Books worth Sh1.7 billion bought with funds from the free primary education programme have disappeared from public schools, according to a government investigation.
The joint UK-Kenya study has established that 5.2 million copies of textbooks have either been stolen or vandalised.
A report of the investigation, issued in August last year, showed that some schools claimed to have bought large numbers of books, which were, however, not in their libraries.
As a result, 5,000 of the 18,000 schools studied were recommended for investigation over their book records.
The investigation was conducted by the Education ministry, Kenya National Audit Office and UK’s National Audit Office.
In some cases, organised gangs raided schools and stole books soon after they were bought.
So bad is the issue that the report noted: “There is a particularly serious problem of theft which needs urgent high level attention.”
In all, 58 million books have been bought under the programme since its start in 2003 at a cost of Sh14.6 billion.
On Tuesday, Education permanent secretary Karega Mutahi said some of the books were lost during the post-election violence in 2008.
Books in schools were either stolen, lost by pupils or destroyed in disasters such as floods and fires, he said.
The PS gave an example of Mt Elgon District where people burnt textbooks.
The PS, whose ministry is under investigation over the loss of millions of shillings through fictitious imprests by officers, said the study revealed that 739 primary schools had bought books under “questionable circumstances”.
“We are taking disciplinary action against the affected schools, including surcharging affected officers,” he said by telephone.
Of the 5,000 schools recommended for investigation, Prof Mutahi said the ministry had cleared 3,200 after establishing that their book records were accurate.
Some 1,500 schools are still being investigated.
Prof Mutahi said that although there were problems in some schools, overall the rate at which books are lost in Kenya is much lower than the rest of Africa.
“Our average consumption rate of 24 per cent is far less than the continental average of 30 per cent per year,” he said.
But he added: “We will not leave anything to chance and want all funds spent on books to help our children.”
Prof Mutahi and Education minister Sam Ongeri have been caught in a two-month storm over the possible theft of Sh1.3 billion at the ministry involving its officers.
Currently, the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission is investigating the scandal, with calls that the two step aside to allow for investigations.
The report, titled “Empowering School Communities: Experiences of Providing Free Textbooks to Kenya Primary Schools”, showed that Central Province had the highest loss rates in the country.
The province reported the loss of two million books to theft alone.
“The ministry believes that much of this loss was attributed to organised gangs raiding schools in the province in a systematic way,” it said.
“The gangs were subsequently caught and the ministry believes that the rate of theft should reduce.”
The report said the main causes of book losses were wear and tear (63 per cent), theft (25 per cent) and vandalism (seven per cent).
Natural disasters accounted for five per cent of the 5.2 million books lost.
However, the investigation team also found that in some schools books were well kept and properly utilised.
Some schools had a problem storing their textbooks, some keeping them tightly packed in damp, dusty or poorly ventilated rooms.
The report recommended that parents buy bags for their children and that schools employ guards and build proper libraries.
To thwart book thieves, schools were also encouraged to mark and cover new books as soon as they were bought.
Prof Mutahi said his ministry had adopted the recommendations of the report, adding that they are allocating money for textbooks depending on the number of books that a school has.
Some schools have enough books for Kiswahili, mathematics, science, social studies, religious education and creative arts, he said.
The new system of giving money is a policy shift from the previous practice where a flat figure was given for every pupil.
“Schools with the lowest textbooks per pupil ratio will benefit from higher allocations compared to schools that have a much higher ratio,” the PS said.
Currently, each pupil receives Sh1,020 a year under the programme.
Already, Sh1.5 billion sent out to schools last month had been based on the new criterion, which is in line with recommendations of the study completed last year.