How to solve our textbook problems and give every Filipino a better education

Update:This post has been moved to the Bayanihan Books Project website. If you want to leave a comment, please follow this link.

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:

  1. Produce textbook materials for every subject in every grade level and make it available on the Internet.
  2. 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.

Update:This post has been moved to the Bayanihan Books Project website. If you want to leave a comment, please follow this link.

16 thoughts on “How to solve our textbook problems and give every Filipino a better education

  1. Interestingly my latest post was a little something about education too, though it’s not as concrete as this one.🙂 Anyway, my mom’s one of editors for those DepEd textbooks (just yesterday she spent the whole day at the Marikina Hotel for it) but I have to say teachers like her are sorely underpaid, considering it was they who said “the system sucks and needs to be fixed” and the textbook authors wrote crap (e.g., putting literary works without asking permission first and it’s like they don’t even know what copyright means) yet they’ll be credited with the “hard work” anyway.

    I guess what I’m saying is, that’s awfully kind of you and maybe you could talk to people like my mom about it or something, but it’s really difficult once you deal with both red tape and incompetence. Throw in the technological concepts like the Internet and open software and the comprehension by the government officials drops to zero. Hahaha.😛

  2. I actually have a similar idea, to revolutionize the textbook industry. There are a lot of issues to thresh out but I agree that we should go forward to having open content.

    Some ideas:

    1. Government fund the writing of content.
    1.1 Can taking education courses can help or be required to contribute as part of their training. (Maybe we can also make them create elearning courses for their practicum – but that’s another issue i’d like to bring up one of these days)
    2. Content would then be in the public domain.
    3. Local government can hire local publishers/printers to lessen cost and spur local economy (less transport cost, time-to-market, accountability, etc). This opens up a lot of issues but I think we can hack the details.
    4. Updates can be done asap.

    Another idea: ebooks instead of books. this needs a lot of thinking…

    Greg, Miguel, Ia.. usap tayo!

    PS: On copyright: I have a friend who is in the forefront of CC in the Philippines.

  3. Count me in bro.

    This has been a problem specially in public schools. Not only that students do not have access to all textbooks in the different subject areas, the teachers, like my wife are also affected by the inadequacy of the textbook.

    Every start of the school year, my wife distributes the textbook supply to her students. While she has normally around 60 students (yes, that’s the normal class size in the public school where she teaches), there are only around 30-40 books to distribute per subject. So, to make it fair as much as possible, each student will have equal number of books. The excess, she has to do it by draw lots. What’s worst is at the end of the year, the students have to return these books, in the same way that my wife has to return them to the school custodian. Each year, out of the more than 60 students my wife handles, there were at around 3 to 5 students who dropped out and never return a single book. This means that my wife has to shoulder the cost of around 20 to 50 books in a year. I remember, she once spend more than a month salary for the replacement of unreturned textbooks.

    During the time of Ex-Senator Raul Roco as DepEd Secretary, he eased the burden of paying for the unreturned/lost books to the teachers. Too bad, he did not stay long on that post and the old practice is back.

    Back in UP when I was still an instructor, we give away handouts for the E.S. subjects. That is because the textbooks are either not available or too expensive. While I made several course handouts, I don’t have any propriety of the work since it was never copyrighted. But who cares! I just want to help the students when I did those syllabi.

  4. migs: Thanks!!! Expect my “pangugulit” this coming weeks

    ia: I would definitely love to talk with your mom. Ah, the government – can’t live with them, can’t live without them. But if there’s one thing I learned after working for 3 years at DPWH as a consultant is that corruption permeates every layer in the government. But, believe me, there are still government officials, though few, who are working hard to change that.

    jun: I prefer a grassroots-based fund-raising or maybe an foreign NGO. A friend told me that it is sometimes easier to get the support of foreigners. I guess as much as possible we should not rely on the government for the content. Is your friend a lawyer? I really can’t understand these various licenses. I hope someone would write them in “english”.

    bobot: My adviser also pays for the book when I was still at school. One thing I remember though is that most of them have rich husbands.

