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October 21, 2018

Textbook: A child’s greatest gift

Education then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is the great equaliser of the conditions of men, the balance-wheel of the social machinery. — Horace Mann

When President Uhuru Kenyatta flagged off Sh7.5 billion worth of textbooks to primary and secondary schools, he resolved an extremely difficult problem in education planning and policy that bedevils many governments in developing countries.

Since education for all was at first introduced in a few countries and then 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 a good textbook are the sine qua non of quality education anywhere in the world. It the essential nature of textbooks, and good ones at that, that Unesco, the World Bank and research insights have recommended textbook-to-student ratios of 1:1 to 1:3.

The government duly took this into account when formulating and implementing Free Primary and Free Day Secondary Education in 2003 and 2008. The government has been sending a significant portion of capitation funds to schools to buy textbooks.

However, after 13 years of FPE and eight years of FDSE, most public schools had not attained the expected 1:1 pupil to textbook ratio. The average pupil to book ratio is anywhere between 3:1 and 5:1, and in some cases, 10:1. This reality could not be reconciled with the billions of shillings the government annually allocates to textbooks.

This is the background that informed the government decision to review the book distribution policy that culminated in the engagement of publishers of duly approved textbooks to send them directly to schools.

The flagging off of textbooks at the Centre for Mathematics, Science and Technology Education in Africa was a milestone in access to quality education regardless of class, gender or region. Apart from providing textbooks in six core subjects, the approach saved the country Sh13 billion.

“Students spend from 70 to 95 per cent of classroom time using textbooks, and teachers base more than 70 per cent of their instructional decisions on them,” American professors of Education Myra Pollack Sadker and David Miller Sadker write in their book, Teachers, Schools and Society.

They argue that textbooks are so pervasive and so frequently used that they constitute a curriculum of their own. Access to textbooks that contain the core elements of the subject curriculum is the greatest gift a government, parents or guardians can give a schoolchild. Textbooks create space for students to reflect and to learn how to learn, which is what the competence-based curriculum aims at.

Indeed, an excellent education is predicated on sustained and intense interaction between student and teacher, student and student and, crucially, between student and approved textbooks and relevant supplementary reading materials. All the time during these interactions, the student is exposed to a prescribed body of knowledge; cultural, scientific, mathematics and technological and habits of thinking. Students make the best of the interactions when they have a direct interaction with prescribed textbooks, to say nothing of supplementary reading materials.

Textbooks contain the essential content and skills that an education system seeks to impart and develop in learners. Quality interaction with textbooks helps the student to integrate the knowledge or content in his or her mental structure: They become part of the furniture of the student’s mind.

Students with little direct exposure to textbooks never come to a functional mastery of the knowledge, skills and other capabilities they ought to acquire. Academic success depends in large measure on students ability to comprehend, understand and analyse the ideas, issues and concepts that a prescribed curriculum embodies for many purposes, including tackling a national examination at the end of an education cycle.

Without a doubt, the launch of the new policy has cut the Gordian knot that was textbook distribution in our public basic education institutions.

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