FIRING LINE: Solving the textbook crisis

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By Robert B. Roque, Jr.

Is it time for Vice President Sara Duterte-Carpio to relinquish her post as Education Secretary?

The Second Congressional Commission on Education (EDCOM II), aptly titled “MISEDUCATION: The Failed System of Philippine Education,” recently released a report that reflects precisely the state of basic education in our country.

To me, the most glaring of these failures that persist two years into this administration is the shortage of textbooks. Senator Sherwin T. Gatchalian bewailed how Filipino students are forced to share textbooks and its direct impact on how our learners fare in global assessments.

VP Sara must have been well aware that following a shameful performance assessment of Filipino students in the Southeast Asia Primary Learning Metrics in 2019 — when his father was still president —eight out of 100 Grade 5 students were sharing Language and Mathematics textbooks, leading to their lower scores in reading, writing, and mathematics.

The nation expected that when she stepped in, this would be a significant focus of her leadership — not campaigning for the return of civilian military training, which is another issue for another day.

Imagine: The textbook shortage was once confined to rural areas but now plagues the heart of our nation’s capital. Even in my neighborhood in Quezon City, one of the biggest public elementary and high schools struggles without essential textbooks.

What is frustrating is that this predicament is not due to a lack of funds but to a broken procurement process that began during the Duterte administration and should have been Inday Sara’s mission to correct.

To recall, whistleblowers had exposed rampant corruption within the Department of Education (DepEd), particularly in dealings with major textbook printers. Three industry giants, now banned from bidding, previously colluded with DepEd officials, resulting in their blacklisting and non-payment of procurement deals. That should have been well and good.

However, smaller printers are hesitant to step in, fearing the overwhelming volume of work and the risk of illicit dealings that might lead to non-payment.

The EDCOM II spells out shockingly that since the inception of the K-to-12 program in 2013, only 27 out of 90 required textbook titles have been procured. Despite substantial budget allocations amounting to P12.6 billion, a mere 35% of these funds have been obligated, with only a fraction disbursed for textbooks.

VP Sara has been at the helm of DepEd for two years, yet the department’s promises ring hollow against this backdrop of dismal failure. They pledged 80% textbook delivery for crucial grade levels by July this year, yet the reality is starkly different.

In light of this chronic mismanagement and neglect, we must confront a critical question: Should VP Sara continue as Education chief, or do our children — highly touted as the future and hope of this nation —deserve better?


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