What you need to know:
- There are those who argue that we could limp along on three legs; that as long as our classrooms are packed with children, the teachers can teach around this problem and somehow ‘make it work.’ They are so sorely mistaken.
- Any parent of a school-going child will tell you that in the earlier years, pupils take what the teacher says as gospel truth, even above what their parents say.
Once there was a mother who placed her child on a four-legged stool. The child should have been okay there, learning how to sit on her own.
But one of the stool’s legs was broken, and the child toppled and fell, for a four-legged stool cannot stand on three legs. What kind of a mother places her delicate young child on a stool without ensuring it is safe?
Her name is Kenya; the mother who placed her child on the four legged stool of quality education. The stool could not stand without all four legs: Learner, teacher, books and infrastructure. Without all four, there could be no quality education.
Arguably, more than one of these legs is shaky in Kenya’s provision of quality education, but the leg that has broken off before our very eyes, and must be repaired, is the third one.
It has come to light that some of the new secondary school textbooks recently issued to our children under a ‘one-textbook policy’ are riddled with errors, omissions, and are, therefore, below standard. Most disturbing is the news that almost all the core subject textbooks are affected.
Under the new one-textbook policy that has taken away the schools’ right to select the books of their choice, these are currently the only textbooks in use in our public schools.
There is no doubt in my mind that this situation requires the most urgent of remedies.
There are those who argue that we could limp along on three legs; that as long as our classrooms are packed with children, the teachers can teach around this problem and somehow ‘make it work.’ They are so sorely mistaken.
Any parent of a school-going child will tell you that in the earlier years, pupils take what the teacher says as gospel truth, even above what their parents say. By secondary school, students have learnt to question even their teachers’ assertions. The resource that enables them to do this is the textbook.
Imagine, then, the confusion when the only textbook a student has is wrong.
A textbook is so much more than meets the eye. It is the great equaliser. Teachers are not created equal. Some are more dedicated than others, and some are more gifted.
Kenyan schools and classrooms, we all know, are far from equal. The textbooks are the common denominator that throws a lifeline to the learner in whatever corner of the country.
Sustainable Development Goal 4 of the Education 2030 Framework for Action identifies quality books as key to achieving quality education.
Education is a fundamental human right, which means it is not a favour we do our children, but a responsibility and a debt we owe them. I would dare say that providing our children with quality education is a favour we do to our country. Kenya’s Vision 2030 states that provision of quality education is a critical strategy for providing high calibre, globally competitive human capital, and for the country to achieve industrialization.
This will not be achieved without quality textbooks.
The right to education is specifically guaranteed under our Bill of Rights, alongside several other rights such as the right to health, human dignity, and social rights, including the right to be free from hunger and the right to adequate housing. Mess up on quality education and all these rights are impacted.
Quality education means more doctors to provide healthcare, and potentially, breakthrough research. It means a much more health-conscious populace, and an economy that is able to contribute towards universal healthcare.
Quality education is the means to economic growth that will enable our children to have adequate and dignified housing in the future, away from the so-called ‘informal settlements’ that house over 50 percent of Nairobi’s residents, according to UN-HABITAT.
Quality education is the primary investment for socio-economic development, and books play a crucial and irreplaceable role in achieving this.
That said, let us examine the damage caused by the current textbook fiasco and weigh our options, quickly, in what is clearly a life and death matter.
The financial loss is glaring. On the same week the taxpayer has received news that Sh7.6 billion worth of textbooks may have gone down the drain, the Cabinet Secretary, National Treasury announced that we are Sh84 billion broke. The irony of the savings we thought we had made through the direct-supply policy is not lost on Kenyans.
At the same time, keeping sub-standard textbooks is a far greater loss than replacing them. Any books with errors must be replaced; confusing our children and offering them sub-standard education is not an option. The only question is how fast they can be replaced. Consider this: The students who have been issued with and are using these textbooks as we speak will have an entire academic year of mis-education; and that in the core subjects. How can we ever compensate these students?
Speaking of compensation, how will the taxpayer be recompensed for the loss of the much-needed finances gone down the drain? These books were not ‘free’, no matter the juicy sound bites to that effect. The books were bought by taxpayers’ money, we must now cough up more to fix the problem.
The one-textbook policy has itself had a negative effect on the quality of education. For starters, if the schools had more than one textbook to choose from, they would have ignored any error-ridden books and selected quality ones. The one-textbook policy took away that option, landing us in the current ditch from which we must now dig ourselves out.
Besides, taking away the teachers’ right to choose their teaching materials impacts on teaching. Teachers, who are the key facilitators of learning at secondary school level, must have some leeway to select the books that enable them to do their job best. After all, they are trained professionals who engage uniquely with their subject matter.
Unfortunately, we are where we are, and there we must begin to find the solutions. A ‘glass half full’ approach would view this as a learning opportunity, and perhaps that is the wisest approach.
The first order of business for the Ministry of Education is to hasten the completion of the textbook policy to avoid the impulsive (and clearly disastrous) procurement of books. Putting a functional policy in place, as well as effective monitoring and audit at the school level, may well be the panacea.
Secondly, we must urgently infuse greater discipline in public sector procurement and streamline the development, procurement and supply of textbooks.
Thirdly, all titles with errors must be withdrawn. They only serve to confuse our children and demoralise our teacher.
Lastly, the said glaring errors must have been missed by several gatekeepers. There really must be an independent audit. It’s important that we find out how this could have happened. This is crucial for accountability and to prevent repetition of the outrageous errors.
Needless to say, emotions must be left out of the matter if we are to have any hope of fixing the immediate problem and strengthening the book supply chain.
This fiasco holds a major (and very costly) lesson for how we’re implementing the new competency-based curriculum, I’m calling yet again for proper implementation. We must not spend another 33 years debating the pros and cons of a curriculum, when the real issue is poor implementation.
At stake are the very fundamental rights that quality education seeks to address; rights that ensure our dignity as Kenyans. We owe it to ourselves to fix this. Fast.
David Waweru is the chief executive of WordAlive Publishers. [email protected]