Why we’re left behind
(First of a series)
MANILA, Philippines—Question: Where can one make three major mistakes, and still get a perfect grade?
Answer: At the Department of Education (DepEd).
Over a decade since the issue cropped up, major errors can still be found in public school textbooks because DepEd rules allow authors to make three major mistakes and still get a “perfect grade” from reviewers, according to a University of the Philippines (UP) professor.
UP history professor Maria Serena Diokno said the manual for textbook reviewers from the DepEd Instructional Materials Council Secretariat (IMCS) gave a “perfect grade” even for textbooks that have three major errors.
Diokno discovered the flaw after she led UP professors in reviewing the social studies textbooks used in elementary and high school and found factual errors, biases and serious conceptual omissions.
She said that when she informed the DepEd about their study, one official replied that “no textbook would pass” the review process if the rules were tightened.
“I reviewed the manual for how they check the errors and how they grade them and mark them, and the rating scale is so built that it accommodates error,” Diokno told the Philippine Daily Inquirer in an interview.
“You can have three major errors and get a perfect grade on a scale of one to six with six as the highest. You can get a grade of six (with three major errors). That’s in their manual,” she said. “The review process within the Deped, the IMCS, is flawed.”
Making room for errors
For those textbooks that have four up to 10 major errors, the manual even suggests giving its second highest rating of 5. A rating of 4 (for 11 to 20 major errors), 3 (for 21 to 30 major errors), 2 (for 31 to 40 major errors), and the lowest rating of 1 (for more than 40 major errors).
“It’s very generous. For me, if you have 10 major errors, why would you still give it the second highest rating? It should already fail,” Diokno said.
She said DepEd textbook reviewers, who are usually hired temporarily from schools like UP and Ateneo de Manila University did their reviews by looking at a book’s learning competencies, content, presentation and language.
Learning competencies account for 40 percent of the total grade; content, 35 percent; presentation, 10 percent; and language, 15 percent, Diokno said.
“These four areas are divided further. Like for learning competencies, accuracy and up-to-dateness account for 15 percent,” she said.
“That’s 15 percent of 40 percent so that means if there is an inaccuracy, it can slip through (because it’s just 15 percent),” she added.
The second major area of review—content, which accounts for 35 percent of a textbook’s total rating—should already be enough to prevent errors, but it is here that one finds the rule giving a perfect rating of six to textbooks with “one to three major errors,” Diokno said.
“The highest grade is six but that still contains one to three major errors. Shouldn’t that be error-free?” she said.
Inconsistent grading system
If the textbook gets the “perfect rating of six” and its accompanying teacher’s manual also does the same, then that means the book “perfects” that 35 percent allotted for content, Diokno said.
She also pointed out that the grading system for the four major areas of review were “inconsistent” with one rating scale’s top score allowing for “one to three” major errors while another one even allowing “one to 12” mistakes.
“Normally when you do this, you should have a statistical basis for determining the range, but this is not explained so it comes out as arbitrary,” she said.
But it should also not just be about the number of errors. Diokno said the focus of the rating system on the “quantity” of errors in each textbook failed to provide a “sense of scale.”
Errors of omission
“Some errors are more significant than others, but they only look at the quantity,” she said.
Diokno said that the Philippine history textbooks that her team reviewed did not even mention the American idea of “Benevolent Assimilation” as a driving force behind the US conquest of the Philippines in the late 19th and early 20th century.
“But that is the whole philosophical framework behind why the Americans came here. You can’t understand what happened there if you don’t look at that philosophy,” she said.
“But, of course, that does not come up (in a DepEd review) because it’s not an error. It’s totally omitted. So how do they consider omissions? For me, that is a major error,” she added.
The Philippine history textbook for high school freshmen also does not call the country’s struggle to resist American colonization by its proper name: the Philippine War of Independence against the United States, Diokno said.
“They call it an ‘alitan (quarrel)’ as if it’s just a lover’s quarrel. It was a war with so many dead on both parties, particularly on our side. There were atrocities, torture, the water cure, all of that. And yet they just call this a quarrel,” she said.
“It was the first war of liberation in all of Asia.”
Biases against minorities
Diokno said that social studies textbooks fostered biases against cultural minorities like the Agta and the Igorot, in violation of the DepEd’s own guidelines.
