Books and Learning Materials for Education in Africa

Africa is a continent of vast resources, arable land, minerals, oil, lakes and rivers yet its people and countries are among the poorest in the world. The African Union has developed Agenda 2063 and a 50-year vision for the Africa it wants and rededicating it to the pan-African vision of a reintegrated Africa driven by its citizens and representing the dynamic force in the international arena.

Agenda 2063 is rooted in pan-Africanism and African renaissance and provides a robust framework for addressing past injustices and the realization of the 21st Century as the African Century. Agenda 2063 demands that Africa invests in skills, in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics so that the men and women of the continent can drive the continent’s development agenda. In this respect, the programme has established milestones for the priority areas that will make this vision a reality. Among these priorities is the need to invest in the peoples of Africa as its most precious resource. African people’s resources, according to Agenda 2063, include their health, nutrition, access to shelter, sanitation, and water, as well as expanding quality education and strengthening science, technology, innovation and research.

The provision of textbooks in our educational institutions must be a mandatory requirement. In deve- loping countries, with untrained teachers, the book becomes the most important, if not the only vehicle for the curriculum. Without the textbook, skills, concepts and content required by the curriculum cannot be taught. 

If implemented correctly on all fronts, Agenda 2063 will represent a paradigm shift for the continent. Once we develop the proposed framework that will harmonize the execution of Agenda 2063 with the global Sustainable Development Goals (Agenda 2030), the implementation of both agendas will be coherent, and will surely make a meaningful impact.

In this eleventh edition of the NewsJournal, we focus on the theme “Books and learning materials for education in African schools”. African countries together with their development partners have been investing considerably in education and training since the 1960s when many of them attained political independence. However, the quality of educational provision remains a problem, partly due to a severe lack of relevant learning materials in many of our schools. Many have contended that Africa is still not on course to achieving universal primary education which was the last Millennium Development Goal 2, despite all the interventions by African governments and their partners. Increases in the initial intake and enrollment rates have been significant and remarkable given the low national incomes, high population growth rates, and high levels of conflict and illness, on the continent. The impact of these achievements has been reduced by a continuing high rate of pupils dropping out of primary education compounded by a low quality of provision. There are also enormous disparities linked to disability, location, and income. The 2009 Education for All (EFA) Global Monitoring Report (GMR) that focused on the problem of inequality indicated that “too many children are receiving an education of such poor quality that they leave school without basic literacy and numeracy skills”. This situation persists today.

We note that, to be competitive and have a chance of finding gainful employment at a national, regional or global level, African young people need to acquire knowledge and skills through primary and higher education, including technical and vocational training. A critical analysis of the current education situation in the region has led stakeholders to believe that there seems to be an overemphasis on enrollment numbers rather than attendance and the relevance of education.

The provision of textbooks in our educational institutions must be a mandatory requirement. In developing countries, with untrained teachers, the book becomes the most important, if not the only vehicle for the curriculum. Without the textbook, skills, concepts and content required by the curriculum cannot be taught. 

In the absence of any other widely available sources of information, the textbook also becomes the most important and often the only source of content and pedagogic information for the teacher.

Since textbooks and other instructional materials have a direct impact on what learners learn in schools and how they learn, curriculum development and curriculum materials are sensitive matters which are of a considerable political importance. It is for this reason that the book sector in industrialized countries receives both direct and indirect subsidies. There is always a need for a mechanism to review and control the quality of learning materials used in classrooms for relevance, content, educational approach and efficacy, as well as to ensure that the provision of teaching and learning materials reflects the country’s policies. The implementation of policies regarding the content and quality of education, equity and the adoption of low-cost strategies for the development and production of instructional materials starts here.

While there is no single way of improving the provision of basic learning materials, there are many possible solutions, according to the different level of development reached. The delivery of basic teaching and learning materials differs from one country to another, and with the use of various approaches. While some countries struggle to establish mechanisms for the production of relevant curriculum materials, others focus on issues of institutional sustainability and the role of the government. While some development partners recommend the withdrawal of the public sector from the production of basic learning materials, others supply gifts of books or support the
establishment or expansion of government presses.

This diversity shows how complex the issue is and indicates the difficulties which face planners of basic education programs. The problems are of two kinds : those which are related to content, presentation, use and provision, and those which are related to the technical and financial aspects of production, distribution and funding. 

The strategies and policies adopted by a government to meet the demand for textbooks and other instructional materials should be determined by a national policy for the provision of instructional materials for schools as well as non-formal programs. This policy is an integral part of a wider national book policy. 

If we are to address quality in education in the medium and long-term to meet the Agenda 2063 goals, our educational planners must consider the following aspects of book provision separately as well as how they affect each other :

  • The goals, both medium- and long-term, for the delivery of learning materials at various levels of education ;
  • The policy issues : language(s) of instruction, curricula, access, the provision standards at different levels of education, economy and involvement of the private sector ;
  • The educational issues : curricula and text development (issues of content, relevance, educational approach, media, and presentation), teacher training, needs assessment and integration of examination requirements ;
  • The planning, management and monitoring of the process : who and how, and modalities and delegation of responsibility ;
  • Economic sustainability : means of funding and cost recovery, the role of the private sector, affordability and economic viability ; industrial/technical issues : development, production, and distribution (sale) of learning materials ;
  • Professional sustainability : research, renewal, information, training and needs assessment ;
  • Skills development : curriculum developers, writers, illustrators, designers, typesetters, printers, teachers, and distributors ;
  • The reading environment : availability of supplementary reading materials in libraries and the market, and the general economy, purchase ability, and affordability ;
  • The legal aspects : copyright and other international instruments, such as the Florence Agreement and its Protocol, as well as local legislation concerning educational publishing.