BLM Initiative
Sustainable book provision
Table of contents
Executive summary
1. Books and learning
2. Identifying the real problem
3. publishing processes and professional skills
4. Educational publishing and book provision
5. How to do it
6. A look at the
normative aspects
A1. Book sector
A2. National councils
A3. Bibliography and ressources
Other resource materials
Contacts and Links

Since textbooks and other instructional materials have a direct impact on what is taught in schools and how it is taught, curriculum development and curriculum materials are sensitive matters which are of great political importance. This is why the book sector in industrialized countries receives both direct and indirect subsidies. There is always a need for a mechanism to review and control the quality of learning materials used in classrooms with regard to relevance, content, educational approach and efficacy, as well as to ensure that the provision of learning materials reflects government policies.

The implementation of policies regarding the content and quality of education, equity and the adoption of low-cost strategies for the development and production of instructional materials starts here.

While there is no single way of improving the provision of basic learning materials, there are many possible solutions, according to the different level of development reached.

The provision of basic learning materials differs from one country to another, and various approaches are used. While some countries struggle to establish mechanisms for the production of relevant curriculum materials, others focus on issues of institutional sustainability and the role of the government. While some donors recommend the withdrawal of the public sector from the production of basic learning materials, others supply gifts of books or support the establishment or expansion of government presses.

This diversity shows how complex the issue is and indicates the difficulties which face planners of basic education programmes. The problems are of two kinds: those which are related to content, presentation, use and provision, and those which are related to the technical and financial aspects of production, distribution and funding.

The strategies and policies adopted by a government to meet the demand for textbooks and other instructional materials should be determined by a national policy for the provision of instructional materials for schools and non-formal programmes. This policy is an integral part of a wider national book policy. The educational planner must consider each of the following aspects of book provision separately as well as how they affect each other:

As stated earlier, the majority of these issues are greatly influenced by national policies or the lack of them. In Chapter 5, a more thorough description is given of how to draft a national book policy, while the present chapter focuses on the differences between general publishing and educational publishing.

The differences between general publishing and the development and production of textbooks arise from the role government plays in the following areas of production: the initiative in publishing and the development of materials; funding, budgeting and cost-effectiveness; and distribution and teacher support. Textbook development and provision are complex issues which require compromise to meet objectives and co-operation between very different disciplines. A number of additional stages of testing and correction are required in the development of a good textbook which are not needed when developing a text such as a novel. How and when these differences between general publishing and educational publishing occur can be illustrated in a comparison of Flow Chart A (see page 45) with Flow Chart B (see page 46). The main difference is that the government and not the publisher makes most of the decisions.

The role of the state in educational publishing

The biggest difference between general publishing and educational publishing is to be found in the state's dual and, possibly, conflicting roles as 'author/publisher' and 'customer'. Chapter 2 discussed this briefly with regard to funding and policy priorities, and a government's involvement in textbook production and the laying down of conditions for other publishing activities. Various options for government intervention in relation to textbook production and book provision will now be considered.

The provision of books for schools and non-formal education programmes demands books and other instructional materials for the achievement of a certain level of educational attainment. The publishing initiative rests with the state and is guided by government policies for educational achievement, not by normal economic market forces. In other words, through its educational policies, the government decides how many and what books are needed in schools and how these books are paid for. There is no danger that books will not be sold.

In contrast, a publisher estimates the viability of a specific market, not only on the basis of market research into the demand for different kinds of books and the costs involved in their production and distribution, but also according to the level of professional competence and industrial development as well as the regulations and conditions of trade and the import and export of various items.

In many developing countries, most private sector publishers have not provided the conditions necessary for greater investment. There are many factors that may contribute to this. First, there is insufficient demand for books, newsprint and other printed materials; second, people cannot afford to buy books; third, there is no cost-effective distribution system in place; fourth, imported paper is too expensive for efficient printing; fifth, lack of skilled publishing personnel; and, finally, there are no opportunities to become involved in the production of learning materials - the only kind of books that have an assured market.

These factors also explain why so many textbook projects have had so little impact in developing countries.

A successful programme for the provision of learning materials and the economic conditions that allow a market-oriented publishing sector to develop are interdependent. The state must create favourable conditions for a local book industry to develop.

