Bellagio Publishing Network  

 BPN Newsletter Issue No 26-27, November 2000 


Book scheme for basic schools in Ghana

Akoss Ofori-Mensah
Akoss Ofori-Mensah is the Managing Director of Sub-Saharan Publishers, PO Box 358, Legon, Accra, Ghana. +233 21 233371 (tel), +233 21 233371 (fax),

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 this programme.

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 and DFID.

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 respective schools.

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 proud.


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 authorities.

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 26–27, 2000, p. 19.]

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