World Bank Changes Textbook Provision Policy
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
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
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 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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