The size of the task of providing books and the economic opportunities that are opened also produce problems. To balance equity and the economy requires considerable resources which cannot be paid for in the foreseeable future. It also requires ingenuity to overcome the inherent contradiction between a non-commercial and commercial strategy by the development of objectives which seem almost irreconcilable. For this reason, it is difficult to consider that the provision of books can be achieved and maintained without government direction and intervention. The success of the undertaking is, ultimately, a question of policy, political will and the resources needed to support the policy.

Co-operation between public and private sector publishing in textbook development and provision allows for many options or combinations as illustrated in Table 1.

One strategy is to develop the necessary skills and capacity in the public sector for the production and distribution of instructional materials. This has been, perhaps, the common practice in developing countries in the last twenty years. The negative effect of this strategy on the development of alternative publishing initiatives is substantial and it may unintentionally have slowed book development in developing countries.

When faced with the problem of insufficient funding to meet the demand for learning materials, many governments tried to solve the problem by reducing the cost of book provision. This was done either through developing domestic facilities for the production of learning materials in an attempt to eliminate the profit element or by importing low-cost materials from abroad (2). In many developing countries, the government did not have the choice of subcontracting work to private sector publishing, since the local capacity was insufficient to do the work, and so was obliged to start publishing enterprises. As shown in book sector studies and reviews of the national provision of learning materials, this approach has not proved successful in terms of either economy or quality.

Table 1. Government/private sector distribution of responsibilities Alternative


1 2 3 4 5 6


0 0 0 0 0 0

Elaboration of texts and illustrations

0 0 0 0 X X


0 0 0 X X X

Pre-press preparation

0 0 0 X X X

Printing and binding

0 X X 0 X X

Distribution, storage, sale

0 0 X 0 0 X

legend: 0: government undertaking; X: private sector undertaking.

When the state monopolizes the instructional materials market, it prevents the development and growth of both local publishing and a commercial market for book sales. Unless the government undertakes to produce and sell a wide variety of books and other printed materials needed to maintain literacy, there will be no indigenous materials for people to read once they have left school. The absence of private sector publishing also affects the market for imported books and printed materials because multinational publishers need sales outlets, such as a network of bookshops. It is unlikely that multinational publishers would be ready to establish a separate distribution network in a country that does not already have a commercial distribution network for books.

When the state controls textbook production, the level of professionalism can vary because production occurs according to the administrative procedures of a civil service. Staff development and promotion obey civil service practices and this can fail to meet professional standards. Rules and regulations for purchasing and subcontracting developed for the civil service are generally unsuited to a commercially competitive publishing house. The costs of producing the materials and the maintenance of equipment become unclear. A major problem for state enterprises is that they often have no working capital but depend on a wide range of subsidies for the necessary maintenance or expenditure on consumables and machinery. Forward planning is very difficult in such circumstances, and this makes production highly uneconomic.

Another strategy - and probably a more cost-effective one - is to create conditions (for example, through legislation and tax incentives) which encourage the involvement of private sector publishing in the production of learning materials.

The problem of achieving technical and economic sustainability, and a lack of sufficient and recurrent funding to produce and distribute quality materials in sufficient quantities, are common in many developing countries. The recommendations made by various studies regarding this problem indicate that a greater involvement of the private sector both as producers and buyers may provide a solution. The involvement of the private sector in production breaks the monopoly that many state enterprises have exerted and opens up opportunities for general publishing, which may lead to a higher level of book awareness. There is a trend in more recent projects for the government to play a co-ordinating and monitoring role in the institutions that write, produce, distribute and market books, while production and distribution is subcontracted to the private sector.

This strategy leaves the government to deal with what it does best, that is, to decide educational policies, make laws and regulations, and exercise quality control - in other words, to carry out the planning, management and supervision of the implementation of government policies in education.

A third strategy is for state publishing units to be owned by the government but to operate as fully commercial publishing companies, which bid for work along with private publishing companies. The costs are then clear. In this way, the state acts as a motor for book development, such as through the development of a distribution system for books and through skills development.

It also ensures that books which commercial companies cannot, or will not, publish are still published - for example, books for use in schools in small indigenous languages.

The only way to guarantee that both educational requirements and considerations of cost-effectiveness are satisfied, is to develop a coherent system for the provision of instructional materials which covers the whole process from the development of the materials to their distribution and quality control.

This system is expressed in comprehensive national book policies and in a specific policy for the provision of learning materials for the educational sector. The formulation of, and adherence to, such policies are the most important functions and responsibilities of the government.

