Bellagio Publishing Network  

 BPN Newsletter Issue No 25, July 1999 


World Bank Changes Textbook Provision Policy

James Tumusiime
James Tumusiime is Vice-Chair of the African Publishers Network (APNET), and Managing Director, Fountain Publishers Ltd, Fountain House, 55 Nkrumah Road, PO Box 488, Kampala, Uganda. Tel +256 41 259163/251112,; fax +256 41 251160, e-mail:

In September 1997, the World Bank hosted a seminar at its Washington headquarters entitled `Understanding the Educational Book Industry'. The seminar brought together 63 participants from Europe, North America, Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia and Africa (see Bellagio Publishing Network Newsletter 21, December 1997).

The atmosphere was tense, and hot exchanges of words and acrimonious debates characterised the two days in which World Bank officials, publishers, consultants, donor representatives, UN agencies and NGO representatives debated causes for the chronic shortage of textbooks in third world countries despite massive investment by governments and donors in that sector. Predictably, World Bank policy on publishing and book procurement came in for severe criticism. The argument was that the Bank's policy of International Competitive Bidding (ICB) emphasised price efficiency at the cost of many other key criteria for a sustainable book industry. Bank officials did not want to raise false expectations and no promises were made either during or at the end of the seminar. But, as it turned out later, the officials appear to have been taking notes.

In March 1999, I was again invited by the Bank to represent the African Publishers' Network (APNET) as a panellist in a discussion about a draft policy on textbook provision. The discussion took place during the Bank's Human Development Week. Many participants in the 1997 seminar were also at this one including the convenor, Mr Sverrir Sigurdsson. The subject was also the same: textbook provision. But the atmosphere was different.

The hot debates of the 1997 seminar had given way to much more sober discussion about reviewing the new Bank policy on book provision which, to most participants, looked like a fait accompli. The policy statement, whose preamble said that it is 'a framework for appraising borrowers' proposals for financing textbooks or reading materials for educational purposes', appears to have taken into account and tried to redress the failings of its predecessor. The same preamble notes that 'the Bank is aware that many book provision efforts over the last 25 years, some with Bank support, may have achieved their immediate objectives but have been unable to maintain the service over the longer term to sustain the educational impact that textbooks help to achieve.'

By including the word 'sustain', the Bank had turned a new leaf. All those in the workshop, including publishers, consultants and World Bank officials, agreed that the policy addressed quite a number of the key issues that had previously been ignored. The policy clearly spells out its priorities:

(a) Support to good classroom teaching and learning practice, including a coherent programme for the provision of teacher's guides and teacher training;

(b) Adherence to legal and other measures for the protection of copyright and other intellectual property rights;

(c) Articulation of agreed roles of the public and private sectors in the development, production, and equitable distribution of textbooks and reading materials;

(d) Maintenance of transparent and competitive processes in the selection or purchase of books for educational use or for contracting publishing or printing services; and

(e) Commitment to longer-term financing of book development and provision.

Participants in the panel discussion gave a few tips on how the policy could be refined but there were no radical proposals from representatives of either the international publishers or the small publishers in Africa, represented among others by APNET Chair, Richard Crabbe and myself.

The near unanimity of the participants on the policy guidelines meant that the Bank had put in something for most stakeholders in the book industry: governments, publishers and donors.

The policy shows that the Bank shares governments' concern to develop human resources through education and training and to enhance economic development and poverty eradication. It emphasises textbooks and reading materials as central in achieving these objectives.

International publishers, who are regarded as the major beneficiaries of the Bank's procurement programmes, have always resisted attempts by publishers in the south to change Bank policy. Among the fears of these northern publishers has been that publishers in the south would abuse copyright laws while enjoying the protection of their governments. The policy however calls for protection of intellectual property rights while emphasising the role of the private sector and competitive processes for the development, production and delivery of textbook and reading materials - all in favour of international publishers. Similarly, the smaller publishing houses in the south - Africa in particular - stand to gain from the new policy if the standing practice of 'winner-take-all' is done away with. Through broad sourcing of books from both locals and internationals, and encouraging end users of books (schools) to choose from a range of titles, small publishers stand to gain by supplying some titles in the procurement programmes. This policy has already yielded good results for the local publishers in East Africa without shutting out the multinationals.

The influence of the World Bank in both policy guidance and resource mobilisation has meant that most bilateral donor projects to book development and provision have faltered in the past because of the distorted framework in which they were implemented. With the new holistic policy in place, where the concerns of all stakeholders have been addressed to some reasonable degree, most donors will be happy to support a book industry that will tap the benefits of economies of scale through pooled resources in the transparent environment that is now being emphasised by the Bank.

The World Bank policy statement acknowledges from the outset that sustainability in provision of books will only be achieved if there is a viable publishing industry that provides books in the variety, quality and quantity needed by the educational system in each country or region. It further recognises that the viability of that publishing industry frequently rests on the profitable trade in textbooks. By coming out openly to emphasise what many publishers in the south - and indeed many organisations in the north who understand the problems of the book industry - have been saying, the World Bank has set the stage for donors, governments and publishers to take advantage of a policy that is already working with some degree of success in a number of countries.

In Uganda, where a similar policy was instituted in 1993 following negotiations between USAID (donor), the government and the publishers association (which includes both local and international publishers), the book industry has started to reap some fruits. The lynchpin of the policy is that publishers are allowed to compete on quality and price, after a government agency has vetted the quality of the books. The end users are then allowed to choose between a number of titles. This policy has seen many international publishers in Uganda joining hands with locals to tap mutual benefits from joint ventures. Similarly, local publishers are engaging international staff to help bring out competitive books. In the process, local editors, illustrators and the book industry have benefited, making Uganda the centre of literary activity in the region. The transparency and the relative ease of implementation of the policy has encouraged most donors to support the programme, and has led to two Ugandan neighbours - Kenya and Tanzania - adopting similar policies recently.

Successful as the policy appears likely to be, it is not without critics. Even in Uganda, where it has been in place for six years, now and then similar questions come up to those raised in the Washington discussion. How many books should be allowed per subject? How frequently should schools select? Who benefits from the policy other than the publishers, since printers, booksellers and others in the bookchain do not seem to be direct beneficiaries. These and many other questions point to the difficulty for policymakers of addressing all the elements required in developing a successful book industry. The consolation however is that this is just a framework which leaves some room for stakeholders in each individual country to make appropriate manoeuvres. [end] [BPN, no 25, 1999, pp 2-3.]

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