Access to Information at ZIBF97
Carew B W Treffgarne is convenor of the ADEA Working Group on Books and Learning Materials. Address: Department for International Development, 94 Victoria Street, London SW1E 5JL, Britain. Fax: +44 171 917 0287; e-mail: email@example.com
ZIBF97's Indaba on Access to Information attracted a record number of nearly 300 participants from 35 different countries. Although the involvement of government officials was less evident than last year, the Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA) group session on National Book Policy demonstrated that there has been considerable progress in collaboration between the key players in book development from the public and private sectors in Africa.
The Chairman of the Booksellers' and Publishers' Association of Zambia, Ray Munamwimbu, reported on the drafting on legislation by the Ministry of Education concerning Zambia's National Book Policy. Phenny Birungi (National Libraries Board, Uganda) spoke in his capacity as the Chair of the Interim Book Development Committee in Uganda, which is likewise looking at ways of getting book policy on to the national agenda. Tanzanians Walter Bgoya (Mkuki na Nyota Publishers) and Charles Kalugula (Book Management Unit, Ministry of Education and Culture) presented two sides of the same coin in developing a more transparent approval system for selecting books (following the ending of the Institute of Education's monopoly over textbook development in Tanzania).
Both presentations from Uganda and Tanzania urged the integration of school libraries into the school curriculum. The other common denominator was the heightened interest in book evaluation and selection at school, district or provincial level during the transition from a centralised system of book procurement to a more decentralised one (e.g. Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, South Africa, Malawi, Botswana).
The problem of book distribution also featured in Indaba discussions since this hampers access to information, as well as undermining book provision on an equitable country-wide basis. Many countries are interested in exploring alternative delivery systems in order to ensure that sufficient numbers of course books reach all schools in a timely, comprehensive manner.
Disparities in access to information for educational purposes emerged strongly from case studies where the sharing of school books is estimated to fluctuate between 1:5 to 1:7 (e.g. Tanzania, Zimbabwe). Adelino da Cruz (Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Education, Mozambique) gave a graphic account of the government's attempts to make access to school books a reality for every Mozambican primary school pupil. It was evident from discussions with participants that the objective of making books available for students on a 1:1 basis requires more decisive government action in many countries.
ZIBF97 Indaba provided an appropriate setting for the launch of the APNET/ADEA study on the Fiscal and Legal Problems of the Intra-African Book Trade (which the ADEA Working Group on Books & Learning Materials is helping to co-ordinate). Amisshaddai Dei-Awuku (African Christian Press, Ghana) and Victor Nwankwo (Fourth Dimension Publishing, Nigeria) cited the problems of poor communications, spiralling postage costs, delays in payment of remittances and corrupt customs officials at border posts. Roger Ozé (Nouvelles Editions Ivoiriennes) gave a more positive picture, based on the advantage shared by countries that are linked to the franc zone.
The APNET/ADEA study will focus on the book trade between a number of neighbouring countries in the southern African region (i.e. Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe), and will follow through sample shipments and text mailings from/to East Africa and West Africa.
The Executive Secretary of APNET, Gillian Nyambura, seized the opportunity presented by the Indaba to announce that APNET had added a Pan-African dimension to the study. It has reached agreement with the OAU to conduct a joint piece of research into the fiscal and legal aspects of the book trade in economic community networks, such as ECOWAS, COMESA and SADC.
The Group Session on National Book Policy also drew attention to the role of multilateral/bilateral agencies (e.g. the Unesco/Danida Basic Learning Materials Initiative, ADEA Working Group on Books and Learning Materials) in supporting the development of national book policies. It highlighted the complementary crucial role played by networks like APNET in strengthening national publishers' associations. Such synergy can be found in Malawi, where the nascent Publishers' Association (BPAM) held a national meeting on book policy following its book fair at the end of July.
In reaction to the record number of participants, the organisers of the Indaba adopted the use of parallel group sessions this year. In addition to National Book Policy, participants could choose between Group Sessions on Information Technology and Rights, Scholarship Research, and Community Access to Information. It was therefore a pity that there was no formal provision for feedback. In his summing up at the end of the proceedings, Terence Ranger dwelt on general points raised in keynote speeches by Yvonne Vera and Helge Rřnning, rather than on specific issues arising from the group sessions.
The fair itself attracted some 270 exhibitors and approximately 300 trade visitors from 53 different countries. It is perhaps ironic that, although Zimbabwe led the way with 86 registered exhibitors, the promotion and co-ordination of book policy does not feature high on the national agenda. The Book Development Council, as Director Miriam Bamhare lamented in a keynote presentation, is under-utilised in this respect. However, the moving scene at the beginning of the Indaba by a group of small children, hungry for the `know how' symbolised by the book, could be interpreted as signifying that increased Government support would be both timely and constructive.
ADEA Working Group on Books and Learning Materials
The ADEA Working Group on Books and Learning Materials held a technical meeting during ZIBF, which was well attended. The meeting was used to present two new publications, based on research conducted during 1996 into issues relating to book development: The Cost Effectiveness of Publishing Educational Materials in African Languages and The Economics of Publishing Educational Materials in Africa. It was also used to establish priorities for the revision of its work plan for 1998 for presentation at the forthcoming ADEA Biennale in Dakar (14/18 October 1997). [end] [BPN, no 20, 1997, p. 10-11]
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