Planning, management and quality control

Government policies and school conditions differ. Planning for the wide range of materials needed for education must, however, always be based on the conditions which obtain and on realistic calculations. Surveys of conditions and a thorough needs assessment, along with a careful scrutiny of the relevance and usefulness of existing materials, should be undertaken periodically. On the basis of the information obtained, a plan for book provision can be drawn up. As curriculum changes take time to implement, plans should cover a period of several years.

It is possible to make good use of available resources by means of inventiveness and realistic planning. Realistic planning also means that not all solutions can be applied everywhere, not even in the same country. Situations and conditions vary, and so must strategies if an economic and effective system for book provision is to be developed.

In many places, costs of production and distribution would be cut if books were lent to students and used by more than one. This demands that the books be of a certain quality. If, on the other hand, there are no places in homes where schoolchildren can keep and work with books without damaging them, this is not necessarily a desirable solution. It could, however, work if the students were made to keep the books at the school and only use them there, in which case the provision of storage facilities in the school would be a necessary part of the book provision programme (3).

It is almost impossible to achieve an economy that makes it possible for the publishing industry to prosper without policies for book development and book provision. To be effective, such policies must be based on accurate and extensive information concerning book provision. This also means that there may be variations in how the demands for learning materials are met in different parts of the country.

A government can undertake more or fewer activities, but even when it delegates tasks to subcontractors, the overall responsibility for the timely and satisfactory provision of good quality instructional materials should remain with the government. To be able to assume this responsibility, staff dealing with these issues must be adequately trained to plan, manage, supervise and control the work.

In addition, the government must exercise quality control in terms of content, presentation and appearance. For example, the quality of the binding and the specifications for the paper used for the inside pages and the book cover are important because they determine the life of the book. Once there is no cover or the book starts to fall apart due to poor binding, its life expectancy is reduced. Too often, books used in schools and educational programmes are so cheaply and poorly produced that they disintegrate in the first week of use.

While the most expensive solution is not necessarily the best, the cheapest solution is often not cost-effective. When tenders are called for textbook production it is important that those who commission the work are capable of judging the quality of the content and of specifying the quality of paper, print, cover and binding needed to achieve the most cost-effective product.

The collection of learning materials in support of the curriculum depends largely on government policies. Should books for the education sector be original creations, adaptations or translations of available titles or be procured from available national and international titles? Many economic and educational factors must be taken into consideration before a decision can be made.

The development of individual titles follows the publication of curriculum guidelines. The question is whether the development of texts should be done by people working within the Ministry of Education or by private sector publishers? Likewise, should production be undertaken by the public sector or by the private sector or by a combination of the two?

A central issue for curriculum development units in ministries of education all over the world is how to transform a curriculum into educationally sound materials. The writing and design of educational materials require more than knowledge of a subject. To know how to write and to present a subject so that the book will be an effective educational tool requires knowledge and experience as well as a sense of book design. Writing and designing successfully for children is not the same thing as writing for adults.

Finally, field testing, evaluation and revision of the materials must be done regularly.

Not by textbooks alone

With reference to the importance of learning materials, the Education for All programme stresses that attention to certain areas leads to substantial increase in school effectiveness: (a) relevance of curricula and their regular overhaul to ensure coherence . . . ; (b) adequacy of learning materials, such as textbooks, learning aids and teachers' guides; (c) better use of instructional time; (d) improvements in the quality of teaching, mainly through in-service teacher training; and (e) making primary education child-centred. [. . .] Education programmes today must be of high quality and relevant if they are to meet the complex needs of individuals, employers and society as a whole. Improving quality in education requires adequate resources, competent teachers, appropriate facilities, and modern textbooks, materials and methods. Efficient planning and management, both at system and local-site levels, and a commitment to the idea of quality are needed if quality education is to be achieved and maintained (4).

The learning materials required to help the teacher are not just textbooks. The availability of textbooks has long been recognized as an important factor in educational attainment and governments and agencies have, to the exclusion of other aspects of the problem, focused on projects and programmes for textbook provision. However, books other than textbooks and instructional materials that are not books (such as boards and chalk, maps and flip charts, scissors, pencils, notebooks and writing pads, equipment and tools needed for science instruction, radio and television, computers and so on), are equally important for improving educational achievement.

The choice of cost-effective materials varies and depends on many factors.

Educational achievement is determined by the teacher's knowledge of the subject and pedagogical skills, the availability of textbooks and other learning materials, and the time spent by pupils in learning. The levels and range of instructional materials available to teachers and students determine what goes on in a classroom. Where there is money for books and other learning materials, teachers are, in general, better qualified and the tuition provided is more diversified and more efficient than it is when there are few textbooks and when the teachers have no greater access to supplementary reading materials than do their students.

