Textbook Count: Leading the Way, Throughout the Years

  • Textbook Count Project - Aklat Para sa Lahat
    Textbook Count Project - Aklat Para sa Lahat

Speech delivered during the Relaunching of Textbook Count on 14 September 2011 at Bulwagan ng Karunungan, Department of Education

Since we are all advocates and perhaps fans of Textbook Count now, I need not be modest. I will claim here that Textbook Count started it all.

It started government-citizen engagement, the use of Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) for instance to formalize and kick-start the engagement between government and civil society in performance monitoring.

It was groundbreaking in mobilizing ordinary citizens armed only by easy-to-use tools to do a very technical work such as monitoring in their communities as beneficiaries, who themselves will be benefiting from the services they are monitoring.

It is a first of its kind of monitoring that is not fault-finding, but instead gives primacy on prevention, as an affirmative action that facilitates compliance through information and dialogue.

It started joint trouble-shooting by government and civil society during the conduct of monitoring for quick response to emerging issue and joint problem-solving after the monitoring to address the result of the monitoring.

It pioneered evidence-based advocacies on recommendations and proposals for the improvement of service delivery.

Textbook Count basically provided the blueprint of what we refer to now as Social Accountability, Constructive Engagement, Demand for Good Governance and similar terms that talk about engagement of citizens in governance to enhance transparency and accountability. Even before these terms were coined, there was already the practice and that was primarily Textbook Count. 

Because it was pioneering, it was also through Textbook Count that the difficult questions on this kind of engagement in governance were raised.

  • How can this engagement of citizens in monitoring be sustained?
  • Is institutionalization of the efforts in government, leaving even coordination and mobilization and capacity building of CSOs in the hands of the government (a supply-dependent sustainability engagement), the best way to sustain this kind of engagement?
  • Can this work really result in sustained practice of transparency and accountability? Or are leaders/ personalities still the central factor that determines its sustainability?
  • Can transparency and accountability really lead to improve outcomes? Or is it at best effective in improving efficiency, but not even consistently?
  • How to avoid being overly-dependent on centralized coordination of CSOs that requires much resources that are not regularly available?
  • How far can civil society sustain their willingness to engage government and exact accountability?
  • How to ensure the credibility and appropriate orientation of CSOs?

These are difficult questions that could only emerge in the life of a program that has travelled long and hard. And as Textbook Count grapples with these questions starting now, it pays to look back and let the unfolding of events in its history and the fine details of its past work lead the path to how it will face the future; for after all great stories are best told over and over again not only because it feels good to reminisce the past, but also because it illuminates and gives purpose for the future.

I will not tell the entire story of Textbook Count here; that will be too long. The entire launching, including our set, props and videos are meant to retell the Textbook Count story. It will suffice for me to just briefly refresh our memories on where we started, what we have achieved and how we got there.

Textbook Count started with this scenario in textbook service delivery in year 2000: billions of pesos lost in procurement-related corruption, the textbook scam, ghost projects (of textbook delivery and school-building projects).

Then we got here: lowering of price, shortening of procurement time and savings in monitoring cost—all indicative of improved efficiency; more CSOs engaging DepEd; we even had participation of the private sector! And yes, DepEd became one of the most trusted agencies in the government from being publicly perceived as one of the most corrupt agencies in early 2000.

How did we get here?

We mapped out the critical standards and integrated transparency and accountability checks through civil society participation in the critical processes. One of the most remarkable features of Textbook Count is that if the Inspection and Acceptance Receipt (IAR) is signed by a CSO during the actual receipt of textbooks, DepEd will no longer undertake post-delivery validation at that delivery site, really an integration of CSO participation in monitoring that results in savings for the government.

We did five (5) rounds starting with the post-delivery monitoring research conducted by a small group of researchers. I should duly recognize them because they were the first Textbook Count monitors: Toix Cerna, Jerryl Reyes, Leslie Flores and the former Director of G-Watch, Dondon Parafina.

Then, one breakthrough was an innovation in the fourth round called Textbook Walk that further involved the communities through the conduct of festive community-based activities of distributing textbooks from district offices to the elementary schools. In the fifth round, G-Watch started testing how far CSO participation would go without central CSO coordination. From that phase on, 2008 to 2010, DepEd IMCS took on the leading role in mobilizing and coordinating with CSOs. G-Watch transitioned as a “story-teller” and “multiplier” of Textbook Count story, working on other service delivery and governance processes.

Now, we are relaunching Textbook Count, continuing its story, so Textbook Count can face head-on the challenging/ pioneering questions raised based on its practice, the intriguing what-if, so-what and what-then of its story.

So what then is Textbook Count 2011?

For Government Watch, at least, it will be the same but with a more deliberate effort towards sustainability, both state-based and societal-based. We in G-Watch intend to work towards integrating a sustainability design in Textbook Count with the following elements, namely:

  • A working policy that supports decentralized and school-based monitoring;
  • Avenues, knowledge products and resources for capacity-building;
  • Nationally-linked local mechanisms for DepEd-CSO communication, coordination and reporting (including working mechanisms to ensure access to information at all the critical levels at all time); and
  • National-local venues for DepEd-CSO processing of results and problem-solving.

This will most likely involve redefining of roles and commitments and groundworking of other critical actors, as well as redefinition of some processes and mechanisms, which we intend to further brainstorm and discuss not only with the Instructional Materials Council Secretariat (IMCS), but with other offices as well involved in other critical services like the Physical Facilities, School-Building and Engineering Department (PFSED) for school-building, regional offices and even the national leadership of DepEd.

We are envisioning a comprehensive monitoring at the school level, where the monitors will look at a variety of critical services in the school using a comprehensive easy-to-use tool capacitated, coordinated and linked to the national by local hubs at the regional and division levels. Given the highly compartmentalized structure of DepEd bureaucracy, convergence at the different levels of the bureaucracy will be a challenge and G-Watch hopes to work on this.

But this is just one facet that is a work in progress. We are all actors and actresses of Textbook Count now and we will all play our respective parts to answer the challenging questions facing Textbook Count and other similar efforts, filling-in the blanks of what-if, so-what and what-then of the Textbook Count story, including the question when and how will this story end.

For me now, this is when and how I will end my sharing: by thanking you all for being here, agreeing to take part once again in the Textbook Count story to pioneer and lead the way in social accountability application and practice in the country, to show that a different kind of governance—a governance that is not exclusive to a few, a kind of governance that is rooted in the grassroots— is possible towards a building of a new nation through education one count of textbook at a time.