Giving Rural School Children Textbooks
Thousands of schoolchildren in the northwest region of Cameroon are benefiting from a co-investment schoolbook program established by Knowledge for Children (KFC), a Cameroon-Dutch based non-governmental organization (NGO).
During the 2010 - 2011 academic year, 95 schools participated in the program that has made school books available to children in rural primary schools. But, thanks to a US$20,000 (XAF 10,470.900) grant awarded during the 2011 Development Marketplace competition in Cameroon, KFC has been able to extend the program to 15 new schools during the 2011-2012 academic year, bringing the total number of participating schools to 110 and reaching 27,500 children.
Organized by the World Bank governance program, “Banking on Change: Tackling Sector and Demand-side Governance issues in Cameroon,” (PDF) the 2011 Development Marketplace competition focused on allowing social entrepreneurs to compete for funding for innovative grassroots projects with strong potential for development impact and replication. These projects were across three sectors: education, health and forest resource management. The KFC schoolbook program is one of the 15 winners of the Development Marketplace competition.
The schoolbook program, which follows a five-year cycle, aims to improve the quality of education in rural primary schools in Cameroon. During the first year, a baseline survey is carried out to identify the individual school’s strengths and weakness. Based on set criteria, and objectives to be achieved by the fifth year, the quantity of books to be provided during the first year is agreed upon. In the first year, the NGO provides 90% of the books needed, while the community, through the Parent Teacher Association (PTA), provides the remaining 10%. In the second year, the respective contributions shift from 90% to 80% and from 10% to 20%.
By the fifth year, both the KFC and the PTA become equal contributors. Both partners pay their cash contributions to the supplier of the books, who then ensures that books are supplied directly to the schools.
According to Saah Ndia Peter, Inspector of Basic Education of the Bui Division, the program so far has “greatly improved” statistics in the region.
“Before the start of this program in 2005, statistics showed that only about 15% of pupils in primary schools in the entire region possessed a book,” Peter said. “Today, estimates have evolved to between 20-25% thanks to this book donation initiative.”
Historically teachers have been forced to dedicate a large proportion of teaching time copying texts to the blackboard as a result of the lack of books. However, with the start of this program, teaching and learning in the 110 schools has greatly improved, and teachers highlight multiple benefits. There is no longer a need to copy text on the blackboard as pupils can follow the class using available books, reading and listening skills have greatly improved, and pupils and parents have a greater sense of responsibility as they are conscious of the importance of appropriately utilizing borrowed textbooks and ensuring they are returned to the school undamaged.
This program combines the physical investment of providing books with the sensitization of the school community by developing positive reading habits, learning how to make best use of the books, and understanding the importance of communal responsibility. In addition, tailor-made training programs are administered to teachers.
Challenges of Scaling-up An Initiative That Works Well
To be eligible for the schoolbook program, schools must be duly approved by the Ministry of Basic Education, located in a rural area, have a dynamic PTA and community which accept the co-investment model, and have a safe place to store the textbooks.
Fulfilling these requirements remains a challenge to many schools. In April, two months before the end of the 2011-2012 academic year, some schools, such as the Government School (GS) Ngotang, were yet to acquire books equating to the required 10% contribution - about XAF 74,000 (XAF 3,500 per child). This amount may be considered insignificant at some schools, but not at GS Ngotang. According to members of the PTA, it is difficult to collect funds to pay for the recruitment of teachers, build school infrastructure, and pay for books.
As reported by the World Bank, 2004 (PDF), “there is a disconnect between the constitutional right to a free education and the reality of fees.” A monetary contribution is required from all parents for the annual PTA fee and according to individual parents in rural communities, it is a heavy burden on the family. In spite of the abolition of school fees in the 1990s, the weight of education expenditure on parents limits access to quality education, especially for the poor, the majority of whom are in rural areas.
A major challenge faced by the project team is accessibility to rural schools. It is difficult for the project team to rely on public transport to ensure the successful execution and monitoring of the program in these rural communities. In the absence of a reliable and readily available means of transportation, Maimo Jacob Shiynyuy, Board Chairman of Knowledge for Children Cameroon, said he is concerned that this may jeopardize the project and further deprive remote areas from benefiting from this opportunity. As the team must depend on public transportation for its activities in schools, administrative costs are higher and service delivery unreliable.
As a result of the Development Marketplace grant, Knowledge for Children was able to introduce 15 new rural schools into its co-investment program. However, this organization remains in dire need of assistance to not only sustain this specific initiative, but also contribute to the improvement in the quality of education in rural primary schools in Cameroon.
Manjong Sixtus, Delegate for Basic Education in Donga-Mantung, said the schoolbook program is “the most meaningful investment the World Bank [and other funding organizations and individuals] can make to education.”