When President Uhuru Kenyatta flagged off Sh7.5 billion textbooks to primary and secondary schools on Friday, he resolved an extremely difficult problem in education planning and policy that bedevils many developing countries.
Since education for all was introduced in a few countries and later recognised as a universal right, the generalised use of textbooks has become mandatory in ensuring the effectiveness of instruction and success at school. Indeed, a good teacher and good textbook is the sine qua non of quality education.
It is for the essential nature of textbooks—and good textbooks at that—that Unesco, the World Bank and research insights recommend that student-to-textbook ratios range from 1:1 to 3:1.
The government had duly taken this into account in formulating and implementing the architecture of the Free Primary Education and the Free Day Secondary Education in 2003 and 2008, respectively.
Aware of the indispensable role of textbooks, the government has—since 2003 for FPE and 2008 for FDSE—been giving schools a significant portion of the capitation funds to buy textbooks.
However, the greatest paradox of our time has been that, after 13 years of FPE and eight years of FDSE, most public schools had not attained the expected 1:1 pupil-to-textbook ratio. Instead, the average is anywhere between 3:1 and 5:1 and, in some cases, 10:1.
This could not be reconciled with the billions of shillings spent every year on textbooks in public primary and secondary schools; hence the government’s review of the book distribution policy that culminated in engagement of publishers of duly approved textbooks to send them directly to schools.
The textbook flag-off at the Centre for Mathematics, Science and Technology Education in Africa (Cemastea) by the President was a milestone in children’s access to quality education regardless of class, gender or locality. The President said that, besides ensuring that learners get textbooks in six core subjects, the new approach has led to savings of Sh13 billion!
The consensus on textbooks among education stakeholders is valid to the extent that it places into the hands of the learner an important educational tool.
Students spend 70 per cent to 95 per cent of classroom time using textbooks, and teachers base more than 70 per cent of their instructional decisions on them, according to American professors of education Myra Pollack Sadker and David Miller Sadker in their book, Teachers, Schools and Society.
They say textbooks are so pervasive and frequently used that they constitute a curriculum of their own! Textbooks create space for students to reflect, and learn how to learn—just what the competence-based curriculum aims at. Students with little direct exposure to textbooks never have a functional mastery of the knowledge, skills and other capabilities they ought to.
Without a doubt, the launch of the new policy has cut the Gordian knot of textbook distribution in Kenya’s public basic education institutions.