UNESCO presents new finance model to triple availability of textbooks

A student with a book at Carter Primary School, in Alexandra, Johannesburg, South Africa. PHOTO: EVA-LOTTA JANSSON

A student with a book at Carter Primary School, in Alexandra, Johannesburg, South Africa. PHOTO: EVA-LOTTA JANSSON.

January 20, 2016.

A new study by UNESCO’s Global Education Monitoring Report (GEM) has proposed an economic model that would help reduce the cost of textbooks and their availability to students in schools in sub-Saharan Africa.

According to the paper, Every Child Should Have a Textbook, released yesterday, centralized financing mechanisms could allow for a US$3 reduction in the price of each textbook and save almost US$1 billion a year from the cost of learning materials in sub-Saharan Africa alone. Kenya, for example, could save $US64 million from its textbook bill, Malawi US$33 million.

The report argued that improved financial models could help triple the number of textbooks available for children worldwide, thereby improving educational achievements, particularly in poor countries hampered by the high cost of textbooks today. According to the study, providing textbooks to all students could increase literacy scores by 5 to 20%.

The business model presented in the report, recommends that countries centralize textbook procurement and pool demand to facilitate long-term financing, and help increase their availability. A survey of primary schools in 11 developing countries (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, India, Malaysia, Paraguay, Peru, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Tunisia, and Uruguay) shows that, on average, up to 20% of fourth grade pupils do not have any textbooks or have to share.  In Cameroon, there is only one reading textbook per 12 students and only one mathematics textbook per 14 students in second grade.

Aaron Benavot, Director of the GEM Report said: “Next to a good teacher, well-designed textbooks in sufficient quantities are the most effective way to improve students’ learning. This has been recognized by some countries – notably Swaziland, Guatemala and Nicaragua – but many others have yet to follow.”

But governments are not investing enough in textbooks, according to data collected by UNESCO’s Institute for Statistics (UIS). It shows that in 2012, 36 countries in all regions spent an average of less than 2% of their primary education budget on teaching and learning materials. Sixteen of those countries spend less than 1% and two (Kuwait and Malawi) spend more.

Low government investment means that parents often have to pay for learning materials for their children, creating further barriers to learning for the poorest.  Learning materials average over a third of total household spending on education in 12 African countries, and over half of spending on education among the poorest households.

The GEM Report recommended the forthcoming Global Book Fund increase external resources for textbooks by following models similar to those used by the Gavi Alliance in fighting disease, which includes matched private-donor funding.

The report argues that this could increase external textbook funding in sub-Saharan Africa from US$549 million to US$785 million. The proposed model, could more than triple the number of textbooks available in the region, GEM Report says.

Overall, such an approach could triple the number of books available to children around the world.

Benavot continued: “Unpredictable funding, a lack of transparency and no demand forecasting are contributing to an inefficient textbook procurement system. Forcing families to pay for their children’s’ textbooks is unacceptable. We must learn from health, and set up a new system so that textbooks can move cheaply and effectively from a printing house to school and into the hands of children.

The study recommended, among others that at least 3 – 5% of the primary education budget and 6 – 8% of the secondary education budget should be spent textbooks. It also implored donors to double the current 11% of education aid being disbursed through a pooled funding mechanism.



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