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BPN Newsletter Issue No 23, October 1998 


Kenya introduces National Textbook Policy

David N Muita

David N Muita is Chairman Kenya Publishers Association and Managing Director, Macmillan Kenya (Publishers) Ltd, Kijabe Street, PO Box 30797, Nairobi, Kenya. Street, Oxford OX1 1HU, England. Tel +44 1865 794068, fax +254 2 212179, e-mail:

September 1998 saw the launch of the Kenya National Textbook Policy by the Minister for Education and Human Resource Development, Mr Stephen Kalonzo Musyoka. In an indication of the Ministry's acceptance and appreciation of the book sector's liberalisation, in the foreword to the policy Kalonzo Musyoka says `this will encourage procurement and supply of relevant and high-quality books and other instructional materials for schools'.


To see how far the policy will be helpful to the book industry in Kenya, it is important to look back at the struggle that preceded the launch of this new policy. During colonial times churches, which owned most of the schools, were responsible for the provision of resources to schools. The government of the time set up District Education Boards (DEBs) with the aim of having a firmer grip on the education sector in the country. The DEBs were also responsible for book provision to schools. At that time the school system was rudimentary, and the book sector almost non-existent, except for a few multinational agents.

At independence in 1963 the many new government institutions included the book-publishing parastatals, the Jomo Kenyatta Foundation and the Kenya Literature Bureau. Many schools were started countrywide. The book market became quite viable, and the existing multinational agents registered their firms to become private publishers.

Among the first private publishers in the country were Oxford University Press, Heinemann and Macmillan. This was the nemesis of the sometimes bitter disagreements between private publishers and the parastatals. Inevitably, the Ministry of Education could not be left out of the dispute for long. But instead of coming in as a referee it came in as a player, worsening an already volatile situation. For reasons that could not exclude financial gains, the Ministry discredited the material from private publishers as expensive and irrelevant to the school situation in Kenya. It went a step further and started the centralised supply of books to schools via the Kenya School Equipment Scheme (KSES). In collaboration with the Kenya Institute of Education (KIE), whose mandate was curriculum development and the vetting and recommending of books, KSES generated order lists which it distributed to schools via the DEBs. Schools then selected the books they wanted from these lists and the KSES supplied them with the titles requested. Positively, a book on the list brought in huge orders, hence large print-runs and low unit prices. But on the other hand the stage was set for massive corruption as publishers clamoured to have their books in the order lists. This and other inhibiting factors in KSES's operations led to the scheme becoming moribund.

Come the early 1980s KSES was replaced by a cost-sharing policy in school resources acquisition. Here, the government as well as the parents were to contribute to a school's resource-buying kitty. The government gradually shed the responsibility, eventually leaving most of the buying to parents, who were already feeling the pinch of a worsening, maladministered economy.

In 1983 things took a turn for the worse, when the government abruptly changed the structure of education, introducing the 8-4-4 system of education. This sudden change of policy rendered nearly all the textbooks irrelevant. Survival instincts and business sense dictated that the publishers repackage the old titles between new covers, a move that did not go down well with the government. This resulted in the Ministry of Education mandating the KIE to write books. The institution organised writing workshops, which basically involved bringing together teachers with no prior training or experience in writing, with the instruction to `produce a manuscript' for a certain subject within a stipulated time. The manuscripts so produced were passed on to state publishing houses with the instruction to `produce a book', and this in record time. These books were ultimately to become the official textbooks for schools. Books from private publishers were relegated to supplementary material or teacher reference. As a result, publishing in Kenya as a business lost its attraction. Many publishers were forced to lay off staff or close down altogether, a scenario created by the state monopoly.

Move to privatisation

But not everyone could be pushed out of the business. Together with the `never-say-die' attitude, for some of us it was the only way we knew how to make money. How was the private publisher going to survive against state control? One way was to inject more professionalism into the operation with a view to having a superior product and better marketing and distribution methods. This was done admirably. The fact that the drab parastatal books were hastily and unprofessionally produced helped matters.

The other longer-term solution was to lift the fight for a national book policy to a new level. This was taken up by the Kenya Publishers Association (KPA), whose attempts to have a dialogue with the Ministry of Education were, however, futile. Letters went unanswered. Many hours were lost chasing uncooperative government officers. Press wars did not help matters either, with the government directing school inspectors to ensure that no other instructional materials apart from those published by the parastatals were used in schools. Further, private publishers were excluded from Ministry of Education functions.

However, international bodies, particularly the World Bank, heard the cries of the private publishers. Consequently, in December 1993 the then Chairman of the KPA Mr Gacheche Waruingi was invited to attend the Eighth World Bank Education Credit Workshop at Mombasa, Kenya. For the first time, at the instigation of Gacheche, the need to have a thorough review of the book policy was discussed. With a bit more tact and diplomacy from our Chairman, some outcry from the users and nudging from the international bodies, doors at the Ministry began to open. In the ensuing dialogue, we brought out our role as partners in the eradication of illiteracy and the development of education, rather than the mercenaries we were thought to be. We received a boost when, in 1995/6, the Royal Netherlands Government agreed to finance a pilot project to test textbook supply, on condition that books from the private publishers were included in the list of books to be bought.

The objectives, methodology and findings of the pilot project have been discussed at various fora at which the Ministry of Education, publishers and donor bodies (including the British Department for International Development (DFID), DANIDA and the World Bank) have been well represented. It is that pilot project and the ensuing discussions which form the basis of the National Policy on Textbooks. Apart from increased recognition, there is now documentation of the fact that schools will choose books and other instructional material that they feel best serves their needs. The Ministry's major roles will be advisory and supervisory. Towards this end, the Ministry will produce and issue a list of six recommended titles per subject annually - `without categorising them as mandatory or supplementary' - which will be distributed by November each year. The government also states its commitment to maintaining and increasing its budget line in textbook provision to schools.


With the launching of the National Policy on Textbook Publication, Procurement and Supply, the dream of the Kenyan publisher is now a reality. There are many benefits to be accrued not only by the publisher but also by the Ministry of Education and the end user. The education system in Kenya is the winner. The advantages include:

  • a more vibrant, customer-focused book industry,
  • high quality of textbooks in terms of content, repackaging and production,
  • prices will be reasonable as market forces come into play,
  • an enhanced reading culture,
  • a more focused, efficient and effective Ministry of Education and Human Resource Development,
  • schools will have a vote for other important resource materials (atlases, dictionaries, wallcharts, publications on health and environment, etc.) previously unavailable since they were not produced by parastatals,
  • schools will be able to build stocks of a variety of books for a subject depending on the school's resource base,
  • a level playing ground for all players in the book industry.

The Kenya Publishers Association and the Ministry of Education are forging a union that can only benefit our people. This Education Minister's trust that `the policy will provide adequate guidance to schools and the book trade in Kenya' will be a reality. [end] [BPN, no 23, 1998, p 2.]

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