COMMENT: A $460-M Question

As generally broken down: (1) 2.5 million copies of textbooks or instructional materials costing around P186.96 million; (2) P136.84 million worth of computers coming in ICT (information and technology communication) packages – each package consisting of 349 units of computers with compact discs, workbooks and teacher’s manuals as aids of instruction for English, Math and Sciences for elementary schools, and English, Chemistry and Geography for high school.

 

What explanations did the COA get?

 

Books

 

The textbooks did not comply with the revised education curriculum and the minimum learning competencies.  Many of the books were riddled with factual and grammatical errors. And many more which were purchased by the local governments duplicated the books procured by the national government.

 

Other reasons appeared incredulous: the teachers refused to accept the books for fear of liability for losses; the books could not be used on a 1:1 ratio; and, the purchase was unplanned.

 

From the COA’s recommendations, the following can be deduced: (1) the Department of Education had not determined the actual textbook situations as a basis for the preparation of an allocation and distribution list and for monitoring the distribution; (2) no permanent personnel were tasked to procure and distribute the books; and, (3) there were no sanctions for the loss suffered by the government.

 

ICT Packages

 

As INQUIRER.net reported:

 

In Central Luzon, the computer textbooks were not appropriate for the schoolchildren’s required level of competency so the P6 million worth of computer equipment bought out of the Priority Development Assistance Fund were traced to a congressional office.

 

In the Western Visayas, the ICT packages were delivered to eight school divisions; 280 units were used in the offices of principals and district supervisors for preparing reports and financial statements, not for instructional purposes.

 

Why were the 280 units not used for instructional purposes? The computer supplier did not provide the teachers the training to operate the computers and most of the CDs could not be installed. Some principals said it was safer to keep the computers in their offices for they could not set up laboratories for lack of secured air-conditioned rooms, maintenance funds and trained teachers.

 

In the Eastern Visayas, 766 units remained idle in stockrooms due to defects.

 

In Agusan del Sur, because of the wet weather in the province, 8,244 video tapes and CDs were destroyed by molds.  Defective VHS players could not be repaired because spare parts were unavailable as they had become obsolete; besides, there were no funds for repair.

 

COA reports for other regions should be as revealing, interesting and galling.

 

Passing the Buck

 

From the COA findings, it is clear that the purchases of textbooks and of ICT equipment – as well as the ICT program – were not well planned; the teachers were untrained for the program and the use and maintenance of the equipment; besides the lack of maintenance funds, as the computers and other equipment became obsolete, no spare parts were available for repair.

 

Planning, teacher’ training, and funding are the responsibilities of the Department of Education. Yet, Education Secretary Jesli Lapus is blaming the mess on the local government units that did some of the purchases from 1999 to 2002.  He also blamed the policies under Secretaries Andrew Gonzales (1998-2001) and Raul Roco (2001-2002) (INQUIRER.net, Oct. 10).

 

Vilma Labrador, Undersecretary for programs and projects said the department’s policies for procurement and distribution have already been revised and “most of the COA findings have already been satisfactorily addressed.”  This is meant to assure that the P329-million mess will not be repeated.

 

But it is not enough for Lapus to pass the buck to the LGUs and for Labrador to assure that the mess will not happen again?  For helping, the LGUs should not be blamed. The accountability falls on Labrador’s and other concerned department top officials – not on the now deceased Gonzales and Roco.  Will Lapus just allow Labrador and the other most responsible officials wash their hands of the P329-million mess?

 

Bigger Question

 

Lapus only evaded the P329-million question: What was the real purpose of the textbook and ICT equipment procurement project? Who benefited most? After the project’s failure, these questions will continue to annoy and scandalize us. But this is only like an appetizer. A bigger $460-million question looms — the Arroyo government’s Cyber Education Project

 

What is this project about? INQUIRER.net (Oct. 11) stated it simply: “The CEP aims to fill gaps in the education system by using satellite technology to deliver key learning concepts and other educational services to every school in the country through [the television].” A $460-million gap-filler!

