When former Education Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i decreed that from January last year, the government would procure textbooks directly from publishers and distribute them to schools, he intended to cut out corruption networks in the book distribution channel that were reaping where they never sowed and denying Kenyan children valuable tools to mould their future.
Teachers’ unions, booksellers and publishers protested but Dr Matiang’i did not budge. He invited President Uhuru Kenyatta to flag off the project on January 5, 2018. The CS was convinced that school heads had failed in their duty as, since 2003 when the Free Primary Education was launched, schools were yet to achieve the 1:1 textbook to student ratio. He attributed poor performance to lack of learning materials.
“You teach and we bring you books,” he was categorical. The President was happy to hear that the government would spend Sh7.5 billion to have each student get a textbook for each subject.
Previously, according to the government, more than Sh20 billion was spent annually to buy books. A plan that would save the taxpayer more than Sh12 billion was, therefore, considered ingenious.
However, after one-and-a-half years of using the distribution model, it is proving not to be the master-stroke that it had been envisioned to be.
Wastage, poor distribution, restricted choice and variety of books, poor quality of books in content and packaging, favouritism in selection and corruption still remain thorny issues.
These issues came up when the parliamentary Committee on Education and Research met officials of the Kenya Primary Schools Headteachers Association (Kepsha) and Kenya Secondary Schools Heads Association (Kessha) on Thursday. The school managers said that, had they been involved in the planning of the project, some of these issues would not have arisen.
“Books are not delivered to schools and head teachers are left with the burden of transportation from the sub-county director’s office whereas there is no budget for that,” Kepsha chair Nicholus Gathemia said.
He said that teachers are concerned that the second term is coming to an end in three weeks yet, since last year, schools had not been supplied with all books for Standard Four, Five and Six.
“There is zero access to textbooks for these classes,” he said, responding to a question on the 1:1 book-to-student ratio. Social studies and religious education books for Standards 7 and 8 have also not been delivered.
In secondary schools, learners are yet to receive set books for Literature and Fasihi. In October last year, the Principal Secretary instructed head teachers through a circular not buy the books. There is need also to synchronise the procurement of set books since, in addition to the compulsory set texts, schools select the optional texts independently. Cases may arise of schools supplied with books that they do not need and lacking books that they need.
Teachers have had to advise parents to buy the set books since learning has to continue.
The delay might be anchored on the erroneous assumption that provision of the books at whatever time will automatically translate into achievement of the set curriculum objectives.
STUCK WITH STOCK
Some publishers who committed funds to print in bulk expecting the assured bumper procurement by the government are now stuck with stocks, negatively impacting on their cash flows.
When the ministry came up with the policy, there was no consultation with the teachers.
Teachers have been saddled with teaching using books that they neither asked for nor prefer as they were selected based on the cost as opposed to quality.
That the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD) selects the lowest bid from the six approved titles in the Orange Book has opened up avenues for underhand unethical tactics by publishers in an attempt to undercut competitors.
One major firm, for example, submitted a bid last year for the competency-based curriculum (CBC) where they priced their teacher’s books/guides at only one shilling!
“The policy failed a critical test of doing a needs analysis of individual schools, leading to poor prioritisation and skewed allocation of resources,” Kessha chairperson Kahi Indimuli said.
Single sourcing by the government has restricted choice and variety of books at the teachers’ disposal. In a competitive situation, schools would choose books that best suit their learners and the publishers would strive to beat competition based on quality as opposed to pricing.
Single sourcing has attracted corruption networks even in other sectors in Kenya. No one has however been accused of corruption so far.
Mr Indimuli lauded the project for ensuring all students have textbooks but decried the wastage of resources occasioned by the oversupply of books in secondary schools.
There is an inexplicable mismatch of data that the ministry uses to send capitation funds to schools and that which is used to distribute books.
Kessha secretary general Willie Kuria said that this appears deliberate.
“Why are we only receiving excess books and not excess funds? It is only the publishers benefiting from this (situation),” he said.
He added that complacency has set in as seen in the poor quality of the cover pages with the assumption that more books would be purchased, after all.
David Muchunguh is Senior Writer – Education