An itch not to be ignored
Many view Antonio Calipjo Go as an obsessive man who has made it a crusade to identify errors in textbooks used in public schools and to call attention to this continuing lapse by the Department of Education.
For the past 18 years, Go has run a fine-toothed comb through DepEd-issued textbooks for errors that he would publicize, sometimes using his own money for ad space. While his crusade has raised concerns about the quality of education in Philippine public schools, it has also earned him derision and even lawsuits by publishers and authors with PhDs attached to their names—a calculated putdown of this academic supervisor at a Quezon City private school and college dropout.
Go’s latest beef centers on “1,300 errors” that he says he found in the newest DepEd publication and learner’s material for Grade 10 students, sorrily titled “Diversity: Celebrating Multiculturism Through World Literature.”
From reports, Education Secretary Armin Luistro dismissed the material as a “first draft” that has since been corrected, title included. That first draft was used in a teachers’ training session; indeed, Go said two teachers who attended the session provided him with copies. To those wondering why on earth the erroneous material was used in teacher training, as acknowledged by the DepEd, officials said it was for the purpose of “walking [the teachers] through the lessons” and enlisting them in spotting “errors or omissions” and making “improvements” in the textbook.
Short of describing Go as a publicity hound, education officials have suggested that if he truly wanted to help, he should have sent the errors he had found to the DepEd and not to the media. A (dramatic) question was raised: Why does he spend “his time trying to demolish rather than create?”
But like ignoring a persistent itch, dismissing Go’s criticisms won’t make them go away, or shut him up. And it would be a great loss of opportunity for the DepEd to improve itself, and a disservice to the millions of public schoolchildren who would be imbibing wrong information and making misguided decisions based on them. Beyond the man’s nagging are suggestions worth considering, starting with the DepEd process of approving textbook content.
According to Luistro, the process involves four layers of corrections, with writers, editors and proofreaders poring over the text, plus a consultant checking for cultural sensitivity. Steps have also been taken for the DepEd to “own” the textbooks, complete with copyrights, to make updating and correcting easier. As for the errors that escape notice, Luistro cited the “sheer volume” of materials needing vetting.
Can “commercialism” and “conflict of interest” be factors as well, with some DepEd officials moonlighting as authors, editors and consultants for publishing houses that supply textbooks and other materials for public schools? The possibility deserves a closer look, if only to ensure the integrity of the screening process.
The DepEd has actually invited Go to join its review process. But he declined, saying he would lose his independence if he did so. Can outsiders do a better job of evaluating and reviewing learning materials then, as Go suggests? “We need an objective, independent screening body,” he said, alluding to the DepEd’s in-house textbook evaluating panel, the Instructional Materials Council Secretariat. “How can you go against your boss?”
Another problem is finding good textbook writers, as Inquirer columnist Michael Tan, chancellor of the University of the Philippines Diliman, noted. With good teachers either “too busy teaching or doing research” or who consider themselves “too good for the job,” the task of writing good textbooks is left to more “entrepreneurial” people who have discovered this lucrative field. Professor-authors in fact see a captive audience before them, and require their class to buy their textbooks.
It’s a complicated situation that demands a reasoned, realistic and nuanced response. It’s time to get past assigning blame for mistakes committed or denying these mistakes altogether; it behooves both parties to find common ground for a meeting of minds.
And the DepEd has a huge responsibility, as Go correctly points out: “The schoolchildren under your watch and under your care are the seedlings that will greet the mornings we will not see. They are the future of the country.”
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