Recent reports that some 33 million textbooks procured by the government for public schools have multiple errors and misleading facts are quite alarming but not surprising.
The Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) had warned that a centralised public procurement system for school textbooks has never worked and is fraught with challenges.
Textbook selection is the preserve of teachers and can never be shifted to bureaucrats at the Ministry of Education; that only gives room for mischief.
Further, centralised public procurement of teaching and learning materials is in direct conflict with the requirements of Unesco and International Labour Organisation (ILO). They provide that the teaching profession should enjoy academic freedom in the discharge of professional duties, with teachers being given a free hand to pick the course books.
Unesco says since teachers are particularly qualified to judge the teaching aids and methods most suitable for their pupils/students, they should be given the essential role in the choice and adaptation of teaching materials.
All along, the ministry has prepared a document called the Orange Book, which lists the textbooks approved by the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD), from which teachers make their selection. This has always ensured fairness and effectiveness in book selection.
It does not make sense for the government to select textbooks and impose them on teachers, who actually know and understand what kind of instructional materials their learners really need.
The ministry cannot purport to have a better understanding of what suits the learners than the subject teacher who handles them daily.
Had the ministry allowed teachers to select and procure textbooks, the government would not have found itself in such an awkward and embarrassing position, losing Sh8 billion through purchase of books full of erroneous and misleading content.
Although the decision to select and purchase textbooks and distribute them to schools was aimed at locking out cartels and middlemen who collude with some head teachers to siphon billions of shillings in public funds, it has turned out to be counter-productive.
If the intention was to eliminate fraud, the best solution would be to strengthen audit of school and ensure their books of account are checked regularly and anyone found to have misappropriated funds and other resources punished and struck off the roll of teachers.
The ministry should revert to the tried and tested practice of using the Orange Book. At any rate, schools' boards of management now comprise fairly educated people capable of supervising teachers in regard to book selection and purchases.
Education Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed ought to order that the ministry reverts to the previous textbook policy. It had worked, and there is no compelling reason to jettison it.
The ministry is interfering with and curtailing professional and academic freedoms of teachers. It has no business selecting, procuring and distributing teaching materials. That will only serve to open the floodgates for corruption and compromise quality.
In the meantime, the ministry should conduct an audit of the textbooks fiasco and take appropriate action on those found to be culpable. It should also ensure that the 1:1 book ratio is achieved if educational standards are to be raised.
Mr Sossion is secretary-general, Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut).