t get the books, or they get them flawed.
Our public education system has a lot of problems, dilapidated classrooms and lack of teachers among them. But I believe that if there is one thing we ordinary Filipinos can solve, it is the availability of quality textbooks.
How can we make quality textbooks available to every school child in the country?
Normally, if you want to write a book, you agree with a publisher on the topic and sign a contract with them. You, the author, are in charge of writing the content, while the publisher assigns a team composed of editors, illustrators, and proofreaders to make sure that the final manuscript is correct before it gets printed. During the creation phase, only you and the publisher’s team have access to the manuscripts. When the manuscript is ready, it is given to the printing team who turns it into a book.
For public school textbooks, a little more care is applied. To ensure the quality of textbooks, the Department of Education (or DepEd) has a four-step evaluation process, involving a few more evaluators and authorities.
This was already in place before Mr. Go came came out with his findings. DepEd’s process is failing and we need a different approach to ensure the quality of public textbooks.
Now what if you made your book available on the Internet as you write it? What if for every chapter you have written, you publish it in your website and let anyone read it and give you feedback. What if you up the notch further and allow other people to edit your book even while you are sleeping or on a date (or both)? If someone sees a spelling error, let him correct it right away. The next time you visit your website, you will see an updated version with the spelling mistakes gone.
Isn’t this what is being done by publishers right now? Yes, but the publisher limits the number of people who review your book. And these people are not reviewing only one book; they are working on several at a time. What the Internet allows is a way to tap the sheer thousands of teachers, educators, professionals, college students, parents, businessmen, managers and other experts to help produce high-quality textbooks. Can you imagine how much attention is now given to your one book?
The practice of collaborating and corroborating on the Internet to create and build up comprehensive and accurate piles of information is based on the the open-source model that has its roots in the software industry. Since the early days of the Internet, many programmers around the world have banded into a community that writes software not because of financial reward but of a desire to improve the world. These programmers not only give their software for free, but they also make sure that other programmers would be able to modify the software as they see fit. This unorthodox approach (at least in its early adoption) have produced high-quality software that powers the Internet and many industries around the world. This community-based model is so effective that it has been adopted to create the history’s largest encyclopedia.
Wikipedia is one of the world’s most visited websites, and is a highly reliable source of information in the Internet. Its collection far exceeds any encyclopedia ever written and is even available in many languages. Though it cannot guarantee 100% correctness for all entries (no encyclopedia can), its credibility has never been questioned and it has in fact become the leading news source in the world. The Wikipedia allows anyone to contribute an entry, or update an existing entry. Wikipedia is an undeniable proof that a community-based model works.
The community-based model works because the people involved share a passion for sharing what they know with others. Mothers who enjoy cooking love sharing their recipes with their neighbors and friends. People who do things out of love naturally want the company of people who share their passion. The Internet has created a world where like-minded people can work together unconstrained by geography, gender, or age.
Writing textbooks for school children is not the same as collaborating in a script for another Judy Ann Santos movie. We are writing textbooks that can give poor Filipino school children a chance at a decent future. It sounds cliche but it is worth reiterating that our country’s future lies with children and it is our moral obligation to shape that future.
Beyond the efficiency and benefits of having a million hands collaborate on writing textbooks is the importance of making knowledge available to everyone. No single publisher should own the content of our textbooks and restrict who can read them. Every Filipino should have access to every information that is available in our Math, English, or Science textbooks in any form – that includes making them available in the Internet. The role of publishers then is to simply print and deliver the books.
Publishers employ writers, illustrators, layout artists, editors, proofreaders, managers to work on these textbooks. If there is no need for publishers to employ this amount of manpower to produce a textbook (after all the book only needs to get printed), imagine how much money can the government save for each textbook? Book authors typically receive royalty payments for every book sold, which the publisher just happily adds up to the book’s sale price, and which we eventually pay with our taxes. Imagine the amount of money that can be saved, money that can be used to buy more books so that public school children can now go home with all the books they need.
The government usually bids textbook projects to local publishers. In the spirit of fairness, a publisher may supply the English books, while another publisher the Math books, or a publisher may supply all elementary textbooks while another is in charge of high school textbooks. In any case, a publisher is in charge of a specific book that will be distributed to all school children in the country. There are 17.5 million students enrolled in public schools, and it doesn’t take an MBA to figure out that this translates to hundreds of millions of pesos for a few publishers. If the government wants to spread opportunities to the whole country, while not let a publisher in Baguio supply the books in Baguio? So with a publisher in Cebu, an NGO in Davao, or a community organization in Palawan. After all, the manuscripts are ready and the publishers only need to take care of is printing and delivery.
The community-based model gives every poor Filipino child a better chance to high-quality textbooks. This model will reduce the cost of each textbook allowing the government to reach more children given our country’s limited financial capability.
Sorry for sounding like a home-TV shopping segment, but wait, there’s more.
A community-based model has a natural acknowledgment system that gives credit where credit is due. I’ll let you in on a dark secret in book writing that publishers don’t want you to know. The authors whose names you see on the cover of the books are not always the ones who wrote it. Many times, authors with PhD’s or has held positions in universities are included to increase the marketability of the book. Though these famous names may review the book once in a while, the bulk of the writing job usually goes to the lesser known author or ghost writers hired by the publisher. In a community, every contribution, big or small, is attributed to the contributor just like the list of credits we see at the end of a movie. While it could be impractical to list all contributors in the print copy, their names will not be forgotten because it will always be available in the Internet for anyone to see.
Moving forward, what we want to do are:
- Produce textbook materials for every subject in every grade level and make it available on the Internet.
- Convince the government to adopt these materials, and print and distribute them to public schools.
These are not easily achievable goals but relatively, the first one is easier. After all, this has already been done with Wikipedia. What makes the first goal different from sites like Wikipedia is that writing a textbook requires a different approach than writing an article to be used as reference. Writing a textbook requires input from people who understand how children learn because there are approaches and factors to consider as a child progresses in his/her study.
The second goal is more difficult and it will definitely require more than an essay. Already, friends are telling me how high the mountain I need to climb to get someone in the government just to hear me out. And I don’t deny there are moments I think of not pursuing this cause.
That is why I am seeking your help.
I don’t have a name yet for this cause. I always admire Nicholas Negroponte with his One Laptop Per Child dream but I can’t call this “one book per child” because every poor Filipino school child needs more. Please put on your thinking cap and come-up with a name for this cause. Once we have a name, we will start a website as a rallying point. From then on, let God show us the way.
I have friends who have signified support but that is not enough. We are the SMS capital of the world and we are the dominant force in Friendster. Let’s use our innate talent to connect with other people to improve our education system and give our children a chance at a better future.
The other day someone told me I’m crazy. So be it.