Just when the first week of school coincided with the first week of the New Year, Gadissa Lemecha, a father of three, faced huge costs to meet the educational requirements of his children’s schooling. One of his biggest problems was purchasing textbooks at current prices indicated at the back of the books. One more time he was failing to get the textbooks from the right place for the right price.
Ironically, the Addis Abeba City Education Bureau, responsible for printing and distributing textbooks, claims that it is distributing enough books for both public and private schools. According to data from the Bureau, it has availed four million textbooks for Grades One to 12 – some of these books are already distributed or are under distribution while the rest are in store.
The number of students in 2014, however, was 812,000, of which 388,000 are in private schools. Out of the four million, 2.1 million books were printed this year and private schools will get 879,605 of the 2.1 million books, said Amelake Tebeje, curriculum preparation and implementation head at the Bureau.
Schools’ demands for textbooks were to be collected at wereda and district levels at least six months before a new academic year. The compiled demand should have been passed to the Education Bureau, which would do the rationing.
Public schools get books directly through their respective districts. Private schools get their supply of books at a distributing centre at Menelik II Preparatory School located on King George VI Street. There is also a second warehouse there, where books are stored for public schools.
As Fortune visited the two stores on the premises on September 18, 2015, there were a number of representatives of various schools waiting their turn to collect the books. The textbooks and teacher’s guide books were piled here and there. There were also more new books arriving on trucks as Fortune observed.
For the first time this year colour printed textbooks have been supplied by two local printing companies, Artistic Printing Press and Brehanena Selam. These orders were from the Addis Abeba Education Bureau, which realised that its demand for half a million books from the Ministry would not be served in time.
Last year the Bureau had books printed in Italy and China, the foreign order being blamed for the delayed delivery of books. Moreover, it was forced to reprint some of the coloured texts with black and white.
In most cases books printed through the Ministry of Education arrived late, as late as the middle of the academic year.
“We are now to receive the books starting this month; we made the order in February 2015,” said Gebreyessus Gebremichael, director of procurement and property administration at MoE.
Since the purchase was made under the General Education Quality Improvement Package (GEQIP), funded by the World Bank the bid has to be approved by the bank, Gebreyesus said. It involved an international bidding process, which took longer, he added.
Following the introduction of coloured text books in 2009, the orders have often gone abroad, because of lack capacity domestically.
A recent bid process for 40 million text books and teacher’s guide books in eight languages is still under evaluation process. The World Bank will have to approve the selection of printing companies by the Ministry.
They are expected to be delivered by the middle of the current academic year, says Gebreyesus. The books will be distributed to 21 million students in 33,000 schools across the country. Since 2010, MoE has printed and distributed 80 million textbooks.
The project is part of the aforementioned package which extends from 2014-2018. In this phase, the Ministry was supported by a 550 million-dollar grant from the World Bank Group (WBG).
At the school where Gadissa sends his children, the administration has simply told the parents to go find their own textbooks, claiming that the Bureau was not giving them the books they needed for their students, says Gaddissa. This has been so for the past few years, he added. Fortune met him while he was purchasing eight, textbooks for 360 Br. He was paying 60 Br for the second grade environmental science text book, whose cover price is 27.19 Br.
The retailer located around the National Theatre on Ras Abebe Aragay Street, who sold the books for Gaddissa claims that he made a profit of only five Birr. He said he was not aware where the people selling the books were getting them. Both on the streets and in book stores in the area, parents are competing to get books for their children at higher prices.
However the Bureau is saying that it is only via schools the books are supposed to be accessed.
“We only heard that there is a parallel market but we have no concrete information about it,” said Amelake, although the books are being sold in public.
“It is only in theory that the schools have the books,” argues Gadissa. “But this is what the situation on the ground is, and we are paying the price that we are being asked. This is in addition to the cost that I will pay for other additional books prepared by the school, which will be taught along with the local texts.”
Schools can use additional books, if they are already approved by the Bureau itself. So far it has made approvals for two schools out of 40 that have submitted their books.
Whereas for schools like Yetnebersh Primary located around Kebena River, the process of getting the books is not smooth, even though her school had most of the books it had requested. Fortune met the vice director, Kidist Yemane, who disclosed that her school is yet to receive English Grade Three, Civics & Ethical Education for Grade Seven and Mathematics for Grades Two and Six; the Bureau could not provide these books because it says they are not available.
“We also could not supply guide books for our teachers, because of lack of supply,” said Kidist.
It seems that we are going to wait for more days to have the remaining books, she added while frustrated by two days that were spent to get some of them.
At Nazareth School, Head of Human Resource Administration, Paulos Kenare, said the problems with textbooks are recurrent and frustrating. It is not only the unavailability of books, he said, but even the process of getting those books that are available is cumbersome and vague.
“There were times when we were told that the books were not available after our demands were accepted and we made payment,” he added.
In addition to shortage, the school for this year received books which were below its demand. For instance, as of September 17, 2015, the school received 10 Grade Nine Physics textbooks, 93 Grade 10 Geography text books, and no Grade 7 Amharic textbooks, out of a demand of 165, 149 and 120 books, respectively.
It is only for the newly published Amharic subject books from Grade One to Grade Eight that we have a lag in supply but for the rest, there is only a few days delay, said Amelake.
The issue of textbook shortage is always a point of argument with parents, said Paulos.
As Fortune visited the distribution centre at Menelik II School, Paulos was among the crowd of school representatives waiting to get books.
For another buyer who came to the same shops where Gaddissa came and bought books the issue is somewhat of a done deal.
“It would have been better if we had talked about it before things happened this way,” said the buyer, who declined to comment further.
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