 

Secretary Lapus calls the project the “best thing to happen to Philippine education.”

 

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo says it is “an investment that the government should make to reduce poverty in the country.” Are these well-studied or just off-the-cuff observations?

 

But INQUIRER.net, in three separate postings last October 11, reported serious questions on the project – the latest of the many questions – from educators and members of Congress.

 

Educator Antonio Calipjo-Go observed: “No First World country has adopted this kind of project and no studies have been conducted to determine the effectiveness of TV-based instruction in basic education.” This questions the effectiveness of the project.

 

[NOTE: In the United States, many universities offer graduate and post graduate studies through the internet.  Currently, 2.5 million are taking on-line courses.  One student taking a doctoral course said the on-line lectures are as good as the on-site (classroom) lectures. Certain units must be earned on-site. (Google) Inspired, Arroyo must have modeled CEP after this.]

 

Party-list Rep. Luz Ilagan, an educator, asked:”What’s the rush? As yet, none of the questions that have been raised on the Cyber-Ed Project have been answered. Where is the contract? And what are its ramifications? Is it feasible? Does it answer the needs of our country’s education system?”

 

Sen. Francis Escudero, noting that 7,000 of the 42,000 barangays or villages in the country are without electricity, asked: “Would a 15- or 20-minute lesson per subject per day be useful, especially when our students don’t have electricity, classrooms, books, desks, and teachers?”

 

Concerns

 

The problem perennially bugging Philippine education system is the lack of classrooms, desks, books and teachers.  These are basic requirements in effective education.  This lack, CEP, with an allocation of $460 million or more than P21 billion, is intending to remedy. Will the remedy effectively work under such very un-ideal conditions?

 

In its study, the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) showed that the P21 billion can (1) fund the construction of 51,913 classrooms; (2) hire two million teachers; (3) buy 336 million chairs; or (4) acquire 434 million new books.  Why not use the CEP fund to first solve the perennial problem?

 

With the P21 billion, all the necessary computers, CDs, televisions, etc. will be procured. Then the many problems arise: With the lack or poor state of classrooms, where will the equipment be installed? With teachers untrained in ICT technology, who will operate the equipment?  In remote places where there is no electricity, how can the equipment operate? Will there be funds to keep the system in tip-top condition?

 

ACT asked: “How can the DepEd be entrusted with the $460-million Cyber Education Project when it cannot even manage the most basic logistical tasks, such as the distribution of textbooks?” Bulls-eye! Will it be able to maintain the high-tech ICT equipment when it was unable to maintain the computers under the failed ICT project?

 

Of greater concern is the CEP’s effectiveness on the children.  The lessons will be given from centers – whether national, regional, division or district is not known. How can the lessons be suited to a very wide variance of learning competencies of children in the urban and remote schools?  There will be more learning concerns.

 

Grave Doubt

 

That the ICT equipment will be procured, don’t doubt it. Companies are just waiting for bidding or negotiation.  Last week, the president of one such company explained to educators having their seminar and convention in Baguio City the “benefits of digital convergence … to enhance learning in public schools and improve its (DepEd’s) services”.

 

But beyond procurement, what? Ilagan raised this concern: “Because of the questions and doubts surrounding the project, it seems there is a rush not to upgrade the education system but a rush to create another white elephant and perhaps another possible source of kickbacks.” That was being brutally frank.

 

Escudero, chair of the Senate ways and means committee, expressed a similar doubt — that the CEP “might be overpriced”. 

 

By Philippine “SOP system”, in the P329-million mess unearthed by COA, how much did the suppliers of the undelivered textbooks and misused ICT packages overprice their bids to take care of the commissions while keeping untouched their hefty profits?

 

The $460-dollar question: Who will benefit most from the CEP? (“Comment" is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz' column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Mr. Diaz is the recipient of a “Lifetime Achievement Award” from the Titus Brandsma for his "commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate." You may e-mail your comments to [email protected])

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