The directive by Education Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i for adoption of a one-textbook policy in primary and secondary schools is a step in the wrong direction.
The decree is based on a false premise and oblivious of the dynamics of book procurement. Tied to this is its populist nature: Proponents argue it will save parents the burden of buying “too many books”.
It is critical to streamline the public school book approval and procurement but, whereas we support efforts to weed out briefcase booksellers colluding with a few headteachers to fleece the government, the remedy does not lie in turning back the clock.
The book industry was liberalised in the 1990s. Kenya Institute of Education — now Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD) — used to author approved texts for public schools. These were published by parastatals Kenya Literature Bureau (KLB) and Jomo Kenyatta Foundation (JKF).
But the world was fast embracing liberalisation and the desire for choice was real. The aspect of conflict of interest on the part of KIE as curriculum developer, author and evaluator of learning materials was being questioned, with teachers and learners demanding freedom to choose course books.
This prompted stakeholders — KIE, publishers, teachers, parents and development partners such as Department for International Development (DfID), the World Bank and Danish International Development (Danida) to brainstorm on a solution.
Hence the liberalised book policy, which brought forth the Orange Book — a collection of titles vetted and approved by KICD — which must be used by schools when procuring books using government funds.
The new policy opened up public book procurement to publishers and created room for choice — where teachers would go through the various books listed per subject and per level and select any one course book that would serve them best. It resulted in healthy competition, giving rise to better quality at competitive prices.
The sharp increase in book publishers, booksellers and related businesses created jobs and contributes to the Exchequer through taxes in the book chain.
Dr Matiang’i’s order heralds a sad return to the era of the State-run Kenya School Equipment Scheme (KSES), which collapsed in the early 1980s amid a crisis of failure to supply books to schools, gross mismanagement and bureaucracy.
The Ministry is unilaterally taking Kenya back to the 1990s even as Uganda and Rwanda, which are less-developed than us, have three textbooks per subject at every level, for variety and quality.
The centralisation is suspicious. It calls to mind how similar efforts on general procurement involving mega resources have created the monster of centralised corruption and blatant abuse of public resources.
Were the ministry serious in stemming the corruption it perceives to exist in the decentralised school book procurement regime, then the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission, in a September 2015 report, Examination Report into the Disbursement and Utilisation of Free Primary Education (FPE) Funds, told it exactly what to do.
The other day, the Tanzanian government had to withdraw three million books from schools, supplied under a centralised single-sourcing model, over poor quality.
Already, the ministry is on the spot over the contract to Tusome/Pride, a donor-driven project, to publish materials for Grade One to Three in core subjects — mathematics, English and Kiswahili — yet the texts have not been vetted.
KICD director Julius Jwan was quoted in the Sunday Nation of September 24 saying the Tusome/Pride books “had been vetted” — raising questions as to when that was done yet the institute has just sent bids to publishers to submit materials for vetting.
The unilateral move could turn out to be the monster that will irreversibly ruin the quality of education in Kenyan schools.
Mr Sossion is the Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) secretary-general and ODM nominated MP. [email protected]