Book scheme for basic schools in Ghana
Akoss Ofori-Mensah is the Managing Director of Sub-Saharan Publishers,
PO Box 358, Legon, Accra, Ghana. +233 21 233371 (tel), +233 21 233371
Of late, the falling standards in education in Ghana
have become a headache for all concerned. Parents are disturbed because
their wards fare poorly in final examinations; government is upset because
it is blamed, teachers too are blamed for the failure of students; pupils
and students themselves are worried because their future is in jeopardy;
publishers and booksellers blame the government as well as parents for
not buying enough books for the pupils and students. A matter of serious
concern is the fact that young people graduating from junior and senior
secondary schools do not speak and write good English these days.
One of the things Ghana could not possibly give
up after independence was the English language - standard English, the
Queen's English, or BBC English. Ghanaians were, until recently, used
to good English: even middle-school leavers could speak and write impeccable
English. Then, as if struck by a thunderbolt, the standard of English
in Ghana started to deteriorate together with education in general. Many
school-leavers these days can hardly read, write or speak good English.
Children graduating from the basic-school level
can hardly be called literate. This fall in the standard of education
at the basic level is also being reflected in secondary and tertiary
levels. So alarming is the problem that in 1998, when the British Government
gave a grant of £53 million to the Ghana Ministry of Education
to rehabilitate the basic education system, the Ministry decided to
use £8.5 million to buy supplementary readers for the primary
schools to revamp reading habits among children.
In May 1998, the Ministry announced an invitation
to submit titles for selection and purchase for the primary schools.
Consultants were appointed to do a pre-selection and organise workshops
in regional capitals for teachers to make their selections of the books.
Both local and foreign publishers like Macmillan, Heinemann, and Longman
submitted titles for consideration. In December, orders were placed
and publishers were asked to deliver their supplies by the end of March
1999. The publishers really rose to the occasion and delivered their
orders on time.
Some four million books were purchased including
one million local language books. Sixty per cent of the books came from
British publishers and 40 per cent from local publishers. Never before
had the Ministry purchased such a variety of books, in such volume,
and from so diverse publishers. Twenty-five publishers benefited from
In view of the brevity of the period within which
the books had to be ordered and delivered, Linda Fox, Deputy Director
of the British Council, who actually placed the orders, says she could
not haggle much with publishers over prices. All the same she got value
for money. She refused to negotiate with the Ghana Book Publishers Association
as a body: she dealt with publishers on individual basis; and in their
eagerness to get big orders publishers gave big discounts: some even
gave discount on freight charges! I must underscore the point that Ghanaian
publishers have never been happier in their careers. They even had the
option of being paid in sterling or local currency. Those who had to
print or import their books from abroad were also spared the trouble
of having to clear consignments from the port. All they had to do was
to hand over the shipping documents to DFID (British Department for
International Development) and the latter organised the port work. Payment
for supplies was absolutely brilliant; publishers received their cheques
just a few days after submission of their invoices.
Distribution - going the extra mile
Originally, publishers were told that they would
have to deliver their books to the schools before they could get paid.
The Ghana Book Publishers Association therefore started to put in place
a machinery for the distribution: they decided to float a distribution
company. Later on in December 1998, the Ministry of Education, DFID,
and The British Council decided they could not allow publishers to deliver
books themselves, so took away the distribution aspect of the scheme.
The contract went to the Ghana Education Service, and to May and Glisby,
a haulage company in Tema, under the supervision of the British Council
Linda Fox deserves a gold medal for doing a good
job with the distribution; from the acquisition of the warehouse, to
the receipt of the consignments of books; the fabrication of book boxes,
sorting and packing the books into the boxes, she was incredibly meticulous.
She would insist that big boxes were put under smaller boxes for fear
some people might get hurt from a falling box. She got some ex-servicemen
to handle the warehouse work with a team of expert secretarial staff.
These people, under the leadership of Colonel Yartel, arranged and packed
the books into book boxes, labelled them according to school, circuit,
district, and region. They had to ensure that the consignment for each
district reached its destination before the distribution team got there.
She also had to organise transportation allowances for every teacher
who come to the district capital to collect the books for his or her
school. The envelopes were labelled by school, circuit, district and
region. And there are at least eleven thousand public primary schools
in Ghana. It was a very tough assignment.
On 25 October I set off at 7am with Linda and
Lite Otoo, a student from KNUST, for Kibi and Begoro in the Eastern
Region. On arrival at the Kibi District Education office, the books
were already there, arranged according to circuits. The headteachers,
circuit supervisors, and the District Director of Education were all
there. After the launching ceremony, the headteachers and circuit supervisors
were paid allowances to enable them to transport the book boxes to their
Upper West Region
What actually makes the distribution work difficult
is the long distances of travel and the bad roads in some areas. On
31 October, I left Accra with Evelyn Addo of GES for Wa, to join Linda
and her team for the distribution in that region. We left Accra at 7.30am
and by 4pm we were in Tamale. At 4am next day we set off for Wa via
Damango. The road from Buipe to Sawla is a rough, lonely, country, dirt
road. You could drive for miles without meeting a single vehicle. Often
the road was occupied by cattle, goats, sheep, ducks and guinea fowls
who seemed oblivious of the approaching vehicle. We had to stop and
wait for them to move at their own leisure; the sound of the horn did
not make much difference. We went through Larabinga, Damongo, and Sawla
before we finally hit tarred road to Wa.