  5. I’ve been toying with something similar, more for IT books, but the execution of the writing and production phase is more or less the same. Making sure I have enough to provide for my family keep me from really pursuing it right now, but I would like to give it some time this coming 2008.

    Yours is a very noble venture, and even if I doubt if I can help in the next 4-6 months, I’d like to be kept in the loop. Btw, you might want to register and post your plans to the Business in Development Network (http://www.bidnetwork.org). You will likely find like-minded people and sources of support (financial or otherwise) there.

  6. Creative Commons!

    Noble idea, great concept. Though, I’m wary of the possible authoritativeness or accuracy of such material if editing is free for all like a wiki. Maybe limit the edits somehow, or establish a (community or peer-based) circle of trust (like how eBay seller/buyer feedback works)?

    Still, neat stuff. Oh, and as for #2, don’t let your hopes down. I wouldn’t be surprised when its ready if some young, visionary law-maker will actually pick this up and champion it all the way to the barangay schools.

  7. this issue was a talk-about during breaks with one my classmate who was an employee of DepEd. he raises same concerns and suggest similar solutions which he usually blogs at http://erywin.multiply.com/tag/education. maybe we can extend help in one of DepEd’s project–the cyberEd.

    i’ll inform him about your ideas when he get back from thailand. goodluck!

  8. Noble concept. Been thinking of something similar, but for IT references. However, my plans got stuck on the, er… planning stage.

    Anyway, I’d like to be in the loop on this one, and I’ll contribute whatever and whenever I can. For now I suggest you consider registering and building your plan at the Business in Development Network site (http://www.bidnetwork.org) — you will find like-minded people and possible sources of help (financial and otherwise) there.

  9. Hello Greg. This is Jojo of PWAG. Count me in. This is a very worthy cause. I’m also a member of Wikipedia Wiki Project for the Deaf because I’m involved primarily with the cause and dissemination of information related to deaf and deafness. The process is much the same. The editors are the ones who are knowledgeable in the field so more or less the authenticity can be proven.

    Regarding government, the single biggest block that we might encounter is the same agency we want to help, the DepEd. Have you heard how powerful the so called mafia operates inside the halls of Department of Education? Not even Senator Raul Roco was able to break into its formidable shell. It has even destroyed his reputation. Succeeding DepEd secretaries can only swim with the tides so to speak in order for them to survive. And textbook scam is one of their milking cow.

    However, your idea just might work. (optimist smile)🙂

  10. Hi Greg, Thank you for your good idea. I like what you said and I think it just shows the Bayanihan spirit all Filipinos who have an interest for the future of your country. As you already have joined the OLPC Philippines group I suggest you participate in its work particularly in get DepED sign-up to the OLPC program so that we may be able to address the problem on the lack of textbooks into a problem of lack of laptops. The second is a much better alternative because as we address this new problem we will be able to tackle the problem of widening the level of internet access in the country. Increasing the level of internet access in the community will in turn give the community the opportunity to have increased access to knowledge and information. And one of them is the opportunity to evaluate the beta versions of the textbooks prior to their publication. For the momemt, while we work on getting OLPC sign-off by DepED, you may want to start an initiative I would like to call Apolinario Mabini Online (AMO) named after our national hero who was known to be a excellent writer. AMO will seek to ask the public at large to evaluate every textbook by taking a look at their final drafts when they posted online. The DepED and the Publishers will still have the last say on the issues that will be raised online but they will not claim they were not aware of any issues which may not be contraversial. More so, with the public involved in evaluating the drafts both parties will now be forced to ensure a greater level of accuracy be observed in the content provided. I will support and assist you on this initiative to get DepED sign-off as well. Now I know a lot of the guys who earlier made a comment told you the multitude of problems you face in this initiative. Be aware of them but focus how we can hurdle them as we raise the issue with DepED. At the same time, draw confidence on the strong support from the same guys gave you on the idea. I always believe a single person is all that is needed to make a difference so do not be daunted but be daring! Well done! Mabuhay ang Pilipino!

