By Merlina Hernando-Malipot
The Department of Education (DepEd) will issue “notes to teachers” as part of its efforts to correct the errors found in textbooks and other learning materials as cited by the Commission on Audit (CoA).
To address the “persistent problem” of errors in textbooks used by learners, the agency — through the Bureau of Learning Resources (BLR) — has conducted workshops involving academicians and DepEd validators to “validate comments and recommendations” from the regions regarding learning resources and textbooks for Kindergarten to Grade 10.
DepEd said that the validated findings, description of errors found, and recommendations on how to correct these will comprise the “notes of teachers” that it will issue through a memorandum to the regions.
As a response to the COA’s observations on buffer stock learning materials and errors in textbooks — among others—the DepEd reaffirmed its “strong commitment to implement and adopt the audit recommendations to improve the Department’s systems and strengthen its internal and external controls.”
DepEd said that it has given its rejoinder during its exit conference with COA in early August which resulted in a “positive and reassuring engagement” that will enable DepEd to “institute new policies and to update, simplify, and codify its internal rules as part of its financial reform initiatives.”
Meanwhile, the DepEd clarifies that the Audit Observation Memorandum (AOM) it received is a “written notification” – which is “still subject to the explanation and justification by” the agency. This, DepEd noted, is “different” from a Notice of Suspension or a Notice of Disallowance.
Citing COA Circular 2009-006 (Prescribing the use of the Rules and Regulations on Settlement of Accounts), DepEd defined AOM as “deficiencies noted in the audit of accounts, operations or transactions and requiring comments thereto and/or submission of documentary and other information requirements within a reasonable period.”
“Thus, an AOM is preliminary and non-conclusive,” DepEd stressed. DepEd also responded to the AOM to “duly inform” the education stakeholders of the agency’s commitment to “pursue reforms in the education sector.”
Dealing with ‘perennial challenges’
DepEd noted that it remained “committed to its policy to provide every learner per grade level in all public schools with a complete set of textbooks, and every teacher a complete set of teaching manuals that complement the textbooks,” despite the “perennial challenge” in the main provision of learning materials (LMs) to certain grade levels and on particular subject areas due to bottlenecks in development, printing, and distribution.
In an effort to address this, DepEd continued to “call for and institute reforms that will prevent bureaucratic procedures from hampering the delivery of materials and services to learners and teachers.”
DepEd explained that in 2017, the agency DepEd called for a thorough review of Republic Act No. 8047 (Book Publishing Development Act), which prohibits the Department from developing manuscripts for textbooks, and printing or procuring of such when private publishers are unable to meet the demand; and of Republic Act 9184 (Government Procurement Reform Act), which affects the procurement of textbooks that need to be aligned with the K to 12 curriculum.
When it came to the “buffer stock,” DepEd noted that this pertained to seven percent of the completed development, printing, and delivery of LMs for the projected enrollment of the school year. “This small portion is allotted in times of calamities, as replacement of old or worn-out books, and for newly established schools and increased enrollment, among others,” DepEd said. “While part of the procured textbooks is delivered directly to school districts, a large chunk is still delivered to the Central Office (CO) warehouses and distributed to regions,” it added.
To address issues on procurement of textbooks, DepEd said that it was implementing a “centralized basis to avail of economy of scale.” Cognizant of such policy’s effect on the timely distribution of textbooks, DepEd’s BLR is also “revisiting the policies and guidelines of procurement and distribution. The Department is also looking into the improvement of monitoring and accounting of textbooks vis-à-vis delivery.”
DepEd noted that 2018, the agency “has caught up in its distribution” with 76 percent issuance compared to 15 percent issuance in 2016. “The BLR is expediting the distribution of textbooks and LMs to the regions, and is expecting to complete the distribution of these buffer stocks by the end of 2019,” the department explained.
Given this, DepEd said it was also “amending aspects of the policy” to make the buffer stock available to all schools division offices (SDOs), with only 0.05% maintained at the CO. “The distribution fund has been downloaded to the SDOs, and the forwarding and handling of the remaining 6.95% of the buffer stock are undergoing procurement,” it added.
Meanwhile, DepEd is seeking to “expand its authority” in view of the R.A. 8047, which lodged the mandate to write and print textbooks with private publishers, and confined DepEd’s mandate to “preparing the minimum learning competencies, and/or prototypes and other specifications for books and/or manuscripts called for; testing, evaluating, selecting, and approving the manuscripts or books to be submitted by the publishers for multiple adoption.”
“Even as the Department recognizes the policy of promoting competition in offering this exercise to the private sector, it also expresses concern that accountability is dispersed among different stakeholders,” DepEd said.
Waiting for explanation
Related to this, the Teachers’ Dignity Coalition (TDC) said that its members were also waiting for an explanation from DepEd on the matter.
The group also commended the move of Senator Sherwin Gatchalian, who initiated the conduct of Senate Education Committee investigation on the purchase of error-filled books made by DepEd worth millions of pesos.
“For the teachers, investigation especially by legislative bodies would shed light on the matter and would help the legislators as well as the Department in crafting future policies to prevent unacceptable waste of taxpayers’ money in the future,” said TDC National Chairperson Benjo Basas. “It will also give the DepEd a proper venue to explain their side and clear the matter,” he added.
More importantly, TDC called for an “impartial and objective probe” that will “pinpoint those who are responsible – not only on the books fiasco – but for other unexplained expenses amounting to billions of pesos” as cited by the COA.