“The students are asked, ‘An Igorot will visit your house and stay for two weeks. Look at them, their habits are different (iba ang ugali). What will be your reaction?” Diokno said.
“The student should answer he or she is ‘happy,’ but (then) you preface it with ‘iba ang ugali nila’ which in Filipino is pejorative. But this slipped through,” she said.
According to Diokno, the social studies textbook for Grade 2 students also maintains the stereotype that it is a woman’s job to clean the house, cook in the kitchen, and wash the dishes and the laundry.
“This is a major mistake considering all the international conventions on women and gender equality. You don’t want to train children at a young age that a woman can only go so far. It’s really, really bad,” she added.
Diokno said the curriculum behind the social science studies textbooks was also flawed because it did not “spell out the cognitive competencies” that children should learn.
“They say ‘children should be able to understand and discuss,’ but in their testing, it’s just (memorization). Understanding is not memorizing. But then they told me they test higher order skills but again when I looked, there are not higher order skills. It’s practically memory,” she said.
“For me, that’s very important because my thinking is even if they forget the facts, when you teach them how to think and where to find the facts, then they will know where to find it and they will know how to deal with it, how to interpret it, and how to infer from it,” she said.
Reviewers from top schools
Diokno also said the DepEd should not use having textbook reviewers from prominent schools as an excuse for the textbook errors.
“A consultant has no control over the final outcome. They can discard what you say when you leave the room,” she added.
Diokno said one mathematics professor who reviewed an “error-filled” Math textbook had told her that when she saw the printed copy, she realized her recommendations to correct the mistakes were not followed.
To remedy the problem, Diokno’s team had a drastic proposal: The government should set up a body composed of specialists from the various disciplines and teachers from the ground that would formulate the curriculum and review the textbooks.
“I think that the curriculum shouldn’t be left with the DepEd,” she said. While many in the department were excellent civil servants, she said they were not only “underpaid, but they’re overloaded with work.”
According to Diokno, DepEd officials hardly have the time to keep up with the latest books and “explosive” trends in pedagogy.
For his part, long-time “sick book” crusader Antonio Calipjo Go said the errors had persisted because there was still no specific law to punish those responsible.
“It should be put in the law that it is wrong to have these error-filled textbooks and have students use these, and then set the corresponding punishment,” said Go, academic supervisor of Marian School of Quezon City.
He said that he knew of a legislator who is preparing to file a bill in the Senate which will set penalties depending on the number of errors found in the textbook.
“It’s not enough for us to identify the errors because all of us accept that these are errors. But because there is no law, just about anybody can write and even if you bring the author to court, nothing will happen,” Go said.
“The writer would just be humiliated somewhat, but that’s about it,” he added.
Go also said that one reason error-filled textbooks might have passed through the DepEd screening process was that education officials, both retired and in active service, sometimes acted as “authors, editors and coordinators” for publishing houses.
“There are some officials of the DepEd moonlighting as authors, editors, and consultants of publishers of private school textbooks, perhaps not realizing that these publishers also happen to be suppliers or future suppliers of public school textbooks to the DepEd. There is something very wrong with this arrangement,” he said.
Go showed several textbooks showing the names of ranking DepEd officials, both active and retired, on their covers.
“That’s already your pass to get into the DepEd. That name will be the pass that shall get you in,” he added.
Go said publishers also had to cut expenses because they had to pay grease money to government officials.
Proof of crime
“We cannot prove corruption but for me, we do have a dead body, which is the proof of the crime, the dead body being the defective textbook,” Go said.
He said that instead of getting an excellent writer, editor or researcher, the publisher would just get someone “cheaper” to cut his expenses.
Go added that way back in 1996, one publishing house even offered him a Mitsubishi L-300 van just so his school would agree to get all the books it needed from the publisher for three years.
“It won’t cost me a thing because that would have been passed on to the students. But what I did then was to review the books and that was when I saw the errors. It was a big eye opener. It was providential because had I seen a good textbook, I won’t have done all of these,” he said.
“But after 13 years of doing this, we have 13 Senate resolutions and many more in Congress (about textbook errors), I’ve gone through 10 secretaries of education and had put out 10 paid ads but nothing has happened. Instead, what I got were four court cases filed against me by the authors and publishers of the textbooks I had exposed.”
By Philip Tubeza
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Filed under: Department of Education, Education, Erroneous textbooks still rated perfect by DepEd