Bellagio Publishing Network  

 BPN Newsletter Issue No 26-27, November 2000 


Towards a unified textbook system in Kenya

Caroline Pontefract and Nereah Were
Caroline Pontefract is Adviser on the Strengthening Primary Education Project, FCO (Nairobi), King Charles Street London SW1A 2AH, England.
Nereah Were is Acting Head of the Ministry of Education Textbook Unit, Textbook Unit, Ministry of Education, PO Box 30426 Nairobi, Kenya. + 254 2 334411(tel) +254 2 219284(fax)

In Bellagio Publishing Network Newsletter 23, David Muita, of the Kenya Publishers' Association reported on the introduction of Kenya's New Text Book Policy. Here, we report on progress.

Kenya, with the support of donor partners, is moving towards a unified system of textbook provision with accountable systems which involve key stakeholders at all levels. The system will serve to further liberalise the Kenyan book trade.

The supply of textbooks to Kenyan schools over the last 20 years has been affected by national policy changes and the social and economic situation. Until 1988 all textbooks in Kenya were supplied to schools through the National School Equipment Scheme. However, in the late 1980s, when structural adjustment programmes were introduced, instituting cost-sharing across all government departments, parents and communities became responsible for providing all school textbooks. The increasing difficulty they faced in raising money even for school fees led to a low primary school enrolment and high dropout rates.

In order to address this negative trend the government introduced the Social Dimensions Development Project in 1991, whereby the government, through the Ministry of Education, provided textbooks to primary schools. All aspects of textbook provision, such as the choice of regions to target and the selection, purchase and distribution of textbooks were controlled by the Ministry. However, this central control generated its own problems:

• books did not always reach the schools due to lack of co-ordination
• schools often received books inappropriate to their needs
• some regional districts benefited more than others
• key stakeholders were not involved in the procurement process
• textbooks were purchased only from government parastatal publishing firms
• there was no system for monitoring and evaluation
• there was no training for key stakeholders

A Royal Netherlands Embassy (RNE) pilot textbook project sought to address some of the logistical problems. Fundamental to the project design were the key elements of book trade liberalisation, equitability of textbook allocation and active participation of all stakeholders in the textbook procurement process. Evaluation of the RNE project highlighted how Kenya had the 'capacity to effectively service school-based purchasing power and decision making even in rural and remote areas' (Read, 1998). It was now the responsibility of the Ministry of Education to ensure that key stakeholders, such as schools, communities, zonal and district officers, the Kenya Booksellers Association (KBA) and Kenya Publishing Association (KPA), were able to contribute to realising this capacity.

The success of the RNE pilot project led to the Ministry of Education introducing a national policy on textbook publication and procurement in 1999. This emphasised the key principles piloted in the RNE project and was greeted with enthusiasm by booksellers and publishers (Muita, 1998). The policy allows schools to select any book from the ministry's approved list of textbooks, all of which have been professionally vetted by the Kenya Institute of Education. It includes books published by commercial as well as parastatal publishers. Until this time the 'flourishing educational publishing infrastructure', noted by Cohen in 1998, had been hindered from development by the ministry's reliance on parastatal published books.

The Strengthening Primary Education Project (SPRED) wanted to build on the strengths of the RNE project and further support the move towards a unified textbook system. The first step was to invite booksellers and publishers to a workshop to discuss key issues and make suggestions on the way forward. Lessons learnt from the RNE pilot project were discussed, and the participants stressed the importance of ensuring that schools selected and ordered books according to need. Shortly after this workshop, another was held for the district education officers (DEOs) of the 70+ districts in Kenya, where the discussion focused on the issue of an equitable system for book provision, at both district and school level. Participants felt that equitable distribution required the involvement and collaboration of all funding agencies. The DEOs suggested that schools' relative needs were best identified at local level by Ministry officers and the community. The workshop generated social, economic, and educational criteria to provide the basis for a Ministry of Education textbook questionnaire which would provide comparative information on every state school in each district. Guidelines compiled for the zonal and district officers ensured that the questionnaires were completed in a fair and transparent way.

The questionnaire and the data it generated came to be described as the 'micro' level element of the funding methodology. It was developed in parallel with a 'macro' level strategy which drew on national poverty and population data. This meant that any amount of funding could be fairly apportioned amongst any number of districts (Opondo, 1998). Once the level of funding to a district was determined it could be shared fairly amongst all schools in the district, using the ranking allocated to each school through the questionnaire. The development of a funding methodology was a key step towards a co-ordinated and equitable provision of textbooks to schools.

The Ministry Textbook Unit next addressed the issue of fleshing out the policy in relation to textbook procurement at school level. It produced a Primary School Textbook Management Handbook detailing all aspects of the process, which was distributed to all state schools. The unit also developed administrative documents and forms such as the 'Stock/Issue Register' and the 'School Textbook Order Form'. Key stakeholders needed training. To ensure consistent quality the Ministry Textbook Unit developed a Trainers' Manual, used both by the central team to train the district and zonal officers, and by the officers themselves to train the school Selection Textbook Committees. Another important step towards a unified and fair system was updating the Ministry's approved list of textbooks, with publishers verifying prices and other information about all their listed books. The process has been monitored and evaluated at all levels and the feedback is encouraging. Schools, publishers and booksellers are doing their best to make the system work.

However, although we have made a lot of progress towards putting in place a unified system of textbook provision, there is still much to be done. Existing Ministry mechanisms for distributing funds to schools need to be developed, strengthened or modified. The Textbook Unit needs the capacity to be able to play a central role in all aspects of the process. One way forward has been the development by the Unit of a 'Textbook Policy Framework' identifying strategic areas which should be operating efficiently in order to support a unified approach. The next step is for the textbook team to ensure that the Unit is appropriately staffed and to develop each of these strategic areas so that they become functional and effective systems. The Ministry officers in the field need to constantly monitor and evaluate the textbook procurement process. Communities and parents must ensure that they are actively involved in the whole process through the school textbook selection committees and the parent teacher associations.

Although funding support from development partners remains crucial, the Ministry of Education must be able to control and co-ordinate the allocation of funds. It must have the confidence to insist that donors work within the Ministry system, leaving the Ministry to take decisions about the provision of textbooks to Kenya schools. This means that donors too have a responsibility not only to work within Ministry systems, but also to support and strengthen them. Finally, the publishers and booksellers, who have welcomed the liberalisation of the book trade, have a key role to play in ensuring that schools are able to order and receive the books they select.

The Kenyan national system of textbook procurement is underpinned by key principles of book trade liberalisation, school selection, accountability, equity and participation. The Ministry of Education has developed a funding methodology, school level support and administrative material and has trained key cadres in the school-focused procurement system. With the ongoing support of all the key stakeholders, Kenya will be well on the way to achieving a unified approach to the provision of textbooks in its primary schools.


Bellagio Publishing Network Newsletter, Number 23
Cohen P & Mugiri E, (1998), School Textbook Fund Final Draft Consultancy Report to the Ministry of Education, Kenya
Muita D, (1998), 'Kenya introduces National Textbook Policy' in Opondo F, (1998), Textbook Funding Methodology Consultancy Report
Read T (1998), Final Evaluation Report of the Government of Kenya/Dutch Government Pilot Project for Budget Support to Primary School Textbook Provision [end] [BPN, no 26–27, 2000, p. 21.]

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