Kenya is gearing up for radical reforms in the education sector next year, when it seeks to shift from the 8-4-4 system to 2-6-6-3, whose centrepiece is skills attainment rather than knowledge acquisition characterised by rote learning.
Amidst this are other administrative, policy and structural changes. One of these is a proposed change of textbook policy — where the Ministry of Education seeks to considerably cut the number of textbooks used in primary and secondary schools. It has, therefore, designed what is being referred to as “one-textbook-per-subject” policy, which effectively locks all schools to prescribed texts without room for choices.
This has elicited serious debate in education circles as it is faulted for introducing monopolistic and restrictive practices in the textbook trade and supply and reversing gains realised in the industry over two decades.
At the heart of the debate is the contention by the ministry that the current practice is open to abuse. The government, through the then-Kenya Institute of Education (now Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development, KICD), would recommend six textbooks for every subject and let schools pick from the list.
To appreciate the complexity of the debate, it is critical to understand the history. When 8-4-4 was introduced in 1985, the government decreed that KIE and two State publishers — Jomo Kenyatta Foundation and Kenya Literature Bureau — would be the sole publishers of school textbooks. The books would be delivered through Kenya Schools Equipment Scheme (KSES).
But that failed miserably. They published low-quality textbooks and the supply chain was so corrupted that schools never received books. This gave a reason for the liberalisation of the textbook industry in the 1990s, allowing all publishers, public and private, to compete by developing manuscripts to be vetted by KIE from which the six titles were selected. The emphasis was on quality, pricing, durability and availability.
Our view is that changing the textbook policy at this point in time, and without reasonable basis and proper consultation, could prove to be retrogressive.