  11. May I copy paste your content to my blog?

    It’s probably a very good idea, one which needs a lot of computers, and a lot of content publishers, providing they all help out in creating the content.

    Today, we know of many alternatives to bringing a lot of content and information to people at cheaper and faster than ever. (examples are broadband Internet. VOIP. web 2.0. digg.. and wikipedia, as you mentioned).

    There’s also the on-going ‘knowledge channel’ TV (I forgot the name), where kids are brought tvs into classrooms with access to the educational program called knowledge channel.

    Regarding OLPC, I suggest an alternative to the one laptop per child, why not one desktop per child, there can be a lot of thin clients being hosted through the linux terminal server project (LTSP), which is far cheaper, considering the abundance of Pentium 4’s ‘discarded’ replaced by Dual Cores. If I’m not mistaken this is how they go about providing computers in some parts of Brazil.

    And then why not the students themselves write the content – if they are literate by some grade or so, they can create on a moodle type content management system. It can be part of the school project.

    The problem is when the kids get home, and they have no access to the internet. in this case, I’ve thought of ‘free’ kiosks supported by ads and powered by thin clients again where kids don’t play counterstrike or whatever, but instead use for educational purposes and for a cheaper price (say 10 pesos per hour? I’m not sure). They can be installed anywhere where today’s globe-lines or smart-bros can reach, and if using not so powerful hardware, just enough to connect to the internet by Linux again.

    All a thin client needs is a connection to a network, a CPU and memory, and just a optical drive or something to get data into it, and I think those discount pcs at SOS (Save on Surplus?) would be a start, or anywhere one is willing to donate a pc.

  12. Thanks Alistair, Jojo, Bong, Jose, Charles, Gudick for dropping by.

    I got information (through a forwarded email) that textbook quality problems is also prevalent, even more pressing, in private schools. While DepEd has a panel of experts that review books for public schools, there is no such review process for private schools. Decision makers in private schools can choose the books they want and their decision can be affected by cost and personal taste.

  13. Its a great idea and I do believe in that possibility of implementing what you have in mind.

    1. It can cost less than the current system so there will be no problem with funding.

    2. It can enhance accuracy of the information printed in textbooks.

    3. It can help provide up-to-date information on teaching methods that will best suit in certain Filipino communities provided that they can communicate directly to the author.

    4. Considering its long-term effect, it can boost Filipino thinking and working skills that will in return help our country move out from stagnation.

    But the problem is on the authority’s side. The lack of dedicated public officials (coz I never mind if they are dishonest or incapable as long as they are dedicated in doing their job; they have the money and power) resulted to immeasurable graft and corruption. More disgusting is that they already became attached to the system they imposed. They would resort to war if they feel their interests are threatened. Just like what you are doing now.

    The least we can do is to bind for this goal. I already sensed that a lot of people, specially those who are involved in the IT industry, are gaining critical understanding of our country’s state, not those who mastered in social sciences, especially Law and Political Science (but of course we need them). I say I am one of those critical thinkers. I am not yet a professional but I am very much aware of the status of our country as I am affected. I am just a self-supporting student with high hopes for our country’s future.

    For now, I suggest we make an e-Group or Forum that will tackle social issues, especially education issues, in the country today. But it must be as strict as possible in terms of membership and posting. The central goal of the e-group would be Education in the Philippines.

    Anyway, I wanted to write about the essentials of programming to aid Filipino students (and enthusiasts) in learning C, C++, Java and Python. For now, all I have is the outline because of lack of funds and time. I hope to finish it before June 2008 (before classes begin).


    WENDELL CANO
    wdcano@gmail.com
    http://wdcano.co.nr
    Invisible Hand Blog

  14. Thanks for sharing your ideas Wendell. Definitely, we can reduce the cost of these textbooks. And yes, government officials will still be a problem and may not go away for some time but the great thing about working in open and using the Internet is we don’t need to worry about making shadow deals because we don’t have anything to hide, haha.

    Your computer books would be very useful. Computer education is one thing that public education don’t have yet. I guess this project has already recruited another author, hehe.

Comments are closed.