Local publishers have cried foul over a decision by the Ministry of Education, through Rwanda Education Board (REB), to start producing textbooks to use in pre-primary, primary and secondary education in the country, instead of relying on independent publishers.
This follows a call for bids for writers, designers and illustrators by REB for those willing to work on the textbooks on behalf of the board in an effort they say will lead to publication of textbooks and teachers' guidebooks with full grasp of the cultural context of the country.
Speaking to The New Times, the State Minister in charge of Primary and Secondary Education, Isaac Munyakazi said that some of the books that are published by independent publishers, are published from outside the country and at times come with mistakes that require a long process to correct, even when they are identified.
The minister said that relying on content from other authors and publishers than government has also led to unnecessary delays in delivery of the books plus lack of quality and lack of copyright to the material produced.
The lack of copyrights, he said makes the process rigorous in case there are any modifications required in the content of a particular book.
Since 2009, publishing houses including local ones started winning tenders to produce and distribute students' textbooks in schools, through REB, an arrangement that Munyakazi said has not proven effective in scaling up quality education, because of minimal supervision by REB in the process of publication.
"The new arrangement is advantageous because it will reduce the cost of books for the students and will cut on the time within which books are produced and distributed to schools," said Munyakazi.
The same reasons were echoed by Janvier Gasana, the Director General of REB, who said that for long, there have been growing concerns over the quality of content in the textbooks and how the books are costly to government.
"We are looking for something that is less expensive but more quality," he insisted adding that the tender, which expired yesterday, December 27, was open even to those involved with local publishing houses.
"All we want is to have copyright on the content that we distribute to our children so they (local publishers) can bring their expertise if they want. Without the copyrights, it was even hard to have more copies of the same textbook where need arose, it was like buying the book once again," he said.
Who will regulate?
This decision has however not gone well with the publishers who term it as unfair and goes against the government policy of promoting the spirit of entrepreneurship and raised concerns of quality control.
"If an entity that produced a curriculum, are the ones to evaluate the same books they have written, who will then now check the quality of the content produced in these books?" wondered Arthur Mugunga, the CEO of Students Book Distributors, (SBD Books), said.
Some publishers will have to close shop, because the biggest consumer of the materials for schools has been the Ministry of Education through Rwanda Education Board, he added.
"With the decision, the market is limited, and the upcoming publishers like us will definitely run out of the market," he said, adding that the quality issues raised by REB should not arise because the quality goes along the timeline given to the publisher to submit the books for approval.
"If you are given a short time to produce so many books, producing a book is not easy, it takes time to produce a book and make sure everything is in a good order... if, say, you are given three to six months to write student's textbook and teacher's guide, you will not produce a high quality book, there are likely to be mistakes," he said, putting the blame back to REB.
Stephen Mugisha, the chairman of Rwanda Publishers and Booksellers Union, shares the same sentiments.
"Publishers were supposed to write and sell the books to REB after its deep evaluation as a regulator of content, but now who will evaluate the content to ensure quality control?
"The decision also goes against the government agenda of empowering the private sector as the drivers of the economy. The nascent industry of local publishers now faces an eminent extinction."
Fiston Mudacumura, the CEO of Mudacumura Publishing House said the decision is a blow to his investment on top of frustrating the industry that was steadily helping in instilling the culture of reading and writing.
"For example, this year alone, we have invested Rwf36 million in local authors, illustrators and content providers, just on side of creating books only," he said.
Mudacumura added that his company was planning to go out in rural areas to scout for budding writers willing to write and invest in them and in their creations, and these were the same people to develop content for tomorrow.
Not all is lost
Agnes Gyr-Ukunda, the legal representative of Editions Bakame, another popular publishing house, on the other hand, believes that the industry will not be weakened because there is huge number of books to produce.
"As the number of producers for books increase, it will be an opportunity to readers and others who use books to educate themselves and battle ignorance," she said adding that the local publishers should begin looking beyond school textbooks.