Delivering educational textbooks to schools in the Philippines: Textbook Count 1-2-3

In brief

In the 1990s, the Philippines government was corrupt, and the Department of Education among the worst offenders. In high schools, the shortage of textbooks was so great that eight children had to share a single copy. After Congress passed the Government Procurement Reform Act, the education department set to work to provide the right number of high-quality textbooks to the nation’s schools. A crucial aspect was mobilising civil society NGOs to check that suppliers were delivering what they promised, a key monitoring initiative being Textbook 1-2-3.

The challenge

In the 1990s, entrenched corruption in the Philippine Department of Education meant that it struggled to deliver basic services. Not enough textbooks were bought and delivered to schools, and those textbooks that did reach students were of poor quality. “In 1999, journalist Yvonne T. Chua’s seminal book about corruption within the department, ‘Robbed: An Investigation of Corruption in Philippine Education’, spotlighted the severe shortage of textbooks in public schools. The author noted, ‘The shortage of textbooks in nearly all the 40,000 public schools is so critical that, on an average, one textbook is shared by six pupils in elementary schools and by eight in high schools.” 

The initiative

The wider context for reform was set by the government. “In 2001, a new government assumed power and a new minister was given the responsibility for the department ... The Government Procurement Reform Act was quickly passed by the Philippines Congress only months after the change in political leadership, which was further pushed by  Procurement Watch Inc. (PWI), an anti-corruption NGO.” 

The response was a new procurement programme, Textbook Count 1-2-3. “From 2002 to 2005, Juan Miguel Luz, a senior official at the Department of Education of the Philippines, led a nationwide drive to ensure timely procurement and delivery of textbooks to the country’s 40,000 public schools.” The tendering process was tightened so that the Department “really selected the best qualified suppliers and then ensured the books were delivered to the districts where they were needed”. 

The basic objective was to introduce a more transparent procurement procedure between the Department of Education and the various educational publishing companies. This was to lead to a more reliable supply of relevant, high-quality textbooks. Textbook Count 1-2-3 monitored the delivery process.

The public impact

NGO’s such as PWI and G-Watch were instrumental in reinforcing the Department of Education’s own efforts. “Inspections by civil society organisation monitors in the textbook production process also increased the quality of textbooks. Just five percent of all production was recommended for repair or replacement in 2005. The consortium of civil society organisations was able to be present at 71 per cent of all deliveries.” 

One measure of the programme’s impact was cost-savings due to the elimination of corruption. “According to the official report of [the NGO, Government Watch] G-Watch, ‘savings’ from corruption amounted to USD1.84 million.” The bulk of those savings were in the bidding process: “USD1.5 million [was] saved (the average cost of a textbook before implementation of the NTDP was USD 2.04 and the cost was reduced by 40 percent)”. 

The overall result was that “by 2005, textbook prices had fallen by 50%, binding and printing quality had improved, and volunteer observers reported 95% error-free deliveries.” Textbook Count 1-2-3 had made a major contribution: “publishers were correcting errors reported by monitors, leading to a 100% success rate in textbook delivery by the end of Textbook Count.”

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