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With only five months left to the Ethiopian Higher Education Entrance Examination, students need the textbooks for the new curriculum they started following at the beginning of the school year; however, the books have not yet arrived at schools, writes GIRUM GETACHEW, FORTUNE STAFF WRITER.

Lacking Textbooks Leaves Learners Stranded


Students’ bags hang light as they walk to school together, sans the promised textbooks.

Wudnesh Asrat, 20, is a Grade 11 student at Dagmawi Menelik Secondary School, for which her aunt pays out of the 80 Br pension payment she receives monthly. This income also supports her brother and grandparents. On Wednesday, December 22, 2010, she was sitting under the shade of one of the trees outside the school yard studying with three of her friends.

“I do this almost every afternoon after school by borrowing books from the library to study as I do not have textbooks,” she told Fortune. 

Her lack of textbooks is not a result of being unable to afford them, but there being no textbooks to be had. The books meant for the new curriculum that was implemented at the start of this school year have not yet arrived, even though students have taken their first semester midterm examinations.

The books, which are based on the new curriculum of the Ministry of Education (MoE), form part of the ministry’s General Education Quality Improvement Package (GEQIP) project. It aims to improve the quality of education at the general, technical and vocational education training (TVET), as well as higher learning levels. 

Starting from assessing the need of teachers, students, and parents, the curriculum has undergone stages, including an analysis of the academic level of students and their psychological capacities. These preparation stages, which took five years, led to the development of the final product, the syllabus, which is to serve as a textbook for students and a guide for teachers.

The costs of the curriculum development were covered by the government and the World Bank (WB). A total of 150 million dollars was allocated to the project by the Fast Track Initiative Catalytic Fund under the International Development Association (IDA) of the WB.

The MoE had floated an international tender in August 2009 for the publication of the books. Star Educational Books Distributors won the bid for publishing and delivering 1.5 million mathematics and chemistry textbooks and teacher manuals with an offer of 8.1 million dollars. Pearson Education Ltd was awarded the contract for publishing 1.5 million copies of biology and physics textbooks with an offer of 7.3 million dollars.

Pitnbra Books Company, UBS Publishers, and Laxim Publications Ltd, all from India, as well as UAE based Al-Ghurair Printing and Ugandan based MK Publishers Ltd won the bids for the publication of textbooks for other subjects.

All the publishers were expected to deliver the books in September 2010, as stipulated in their agreement. However, the textbooks for grades 11 and 12 are yet arrive at schools across the country.

To date, only the first three chapters of the textbooks containing the new curriculum have been provided in softcopy on CDs.

With the lack of textbooks, the only option for Wudnesh, who cannot afford to buy other supplementary books for her studies, is to study from the school’s library books.

“I do not know how my aunt managed to pay the 170 Br registration fee for the year,” she told Fortune. “I cannot possibly ask her to spend more on books.”

It is not only Wudnesh who has financial constraints. Menelik Preparatory School, which has 153 teachers, is also in a dilemma about how to make textbooks available.

“Printing the chapters we have on softcopy and distributing them to all the teachers alone has shaken the school’s budget, let alone printing them for students," Waqoweya Keno, deputy principal at the school, told Fortune.

Teachers have also faced major problems from lacking the textbooks.

The new curriculum was designed to increase the participation of students in the learning process by concentrating on student centric activities, according to Bekele Gebremedhine, 49, a physics teacher at Menelik who has been a teacher for 27 years.

“We cannot assign assignments, group work activities, or projects when students do not have textbooks to supplement their activities,” he told Fortune. “I have to give extensive notes in class to make up for the gap as many of the students cannot afford to copy the books from their teachers.”

The lack of textbooks might be what is affecting the students’ performance as a higher number of students in his class failed their midterm examinations than the same time last year, according to Bekele.

“Close to 80pc of the students scored below the passing grade,” he told Fortune.

Like Wudnesh, many of the students with financial constraints attending public schools are having difficulties in keeping up with their schoolwork. Some try very hard to make up for the lack of textbooks by buying supplementary books.

Amina Busser, 18, is also a Grade 12 student at Menelik Preparatory School. She lives in Merkato with her sister, five brothers, and parents. Her family depends on the money her brother and sister bring in by doing various odd jobs.

To overcome the problem of a lack of textbooks, Amina bought supporting texts out of the monthly income she earns from tutoring two children who are in grade three and seven. The remaining money goes towards covering her transportation costs to and from her school, which is located at Arat Kilo.

“Seeing that I am in Grade 12, I want to be well prepared for the Ethiopian Higher Education Entrance Examination (EHEEE) so I used some of the money I get to buy other books to help me study,” she told Fortune.

The lack of textbooks is not only a concern of the students who cannot afford alternative means of supplementing their studies.

The students at Lideta Catholic Cathedral Girls School, commonly known as Cathedral, located in Piazza, mostly come from families that are relatively well off. Students have the means to borrow the teachers’ softcopies of the textbooks and print it at their own cost, or copy the CDs and read them on a computer at home.

Mekdelawit Tamirat, 16, is a Grade 11 student at Cathedral. Unlike Wudnesh or Amina, she has access to the textbooks for her subjects.

“I have a personal computer at home which my father bought me,” she told Fortune. “I copy the relevant chapters from my teachers on a flash disc and read it at home.”

Chemistry, civics, biology, and mathematics textbooks for grades nine and 10 are also in short supply and the school distributes one copy to be shared among two students. To add to the problem of the shortage, some teachers are also unhappy about the new curriculum and textbooks.

The books lack depth, according to Tsegaye Tadesse, 26, who has been teaching mathematics at Cathedral since graduating in the subject from Addis Abeba University (AAU), in 2007.

“Although the students have the copy, there is a lack of reference and teachers’ notes,” Tsegaye told Fortune. “I allocate a lot of our time in class for students to copy my notes because the textbooks look like a mere course outline. This is putting a heavy burden on teachers and we are unable to include additional activities in the classrooms in a single period.”

Yet, it is the responsibility of teachers to make the teaching and learning process effective in the absence of the textbooks, according to Girma Alemayehu, owner of curriculum development process at MoE.

He attributes the delay of the textbooks to customs problems starting from Mojjo Dry Port. The companies that had been contracted to supply the books signed a penalty clause that costs them two per cent of the total costs if they do not deliver according to the contract, in which the distribution of the books to 600 weredas within the country is included.

To date, the only explanation forthcoming from the MoE is that it was caught unawares by the various customs issues and was delayed because of it.

The role of the teacher is very crucial at this time when almost all schools are without textbooks, according to Solomon Wondimu, an expert at the Addis Abeba Curriculum Development Preparation Education Bureau, who agrees with Girma. Schools have resources like libraries and computers with internet access to provide reference materials to students and teachers should provide students with notes, he argued.

“The delay in textbooks should not make a difference in the learning process,” he told Fortune. “In some foreign countries, provision of the syllabus is enough for students at this level.”

While teachers should work hard, the same is true for students, Solomon argued.

“As the name indicates, this is a preparatory stage for college, so students must acquire research techniques by using the resources available on the topics they study,” he told Fortune.

Amid all the academic discourse surrounding the teaching and learning process, the reality remains that books meant for grades 11 and 12 have not been made available to the students who require them the most. With four months of the school year gone, students and teachers are at a loss as to how to prepare for the EHEEE in five months’ time.

However, some schools started receiving the chemistry textbooks on Thursday, December 23, and the MoE claims to have cleared up the problem and that they will be delivered to schools as of this week.





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