A new policy that limits schools to buy only one textbook per subject has kicked up a storm in the education sector.
At the same time, stakeholders have raised the red flag after the government locked out private publishers from producing books for core curriculum subjects -- Mathematics, English and Kiswahili -- in lower primary, raising questions about transparency and integrity in textbook publishing and supply.
Publishers, experts and education stakeholders have accused the Education Ministry of creating monopoly in textbook publishing by restricting schools to only one textbook, arguing that the directive is fraught with many challenges.
It eliminates competition, undermines quality and opens the floodgates to unethical practices in textbook publishing, they say.
The storm was sparked by this week's publication of new guidelines and procedures for evaluating course books.
The guidelines have been published by the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD), responsible for developing curriculum and vetting and approving textbooks for use in schools.
This week, KICD and Education Ministry officials met publishers and issued the new guidelines, but the latter rejected them, saying they breached the law and went against the country's policy of market liberalisation.
In the new guidelines, publishers are to prepare manuscripts for selected subjects, which are to be presented to KICD for vetting and approval.
But unlike in the past, only one textbook that scores highly will be recommended for use in schools.
The next best five will be relegated and designated as supplementary course books.
"It is the policy of the Ministry of Education to have one course book per learning area per grade to ensure equality and uniform instructional materials to achieve the textbook-learner ratio of 1:1," KICD says in a document titled: Submission, evaluation and approval procedures for competency-based curriculum course books".
This is a major departure from the past where KICD approved and recommended six books out of which schools chose one for use as course material.
Since the late 1990s, the Ministry of Education has liberalised the textbook policy, where publishers submit manuscripts to the curriculum developer every year.
The manuscripts are vetted and six are selected for recommendation to schools.
The list of recommended textbooks is then published in what is conventionally referred to as the "Orange Book", from which schools pick one book per core subject.
The objective of the liberalised textbook policy was to create a vibrant, customer-focused book industry, ensure high quality of textbooks in terms of content, repackaging and production, and create stability in book pricing.
It was also aimed at empowering schools and management committees to make choices on books to use based on the six provided.
Also, it was intended to give all publishers and booksellers a fair opportunity to publish and sell books.
Publishers wondered why core subjects (Maths, English and Kiswahili) have been excluded from the bid list, raising questions on who the publisher of these books is.
Independent sources said the Education Ministry has entered into an agreement with Pride/Tusome -- a donor-driven project -- to publish books for core subjects.
This also raises queries since those materials are not being subjected to vetting.
Those opposed to the move warn that as a donor-driven project, the books will be developed by foreigners without local input, rendering them unsuitable and irrelevant to Kenyan schools.
"As teachers, we abhor a situation where our education curriculum is determined or influenced by external organisations. They should be delinked from the process," Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) secretary-general Wilson Sossion had earlier said.
The Kenya Union of Post Primary Education (Kuppet) secretary-general Akelo Misori also faulted the policy, saying it would kill authorship and publishing.
"Education must be seen in the light of liberalisation and creativity. The policies now emanating from Jogoo House, Nairobi, could kill education," he said.
KICD chief executive Julius Jwan on Saturday sought to allay these fears, saying the books had been vetted.
"The books (Maths, English and Kiswahili) have been excluded because the government, in partnership with development partners, is distributing them," Dr Jwan said.
He said the government embarked on the new policy because books were getting lost through mischief between publishers and head teachers.
"The government has been buying books but when we go to schools we don't find them," Dr Jwan said.
Kenya Publishers Association chairman Lawrence Njagi said the lobby was studying the circular before announcing its decision.
Additional reporting by Joseph Ngunjiri