NEARLY half of Slovakia’s elementary schools are temporarily without phonics textbooks, after the Education Ministry ordered from what it now deems an unlicensed publisher.
The elementary school textbook, named Lipka, is published by AITEC, and some 1,000 schools ordered the books for the next school year through the ministry. That order has since been cancelled, with ministry officials saying AITEC has no valid contract to provide the book. To make matters worse, some schools have already moved forward on their own and purchased workbooks to accompany textbooks they will no longer receive, according to the Sme daily.
“I am disillusioned. They [Education Ministry] noticed a problem in June?” Jozef Niko, a teacher at Hermanovce nad Topľou elementary school told Sme. “We bought the [copybooks and workbooks] to the Lipka phonics book, they cost around €5. And what should we do with them now?”
Ministry officials declined to comment on who is to blame for the mishap, saying only that the ministry “does not recognise any problem of elementary schools to buy phonics books for Slovak language and literature teaching for the 2013/2014 school year”, and that it had “taken all the necessary steps for elementary schools to have the opportunity to order phonics books”. The ministry has a history of failing to supply dating back to the school reforms of 2008. Today, schools are still waiting for 12 new so-called “reform textbooks”.
To solve the situation with the Lipka book, the ministry launched a new specialised order procedure for around 1,000 of the country’s 2,200 elementary schools on June 19. The affected schools could choose from two alternative phonics books published by Orbis Pictus, which was already supplying the country’s remaining schools. The ministry also e-mailed schools in late-June saying it had launched a new public tender for phonics books, noting that if AITEC participates and wins, schools may yet receive the Lipka book by September, according to Sme. An Education Ministry spokesperson declined to comment on the competition when asked by The Slovak Spectator.
Ministry officials also told Sme that they cannot penalize AITEC with a fine since phonics books are not included in the May 10 contract signed between the publishing house and the ministry. Miroslav Sedláček of AITEC told Sme that the company is authorised to provide the phonics books, though he declined to provide a contract with the ministry, Sme reported.
Schools order school books via the Publishing Portal at the Education Ministry, according to TASR newswire. The state pays for new phonics textbooks, while students’ parents have to pay for the copybooks and workbooks attached to the phonics book. Some schools have already bought AITEC copybooks and workbooks, paying around €5 for one pair, but since schools have to order different a phonics book there is a threat that the content of the phonics book and the workbooks will not be related to each other, Sme reported.
The whole incident has left some arguing that schools should buy textbooks on their own rather than go through the ministry, and former Education Minister Eugen Jurzyca of the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) party and a member of non-governmental Institute for Economic and Social Studies (INEKO) told The Slovak Spectator that current the law would allow it. The Education Ministry did not respond to questions on whether this is an option for schools.
Problems going back years
Of the textbooks targeted for change in the 2008 school reforms, 12 are still missing. The reasons include failed public competitions due to lack of offers or subpar quality, as well as unexpected complications like health issues of some of the books’ authors and so on, according to the Education Ministry. Education Minister Michal Kaliňák told TASR that the ministry could send another two of these books to schools by the end of summer and will launch a new selection procedure for the remaining 10.
When teachers lack books they work with materials from the internet as well as with older textbooks, Hana Kubalová, the deputy director of Metodova Grammar School in Bratislava, told TASR. “Many times my colleagues told me that even though they received new textbooks, they will give even the old ones to students since they have clearer content,” Kubalová said to TASR.
Schools do not have the opportunity to see the textbooks before ordering them. Moreover, they are forced to order books in December, and some are not even written yet, Kubalová said. The possibility for schools to choose and buy textbooks by themselves is the best solution since it would be clear which book is good and popular among the schools, she said.
Jurzyca makes a similar argument, adding that the problem is the Education Ministry tries to “compete with the market” in providing textbooks. He also compared the current situation to the 20th century socialist regime, when many products were provided by the state.
“Last time, people missed bananas and oranges when the state provided them,” he said. “By the way, even some books were missing in stores then.”