Thursday, 4 June 2009

a language murdered

I couldn't help but gasp in horror when I read this article today. Antonio Calipjo Go, an academic supervisor in the Philippines, has been campaigning against 'sick' textbooks for years now. He has exposed plenty of grammatical and factual errors in textbooks used in both public and private schools in the country. The latest culprit is a series of English grammar books, called English for You and Me, used in public schools. According to Go, the Philippine Department of Education paid the textbook publisher almost 400 million pesos (around 4 million pounds!) for the six titles in this series.

Here are some cringe-worthy quotes from the books:

  • Love one another and let them express/For life is short and leads to an end/So feel the touch and moving caress/And may God be the divine witness.
  • Read the (English) words in the box. Form as many compound words as you can by putting together two different (English) words. Be sure that the words you form are English words.
  • There is also a young woman with her hair in disorder.
  • The baby winked her eyes.
  • The small cavities of Paulo's teeth were not filled because these teeth could be strong and healthy again by eating the right kinds of food. During his next visit, the dentist found that his teeth (with unfilled cavities) were harder and had stopped decaying.
  • Ants have long hairs on their front legs. They use their hair like a brush. They clean their bodies with their tongue. When they cannot wash with their tongue, they clean with their feet. Why Do Ants Like to Clean?

I couldn't help but utter a cuss word after reading some of these sentences. The books should never have been published if they contained errors as atrocious as these.

As someone who used to work in textbook publishing in the Philippines, I know how much work ideally goes into the publishing of a book. Yes, most of the work is done by the editors because let's face it, most textbook authors are not writers. Publishers hire them because of their teaching experience. Well-known academics are in great demand as textbook authors because schools will buy books based on the authors' reputation.

Usually a manuscript that comes from an author will be made up of what appear to be randomly written bits of text, with plenty of instructions for illustrations. Only the activities will make any sense at this stage, which is quite reasonable, as teachers are supposed to be good at designing learning activities for their students. The manuscript undergoes a lot of editorial work, from content to grammar to layout. Most of the time, the finished title hardly resembles the manuscript, but the author can't complain because he or she knows the edited version is so much better.

That's how the process goes. In the case of the textbooks checked by Mr Go, however, it seems that the books totally skipped the editing stage. Which makes me wonder who the people behind the publishing house could be. I have never heard of Book Wise Publishing House, so I wonder if the owners have some connections at the DepEd. I think that if the DepEd really wanted to produce good-quality books, they would have gone to established textbook publishers in the country. The fact that this publishing house doesn't even have its own printing press (the books were printed in Thailand) is making me wonder whether it's a real business or something that someone haphazardly made up in order to bag a very substantial deal with the DepEd. Given the fact that we're talking about the Philippines here, where corruption is a way of life, I'm pretty sure I'm not just being paranoid.

If that is indeed the case, then shame on the people involved in this scam. I can just imagine what they were thinking as they planned this: 'It doesn't matter if the books are terrible. They're just going to be read by public schoolchildren. They and their teachers won't even be able to tell how bad the books are.' And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why we have more and more young people coming out of schools with barely enough skills to help them make their way through the world. Our government simply does not care.

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