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Millions of books in Kenya gather dust as supply beats demand

By Standard Team | Apr 12th 2021 | 6 min read

Some of the oversupplied textbooks lying in the secondary school stores. [Boniface Gikandi, Standard]

Recent revelations by a parliamentary committee that taxpayers could have been funding fictitious schools appear to be just the tip of the iceberg in the rot that seems to be manifesting itself in the education sector.

The sector, which is among the highest-funded government departments, is also reeling from the discovery that public schools could have been over-supplied with books in what is turning out to be a case of massive wastage of funds.

In what reads like a cleverly scripted scheme by unscrupulous people within and without the Ministry of Education ranks, public learning institutions across the country have been left stranded with a mountain of textbooks.

So bad is the situation that some schools, which had not requested for textbooks of certain subjects, ended up receiving bundles of the course books much to the surprise of head teachers.

A school in central Kenya, for example, got over 500 books of Islamic Religious Education yet the institution has never had it as an examinable subject.

Despite school heads providing the ministry with updated lists of learners in their institutions, they are baffled when they are supplied with books they did not ask for. As a result, they are left to grapple with the problem of where to store the books.

With no functional libraries, the books are kept in unused classrooms or at the back of science laboratories.

In 2018, the government stopped allocating Sh13 billion to school heads to buy textbooks, with the mandate reverting to the Ministry of Education. The ministry appeared keen to minimise wastage by ensuring supplies were streamlined.

But critics of the centralised system now claim that the problem of oversupply has got worse. According to people in the know, the problem stems from the National Education Management Information System (Nemis) and could be intertwined with the registration of fictitious schools that was unearthed by a parliamentary investigation.

“The problem of oversupply of books can be linked to the existence of fake schools. There are people who are keen on making a killing in the ministry by ensuring that there are loopholes to siphon public money,” said an insider in the ministry.

A spot check by The Standard in public learning institutions across the country reveals that those behind the oversupply of books could have earned millions of shillings. The trick, according to a ministry official, is to inflate the number of learners and later get a cut once the government pays for the books.

School heads in the North Rift region, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that despite the demand for birth certificates to facilitate registration of learners in Nemis for the release of funds, they still got more books than needed.

“Supplies were inflated in most schools. For instance, in my school, a class that has about 300 learners could be supplied with up to 500 or 600 copies of the same textbooks,” said one principal.

“It is like someone was pushing for the oversupply,” stated another principal.

Book, novels and magazines in a library in Nairobi on February 10, 2021. [Edward Kiplimo,Standard]

Teachers exonerated

The principals also exonerated teachers who had been blamed for the excess books. “The first batch of textbooks came with a lot of errors and were of low quality. We wondered why they rushed to oversupply the books. It is untrue that some teachers inflated the figures of learners in their institutions. This is a diversionary tactic.”

Another principal said some public day schools lack adequate storage space hence the textbooks had been left to gather dust in boxes.

“We received supplies, made returns then stored the excess books in our library. We have stamped all the books using our logo,” said the principal, adding that for some subjects, there were enough books to give two to each learner.

The principal said the demand for birth certificates also hindered the registration of some learners into Nemis, which meant the school missed out on learning resources. “Most learners from rural settings do not have birth certificates, a requirement for entry into Nemis. We are running with underpayment in FSE yet we have excess textbooks. The government should have used funds for the extra books to allocate funds to schools.”

The principal further noted that some books may be rendered obsolete in the next four years due to syllabus changes and that there was an oversupply of set books that are supposed to be changed after every four years.

Players in the education sector argue that the government has been losing millions of shillings to cartels who manipulate both the free primary and subsidised secondary education programmes and are calling for action to be taken.

“Reports indicating that a former clerical officer at the Directorate of Education in this county created Mundeku Secondary School that received an allocation of Sh11 million from the Education ministry could be just the tip of the iceberg,” said Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) western branch chairman Patrick Chungani.

He continued: “This is a matter that came up during a county education board meeting about two years ago. It appeared it was a well-calculated plan to steal from the ministry and the clerical officer involved could be just a small fish; the masterminds could be well-established individuals within the ministry.”

Mr Chungani said cartels “benefit a lot” from capitation funds released to schools and the book supply programme.

“We know of schools that have received books which are three times the number of learners. Why would the government pay for excess books when the money could be channelled to expansion of infrastructure in schools or increase the capitation?”

According to the union official, a school with seven students taking a science subject would receive about 100 books from a particular publisher.

Players in the education sector argue that the government has been losing millions of shillings to cartels who manipulate both the free primary and subsidised secondary education programmes. [Edward Kiplimo, Standard]

Deal with wastage

“We expect head teachers to submit reports about the number of learners and number of books required. Once supplied, they must be able to make another report to that effect in order to deal with wastage and theft of public resources in schools.”

Mombasa Education Chief Officer John Musuva cited corruption and bureaucracy in the national government as some of the factors that have led to disparities in the supply of school materials in the county.

“At the national level, the data is verified at different stages. A publisher can conspire with some people to make sure that their books are oversupplied so that they can be paid more. The officers get kickbacks,” said Mr Musuva.  

He added that at the early childhood education level, it was not easy for the counties to oversupply books or entertain wastage because they handle fewer numbers.

Mombasa Knut Executive Secretary Abdi Adan said public schools in the informal settlements appear to be the target of suppliers. He said they have raised the matter with education officers.

“I have received complaints from several schools and I advised them to forward the same to the Education office in Mombasa. I’m still waiting for action to be taken. Because I believe that the Education officials can handle the matter, let me not mention names now.”

School heads contacted in Nyandarua, Murang’a, Makueni, Nyeri and Kitui counties complained that their stores were packed with unused books.

A school in Murang’a, for example, got 188 set books yet it had 127 candidates. The following year, the principal said, they received 198 textbooks for each of the classes that had 130 learners. “This is a major waste of resources as we also got a set book ‘Memories We Lost’, which is not in the list of books used in school.”

Another school got 450 books instead of 124. In Kahuro Sub-county, an institution received 153 biology textbooks for 59 candidates. A principal in Makueni said they were storing books in unused classrooms after pleas to the suppliers to stop deliveries “fell on deaf ears.”

In many counties, suppliers have been forced to transport the books to schools after the principals refused to collect them from the sub-county education offices.

“More are still on the way. Can the ministry use the Nemis data when allocating the textbooks to schools?” said one principal.

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