Rwandan private publishers accuse the government of wrestling them out of their own businesses and rendering them jobless. They argue that government should not involve itself in such small ventures but leave them for the private sector, Taarifa Investigative Desk reports.
The private publishers accuse the Prime Minister Dr. Édouard Ngirente of lying that by the government taking up publishing, it saved Rwf6.2 billion on the expenses for importing school textbooks from abroad.
In May 2018, the Ministry of Education said that the country had been spending over Rwf6 billion on textbooks and related materials every year.
In December last year, Dr. Ngirente informed a joint plenary sitting of Parliament about the Government’s activities in the education sector.
As part of a solution to endless troubles in the Education sector, the Prime Minister said his government had come up with a strategy- to address the issues identified in purchasing, printing, and distribution of textbooks.
He revealed that the government had made a swift move to secure copyright for the books used in schools and the right to correct mistakes or errors that might be detected in some of the books after distribution.
According to the Prime Minister, in 2019, over one million of Ikinyarwanda textbooks for Primary 1 to Primary 3 were written and printed locally.
In another defense for the government taking over publishing roles from the private sector, the Rwanda Education Board argues that books published by private players were full of gross mistakes, late delivery of teaching materials to schools, and high pricing /expensive.
This partly led the government to make a decision to take up writing, publishing, and delivery of these materials.
Taarifa Speaks to Private Publishers
On condition of anonymity, one private publisher that has been in the industry for over twenty years differed from government arguments.
“Gross mistakes in the books still were the responsibility of the government. No book was ever printed before the official approval of the Rwanda Education Board (REB) approval. REB had the capacity to throw away thousands of printed books if they found mistakes and publishers took up that responsibility,” she told Taarifa.
Late delivery: “was due to their back and forth of systems…you would sign a contract before being approved for printing…and for example, you are given three months for delivery and they give you an approval in two months…and then start penalizing you…”
“For example from the time they started publishing, they have never distributed any textbook apart from the books USAID has sponsored and helped them distribute using their money… DFID through BLF did distribute books for them in upper primary…ask them if there is any book that came from their side…yet they have been working on the books for the last three years and have never been delivered…,” our source said.
In a detailed synopsis of this factor, our source provided an intricate scenario, “…when they started their publishing…they started with 300 teachers, who sat in a hotel for a minimum of 90 days working on books…count that money, food, allowances and much more than you know without illustrators, design work and more …then divide that amount with nine books, you will do the maths. How much money have they spent for the last 3 years….? And what have they achieved?”
High pricing: “This can’t even be true when you just think as a layman…they were getting a textbook at Rwf2500 – Rwf5000…this was the cost of production printing and delivery to schools…. What is their price for production …? If they can be honest.”
This respondent further argued that it doesn’t require any mathematics to know that once the tender is competitive, you get great products, good service, and good price. “Because if 10 publishers compete on one title it gives you an edge in deciding about all that.”
“So please let them tell you the cost of production per title. If the publishers were doing erroneous books. Why did they turn around and buy their copyright,” she challenged the government.
Another publisher, Frank Shumbusho of Neptune Business Advocacy LTD, told Taarifa that, “The real reasons behind that decision in my view, of which I share with the publishers, was rather, for some of REB individuals involved, to getting as much money as possible, through the shadow missions they would create, pretending to themselves writing the textbooks, and also, in the end, evaluate these books.”
What is wrong with Rwandan school textbooks?
Let us consider the point of view of private publishers that have been involved in designing, collecting, writing, editing, publishing, and delivering these important school textbooks.
“There is lack of clear guidelines on their (REB) side on what they needed and how they needed them…this brought about unrealistic timelines, not understanding what comes first and what comes last,” according to a reliable source.
Another factor is incompetence. “The people who were being used to evaluate books had never produced books before and they were called subject specialists, but not in publishing and those are the same people being used today to work with teachers on the books. Publishing is an art and it requires skills, not political positions.”
The book policy is a big hindrance, “but REB had attempted to design a textbook policy, which they didn’t understand, and implementing it most probably wasn’t that easy.”
“The book policy has so many other challenges on its own…and since book policy comprises of many other policies like literacy policy, culture, textbook policy and early childhood learning policy and so many other things…the book policy just played a little role in this …. Its absence just caused the publishers not to have a voice in telling REB that they are basically headed for song business,” says our source.
According to our sources, REB had always treated books as a carton of papers you go to stationary and buy and deliver.
Books take time, take research and take more…. Every book must at least have the following few people who work on it; Language specialist, Subject specialist, editors, subeditors, Publishing person, Illustrators, Designers and many more…these are key people who have been extensively trained and studied at University. “I doubt that the govt of Rwanda has got those since we don’t even have it as a dept in any university in Rwanda.”
According to Shumbusho, “this in-house publishing decision is being implemented without even any single law backing it, nor any revised policy,” he told Taarifa in an exclusive interview in December last year.
Private schools can’t find any books to buy since no books can be found on the market.
“REB bought all the copyrights from the publishers, and REB doesn’t sell books,” Shumbusho said, adding that REB only started the process of printing these-content from the copyright they bought from the publishers, then contracted PRINTEX for printing them, an exercise that is yet to be completed to-date.”
He argues that it would be good, and also help both the economy and the education sector if this business of textbooks and other teaching materials be returned back in the hands of the Rwandan publishers.
Editor: story was first published February 1, 2021