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Examining textbook distribution hurdles, delays

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | After a significant period of waiting, both private and public schools will finally receive the textbooks for the new curriculum, the Ministry of Education and Sports has announced. Despite the implementation of the new curriculum in 2020, numerous aspects ranging from teacher training to the availability of teaching and learning material were not yet in sync.

As a preliminary measure, the National Curriculum Development Centre (NCDC) hastily created some prototypes that were accessible online for teachers. According to Rhitah Namukasa, a teacher in Masaka City, the prototypes were lacking in content, and not all teachers had access to online books. “This was a serious problem,” Namukasa noted.

“The curriculum was new, and many teachers had not been trained, so we were guessing. There were talks of reduced, merged, and condensed content, so we didn’t know what to teach,” she added. For some time, schools have been requesting textbooks, but the government consistently responded with a vague promise of their arrival. The question of when they would be provided remained unanswered.

When the government printed the initial materials for S.1 and Senior Two, it resulted in chaos. Some schools received the books while others did not, and there were instances where schools received books for certain subjects but not for others.

“As teachers, we had to find ways to locate those who had received the books and obtain copies from them,” Namukasa added. However, when the pioneer class entered Senior Three, the situation changed from bad to worse. There were no textbooks for reference, leaving the schools without essential teaching/learning materials. Since the textbooks were not available, some teachers switched to the old curriculum.

At first, the textbooks were anticipated to be supplied to schools by December 2022 and in January of the present year, with the intention of assisting teachers in developing their lesson plans for the first term. While teachers were complaining about the non-existence of the books, the Ministry of Education’s records indicated that the government had provided textbooks to schools.

An example of this can be found in one of the documents by Education Minister Janet Kataha Museveni emphasizing that the ministry had already procured and distributed the textbook in line with the NRM manifesto.

“Since the financial year, 2021/2021 the government has provided Shs 32.8 billion for procurement of textbooks and other instructional materials to implement the lower secondary curriculum by procuring 16.4 million copies of textbooks of which 8.6 million copies were for S.1 and S.2 whereas 7.8 million copies for S.3 and S.4,” Ms. Museveni said while boasting about the “achievement”.

Ms. Museveni went on to mention that textbooks for Senior 3 and Senior 4 students had already been distributed at a ratio of 1:3 for core subjects and 1:5 for non-core subjects. Following the Education Minister’s speech, our reporter has been inquiring from teachers to establish whether their schools had received the textbooks, particularly for Senior 3, and if they were provided in the ratios mentioned by the minister.

Despite being well into the academic year, no school had received any textbooks be it the learner’s guides or teacher’s guides for the pioneer students currently in a pre-candidate class.” Which books are you talking about?” was largely the response from the teachers.

“We have some Senior One and Two books, but not in the proper ratio,” explained Sam Musoke, a teacher in Kampala. “For example, they gave us five books for one subject, six for another, and some subjects were not provided at all. If one stream of the class has 60 learners, you can do the math yourself,” he added.

Recent training for the new curriculum

Dr. Denis Mugimba, the Ministry of Education spokesperson, confirmed the veracity of the teachers’ statements, acknowledging that the procurement, production, and ultimate distribution of the textbooks have experienced delays. He attributed the delays to a range of challenges, such as budget cuts in the past financial years and other delays caused by contractors.

While Mugimba did not provide specific details regarding how the contractors caused the delays, another source within the Education Ministry informed our reporters that a significant number of the contractors lacked the necessary funds to print and distribute the books.

“Normally, when the government awards a contract, you are given around 30 percent at the start and you can carry out the job and be paid later,” the source explained. “However, many of these companies demanded 100 percent payment upfront to do the job, and the ministry couldn’t afford to pay in full due to budget cuts and lack of funds,” the source added.

The Ministry of Education contracted 13 companies, including well-known publishing companies like MK Publishers, Fountain, Longhorn, Vision Publishing, and others, to print and distribute textbooks for students in Senior 1 and 2. Under this agreement, the companies were expected to deliver 8.6 million copies covering 19 subjects to over 4,500 secondary schools, both private and public.

For senior three and for textbooks, the Ministry contracted 15 suppliers to distribute 6.9 million copies, which included teachers’ guides. Many of these suppliers outsourced the content development and printing to firms located in Europe and the United Arab Emirates. which according to Mugimba also affected the delivery schedules.

Nevertheless, Mugimba acknowledged that while there were initial delays, all the books have now arrived in the country and the distribution process has commenced. He assured schools that they should anticipate receiving books for all classes, ensuring the appropriate ratio of 1:3 (one textbook for every three students in all subjects).

In addition, Mugimba issued a warning to private schools against selling the books and cautioned public schools against withholding the books from students. It is customary for public schools to keep the books under lock and key. Since different suppliers are assigned to specific regions, concerns have been raised by schools, parents, and the general public regarding the content of the books.

However, Mugimba allayed the concerns, saying that regardless of distributor, the content in the books remains similar. In other words, the educational material within the textbooks is consistent across all suppliers, ensuring a standardized learning experience. Meanwhile, the ministry is expected to provide a fresh set of textbooks after a three-year period.

According to the policy, secondary school textbooks undergo wear and tear during this time, and the Instruction Material Unit ensures that additional textbooks are reimbursed. However, when the designated time arrives, private schools may not be eligible to receive the new textbooks, as the one-time provision was specifically intended to support the implementation of the new curriculum during its initial rollout.



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