The distribution in Wa was not without incident;
the truck with the books got held up on the Bole road because another
cargo truck had overturned on it thereby blocking all traffic. Finally
it arrived late and the distribution ceremony began. After a welcome
address by the Regional Minister, Mr David Osei-Wusu, the representative
from DFID, Mr Howard Horsely, presented the books to the minister on
behalf of the British Government. The minister in turn handed them over
to Mr Alex Tetey-Enyo, the Deputy Director General of the Ghana Education
Service. The Deputy Director General handed the books to the Regional
Education Officer and then to the District Education Officer, who eventually
handed them to the headteachers. The book boxes were then distributed.
That same afternoon we continued to Nadowli to
distribute the books for that district and returned to Wa for the night.
The following day took us to Jirapa and Lawra. On Wednesday, we continued
to Tumu, after which we travelled to Bolgatanga through Navrongo, for
the night. By the time we reached Accra on Friday we had covered a distance
of 2000 kilometres.
Headteachers and their pupils braved the scorching
sun to come from all parts of the region to collect their books at the
relevant districts. There was no doubt that they were very happy to
have the books. In this region the commonest means of transport is bicycle
or motorbike and many of the teachers used them to transport their book
boxes to their various destinations.
On Wednesday morning, on the road to Tumu, we
came across a headteacher who had collected his books in Jirapa the
previous morning and was still hustling to get to his village. He had
had to spend the previous night in a nearby village. He had also had
to hire a cyclist to carry his book boxes while he escorted him on another
bike with a rifle. Well on that Jirapa-Tumu road, he could easily be
attacked by thieves or wild animals. It is a really jungle dirt road
with narrow wobbly bridges, hardly visible. We were really impressed
by the foresight and diligence of this teacher; he did the profession
The children are expected to handle the books
with care; that is fair enough. However, children will always be children:
there is no doubt that they will soil some of the books, tear some,
lose some or even steal some. In fact, because of fear of this happening,
some teachers tend to keep the books under lock and key and do not allow
the children to handle them. This habit defeats the purpose of supplying
the books in the first place. The solution to the problem is an annual
purchase of a few new readers for each school as replacement for lost
or damaged ones. Of course, parents could be made to pay for books stolen
or damaged by their wards.
Unfortunately, it is not the children who are
the problem but the adults. Even before the distribution exercise was
completed, some of the books had already found their way on to the central
markets in Kumasi and Bawku.
If the children are to develop the reading habit,
then their teachers should themselves also love reading. They should
read the books and help the children to read them also. Reading should
be encouraged in the teacher-training colleges and their libraries should
be well stocked.
Parents, especially the literate ones, should
also find time to read to their children or help them to read. Revamping
the literacy skills of the pupils is a communal responsibility and should
not be left to teachers alone. Sporadic visits to the schools by inspectors,
education officers, and even publishers, could go a long way to enhance
the reading habits of the children. Publishers, for instance, would
know whether they are producing the right books for the children or
not. Publishers must also do right by their authors. It was most embarrassing
to be told by the co-ordinator of the scheme, Paul Krampah, that some
publishers had reneged on their responsibility to pay their authors
the royalty due them. Such authors have had to find out the print-runs
of their titles from the British Council. Failure to pay authors their
due is in bad taste and disgraces the publishers concerned. They should
remember that there can be no books without authors.
Finally, reading prizes could be instituted by
all stakeholders, i.e. booksellers, publishers, FM radio stations, the
Ghana Education Service, and the Children's Literature Foundation, to
be awarded to children at school, district, regional and even national
levels. Such prizes would encourage children to read for pleasure rather
than just to pass examinations.
Both the Ghana and the British Governments have
gone to considerable expense and effort to make the book scheme a success.
The scheme was launched in March 1999 by no less personages than the
Minister of Education, Honorable Ekow Spio-Garbrah and the British High
Commissioner, His Excellency Mr I.W. Mackley. Deputy Ministers of Education
Mr Kwabena Kyere and Dr Ibn Chambas, together with the Director General
of the Ghana Education Service, have travelled the length and breadth
of Ghana whenever possible to launch the scheme in the various regional
capitals, with the support of the regional ministers and traditional
Even Her Royal Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, during
her visit to Ghana in November 1999, took time off her busy schedule
to visit the La Cluster of Schools to see that the pupils were indeed
benefiting from the scheme. The government has laid the foundation for
a literate Ghana and the onus is on all and sundry to build on it. [end] [BPN,
no 2627, 2000, p. 19.]
to table of contents for BPN Newsletter 26-27, 2000>>