| Looking Ahead |
|Sustainable book provision|
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In many countries of the developing world, books, comics, magazines, newspapers and even posters are rare commodities and the classroom environment is the only place where children will come into contact with words in written form.
Textbooks provide the main resource for teachers, enabling them to animate the curricula and giving life to the subjects taught in the classroom. The importance of books to the quality of education and rates of educational achievement has been well documented. But the goal of Education for All also involves the development of literate societies in the developing world, and cannot be attained solely by providing quality learning materials to schools. If people are to stay literate, they must have access to a wide variety of written materials and continue the habit of reading in their adult lives.
In African countries the availability of textbooks and other learning materials deteriorated during the 1980s, mainly as a result of economic stagnation, political unrest and competing priorities for social service funding. The situation improved slightly in the 1990s, following an increase in the number of book related projects funded by donor agencies and non-governmental organizations ( NGOs ). But severe shortages, particularly in rural areas, are still common and even though many textbook projects achieved their short term objectives - that is, to relieve the shortage of books in targeted schools - they did not succeed in establishing sustainable systems for textbook provision, nor did they deal with problems such as how to create a general appreciation of books and printed materials outside of the school. The fundamental need to develop a thriving local publishing sector, able to sustain the needs of both the education sector and a literate, reading public was also largely ignored.
Recognizing that the issue of book provision is not limited to providing learning materials for use in the classroom, UNESCO has been carrying out a technical assistance and training programme in a series of developing countries since October 1996 under the Education for All Initiative on Basic Learning Materials, with financial support by the Danish Development Agency (DANIDA). The UNESCO/DANIDA Basic Learning Materials Initiative works towards strengthening national infra-structures of the book sector seen "as a whole" through improving dialogue and creating partnerships between public and private book sector stakeholders and thereby identify issues, gaps and problems in the book chain and ways for remedial action.
In the long term, the BLM Initiative considers that successful materials development strategies must include mechanisms for generating a wide range of printed materials needed by a reading society. The development of a viable local publishing industry is a necessary element of such strategies and it is hoped that the creation of a well functioning system for the production and distribution of basic learning materials may be a first step towards creating a literate society and a market for books and other printed materials.