AS the country struggles to improve the quality of education and enrollment of students into primary and secondary schools countrywide, it has been revealed that textbooks worth 60bn/- have been laying idle in publishing houses for the last two years.
The revelation was made by the Publishers Association of Tanzania (PATA) in Dar es Salaam last week. The books should have been in classrooms all over the country where students and teachers alike have been decrying shortages of the learning materials.
During his New Year address to the nation, President Jakaya Kikwete had also noted of shortage of books in schools, which he attributed to lack of resources.
But according to the Chairman of PATA, Ian Ben Moshi, the ministry of education and vocational training is well aware of the idle textbooks pilled up in publishers’ warehouses “but it has chosen to ignore or ignores (the facts) for unknown reasons.”
The association is at present up in arms with the government over a declaration by the Minister for Education and Vocational Training, Prof. Jumanne Maghembe that multiple textbooks system was responsible for the high rate of failures in the 2009’s national examinations.
Addressing the education stakeholders’ conference in Dodoma last month in Dodoma, Prof. Maghembe said the government is set to introduce a single textbook system to replace the multi textbook system in the country.
“As there is a single examination so a single textbook should be used…Schools should no longer be involved in purchasing books. The government will introduce a single textbook for each subject and level for use throughout the country,” the minister was quoted as saying at the conference.
The minister made it clear at the conference, which PATA says it was not invited despite being key stakeholder in the education sector, that his ministry “cannot and should not” continue using existing textbooks in schools.
However, Moshi is of a view that the shift from multi to single textbook system is unwarranted, counterproductive and that it contradicts the government’s own policy on foreign direct investments (FDIs) and against guidelines set by both the Public Procurement Regulatory Authority (PPRA) and Fair Competition Commission (FCC).
“The publishers association of Tanzania is shocked by the statements from the minister, especially the point that an abundance of books in schools, not shortage is the cause of high rates of failure,” he said.
He maintains further that the single textbook system approach to single exam is outdated as it encourages learning and cramming for exam purposes without enabling the student to gain requisite knowledge and skills specified by the curriculum.
“This approach is in direct conflict with the current curriculum introduced in 2005. The new curriculum is a paradigm shift that invokes a holistic learning process.
“The inherent core of the new curriculum is for students to develop critical thinking, problem solving skills, inquiring analytical minds and be open minded by using variety of sources of information including multiple books, internet and the media, among others,” states Moshi, who is also the managing director of Ben and Company (T) Ltd.
The managing director of END Vision Publishing, Elishi Lema states on her part that all textbooks used in primary and secondary schools countrywide have been approved by the ministry of education and vocational training through the Educational Materials Approval Committee (EMAC).
EMAC is composed of experts from the Tanzania Institute of Education, the University of Dar es Salaam, directorates within the ministry of education, subject specialists from the school inspectorate division, teachers as well as stakeholders from other relevant organizations.
The approval committee is chaired by the Chief Academic Officer in the ministry and is comprised of at least 15 highly qualified individuals.
Remarks Ms Lema: “Schools are not supplied or compelled to purchase all the approved books on each subject. Teachers inspect and assess approved books that are available on the market and then choose a single core textbook that they think meets their requirements and budgets.”
Adding; “The truth that parents, pupils and teachers know is that an important contributing factor to the high failure rate is due to the lack of textbooks and supplementary readers in the school.
“If the current various publishers are unable to publish enough books for the market what about a single publisher?” queried Ms Lema, while noting that the move by the government was also likely to force publishers to lay off some workers.
The publishers are also of a view that since all books have undergone a rigorous approval process and met minimum qualifying standards, any attempt to select one book from approved books leads to speculation of a hidden move, particularly during an election year.
The removal of examination fees at the same stakeholders’ conference has resulted in similar sentiments of electioneering, according to managing director of Educational Books Publishers, Mohamed Suleiman.
“Publishers whose books will appear in the new list would suddenly have an immediate state sanctioned monopoly,” stated Mr Suleiman.
The single text book system comprising a single publisher, printer, author and distributor existed in the 1960s and 1990s but failed miserably. The multi textbook system has on the other hand resulted into high quality books at competitive prices, according to PATA.
As the association maintains that there have been considerable foreign and domestic direct investments in the publishing industry as a result of the multi textbook policy, the government’s shift to single textbook system could lead to loss of employment, tax revenue as well as collapse of bookshops, stifling local authorship and monopolistic situation of high prices and poor quality books.
Under the current multi text book system, each school selects and procures the books that meet their requirements through respective school committees but it is also understood that there are cases whereby few unscrupulous schoolmasters collude with unscrupulous suppliers with payment being affected for undelivered books.
Piracy of approved books is also said to be unchecked, whereby textbooks belonging to bona fide publishers are clandestinely printed and sold to schools.
The publishers also believe that should the process of procuring books be given to regional or district authorities; then there is likelihood of grand corruption as it was the case in the past.
“The authorities would negotiate deals with dishonest suppliers to buy books based on kickbacks they will be paid rather than the books each school requires or pay for unsupplied books on a massive scale.
“Also, periphery schools would not get books as they lack logistics to collect them unlike now where the booksellers visit the schools and make sure they supply wherever funds exist,” asserted Moshi.
He thus noted that since the public expenditure tracking system (PET) is now functional, the school-based procurement system should be strengthened and monitored more effectively.