But when textbooks are available, the importance of training teachers in the use of new curriculum materials must not be ignored. The effectiveness of whatever learning materials are available depends on the ability of the teacher to use them as intended. Any efficient curriculum and textbook development programme should include the development of teachers' manuals and additional teaching materials, and these materials should be introduced to the teachers by means of in-service training courses.

The scarcity of educational materials is a problem because of a shortage of copies of textbooks and the small range of those available. Students do not learn at the same pace. The poor quality and uneven development of instructional materials for different levels of learning increase the teachers' difficulties in teaching. Different approaches require different learning materials. Double-shift and multigrade classrooms, for example, require more instructional materials than single-grade classrooms do.

In poor countries where books are scarce and teachers are often untrained, textbooks assume wider importance than they do in more developed countries. Then the textbook becomes the most important, if not the only means of teaching. Without the textbook, the skills, concepts and content required by the curriculum cannot be taught. In the absence of other sources of information, the textbook becomes the most important and often the only source of content for the teacher and the sole basis for testing and assessment. The importance of textbooks when teachers are untrained is illustrated in a study (5) made in north-eastern Brazil, in which the teachers were asked to sit a general, multidisciplinary examination with their students. The students did better than the teachers, which is explained by the fact that the students had learned more from their textbooks than from what the teachers had taught them.

The role played by textbooks in the education process needs to be evaluated with regard to financial, social and cultural conditions. If textbook provision schemes originally developed to suit formal education programmes do not correspond to the economic, social and cultural realities of a developing country, then it may be more realistic to revise the concept of the textbook, not just the text itself. More research is needed into the relevance and effectiveness of learning materials in a particular context and into the effectiveness of simple guides, lesson plans and workbooks. The integration of examination requirements and other aspects of the learning process need to be given more attention. In many classrooms, the examination requirements, not the syllabus, determine what is taught.

Where textbooks are scarce or available only when the student is at school, alternative forms of instructional materials may be both more important and more effective. In cases where there are few books in schools and where the financial realities are such that only limited funds are available for learning materials, the most cost-effective teaching aid may be teachers' workbooks based on the curriculum.

Textbook content and the educational approach also need to be considered. In spite of the gains made in the development of curriculum materials, much more needs to be done. The content of instructional material needs to be seen as an ongoing activity. In general, curriculum materials are oriented towards people who live in cities, with a bias towards the norms and values of the often conservative upper classes of society. Educational materials, in more ways than one, often speak a language different from that of the students.

Readability and presentation are important. Poor presentation and inappropriate levels of reading difficulty can mean that an otherwise good textbook fails in its purpose.

Education is still dominated by rote learning. The emphasis of the Education for All programme on the objects of education - the horizons of learning, the humanizing effect of education, learning to learn and learning to care - needs to be reflected in programmes designed to improve the provision of learning materials.

Basic learning materials - what are they?

In this guide, textbooks are considered as generic for all basic learning materials. Likewise, 'book development' is a term which refers to the development not only of books but also many other printed and non-printed information media.

'Basic learning materials' refers to textbooks, other reading materials, equipment and tools used for instruction in the first level of education, such as chalkboards, maps, scissors and simple science equipment as well as non-durable supplies used by the pupil and teacher, such as notebooks, pencils and chalk.

Today, the learning materials used to support teaching cover a wide range of media. Besides books, audio-visual facilities, scientific and technical equipment, and computers have become an integral part of educational practice. At the 1996 Book Fair in Frankfurt, electronic publishing took up an entire hall. Some publishers estimate that, by the year 2000, electronic publishing could account for almost 40 per cent of the industry's turnover. Most of electronic publishing will be in the fields of education and reference books.

Not all teaching aids, however, are costly or require advanced technology. Learning aids other than textbooks have attracted little attention, though they do have an impact on the quality of the teaching in classrooms.

In textbook projects, the focus has been on textbooks to the exclusion of other learning materials. The importance of other learning materials must be stressed.

To demonstrate the scope of learning materials, two different lists of educational materials are given below. One is a list of basic learning materials which has been developed by UNESCO for use in a survey. It is a basic list of inexpensive learning materials and should be included in any book provision programme. The other is a catalogue of the educational equipment and materials that are found in western sales exhibitions of instructional aids.

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