Debts and JSS 'nightmare' delay distribution of books

Another Sh3.2 billion is yet to be released to facilitate printing and distribution of 18.3 million Grade Seven textbooks.

Kenya Literature Bureau, East African Education Publishers, Jomo Kenyatta Foundation, MountainTop, Storymoja, Moran, Spotlight and Longhorn are some of the publishers contracted to print and distribute books to public schools.

Publishers who spoke in confidence said last week they were asked to present invoices after it emerged that some Sh1.6 billion had been wired.

"But this is still debt owed to publishers after distributing Grade Six books. Not a single cent has been released to support publishing and printing of Grade Seven textbooks. However, we shall use that money to fast-track distribution of Grade Seven books," said a publisher.

By last week, only 59 per cent of the textbooks had been distributed, translating to about about 11.6 million.

But Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development Chief Executive Charles Ongondo assured that all children will have received the textbooks by the end of next week.

Publishers' nightmare

For the Grade Seven textbooks, publishers said the government was expected to release 20 per cent of the Sh3.2 billion or Sh640 million.

"But you see what slowed down publishers was that they were still owed money from previous distribution and yet we had a new project all together," said another publisher.

Kamau Kiarie, Kenya Publishers Association (KPA) chairman, downplayed the financial burden. "I do not want to talk about money because it has been paid and is still being paid," he said.

But individual publishers who spoke in confidence said the delayed payment is the elephant in the room, with some expressing worry that the debt is threatening to drive them out of business.

It has also emerged that some publishers were unable to convince their printers to process textbooks, enlisting the services of other publishers instead.

"We import printing paper and that is a huge financial requirement. We cannot print if we do not have paper. And that means that we must have money, which we had not been paid by the publishers," said one of the printers.

Kiarie, however, said the process would not have start before the release of the report by the Presidential Working Party on Education Reforms.

"We did not know whether CBC would be retained or scrapped. And if it were retained, where would JSS be domiciled? So nothing could be done yet," said Kiarie.

"And when the report was released, they said JSS will remain in primary schools. And the number of primary schools are many compared to secondary schools and this also posed logistical nightmare."

The working party recommended that all Grade Six learners join Grade Seven in the same primary schools

He said it took the ministry longer to release distribution centres as not all schools were anchoring JSS.

"Even as of today, we are still managing distribution logistics on exact schools where books should be distributed," he said.

Parents and teachers have complained over delayed distribution. This is one of the bottlenecks that have dogged the transition from 8-4-4 to 2-6-6-3 education system.

Lawrence Njagi, former KPA chairman, said although the Grade Seven books had been approved, they could not start work immediately.

"We were not sure whether the working party would recommend that some approved subjects be dropped," he said.

Expensive paper

Printing started late, about four weeks ago long after the working party released its report.

Kiarie said printing paper is capital intensive and is paid upfront.

"We only have about five publishers with capacity to deliver huge numbers as were required. And we also have about four distributors with capacity to cover entire country. So the pressure has been immense," said Kiarie.

Njagi said with delayed release on capitation to schools, it also meant that publishers had not received money.