Working Group on Books and Learning Material (WGBLM)

Background

Research conducted by the Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA) for the EFA 2000 assessment revealed that shortages of relevant, low cost books for use inside and outside school continue to undermine the provision of good quality Education for All. Uneven access to teaching and learning materials, inadequate provision of reading materials that develop vital literacy skills, and unacceptable pupil/book ratios continue to predominate.

The book crisis in Africa is compounded by the fact that African publishers suffer in an economic context that tends to favor book importation from abroad. The role of bookselling and library networks in promoting better book reading habits and improving book circulation has been undervalued. Moreover, research indicates a lack of mechanisms to systematically collect and update book sector information. Studies also identify a gap in good quality reading materials to strengthen newly acquired literacy skills in the languages that people use in their everyday lives. Even in classrooms where textbook availability has improved, teachers do not always use them effectively. 

What is the Working Group on Books and Learning Materials?

Founded in 1989, the Working Group on Books and Learning Materials (WGBLM) seeks to identify and disseminate innovative strategies for addressing the continuing book crisis across Africa. It takes advantage of its growing pool of specialists, who focus on the different aspects of book development and the book chain, to help identify the technical and financial resources necessary to develop and implement viable national book policies.

WGBLM is composed of African Ministries of Education, development agencies, and civil society organizations concerned with materials development and dissemination. It works in close collaboration with two partner organizations based in Harare: the African Publishers' Network (APNET) and the Pan African Booksellers' Association (PABA). It also works in partnership with a number of NGOs involved in book development in Africa, such as ARED, FUNDZA (Swaziland), READ (South Africa), BAMVITA and the Children's Book Project (Tanzania), and NABOTU (Uganda). 

What are WGBLM's objectives?

WGBLM is committed to supporting processes conducive to formulating adequate national book policies that improve the provision of good quality educational materials, effective schooling, and literacy across sub-Saharan Africa. It strives to accomplish this by calling on governments, the private sector, development agencies, and Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) to consider a holistic approach that includes substantial input from African partners to achieve viable book policies.

WGBLM seeks to broaden its impact by creating a forum of policy makers, teachers, curriculum planners, publishers, materials designers, book distributors, booksellers, authors, and illustrators with a professional interest in book content and book delivery strategies. It also tries to eliminate complex bureaucratic procedures, particularly in the fields of book procurement and intra-African trade, by urging governments, the private sector, development agencies, and CSOs to adopt common strategies for implementing national and regional book policy.

What does the working group do?

WGBLM's activities cover research, dissemination, and networking. This strategy aims to provide policy makers with a range of options to assist them in making decisions concerning book sector development.
Recent WGBLM research has included surveys on the economic factors affecting educational publishing in sub-Saharan Africa and barriers to the intra-African trade in books in Southern Africa. In addition, WGBLM has commissioned case studies on various aspects of book distribution, book access systems, textbook financing schemes, and the cost-effectiveness of publishing in national languages and book procurement. Research results are disseminated through WGBLM's publications, its Perspectives on African Book Development series, and at national, regional, and international workshops, conferences, and book fairs. 

To facilitate networking, WGBLM works closely with APNET, PABA, and other members of its Steering Committee from SIDA; Finland; UNESCO; USAID; The World Bank; CIDA; and Ministries of Education in Congo-Brazzaville, Guinea, Niger, Tanzania, Sierra Leone, Zambia, and Mozambique. It recently developed a new partnership with the Africa Union to support the component of the Second Decade of Education in Africa related to teaching and learning materials. 

WGBLM also collaborates with other ADEA working groups, such as those on non-formal education, education statistics, the teaching profession, female participation, communication, and finance and education, to achieve common goals. 

What has the WGBLM achieved?

Since 1996, the WGBLM has:

  • Produced a series of publications on the key issues of book development in Africa; 
  • Provided advice to governments and agencies on specific aspects of their book policies;
  • Encouraged agencies to rethink their book procurement policies (e.g., World Bank, DFID);
  • Launched a joint campaign with APNET to promote book circulation in Africa through tax breaks and tax exemption for the publishing and bookselling industries;
  • Worked with the ADEA Working Group on Education Management and Policy Support (WGEMPS) to develop a pilot module on book sector statistics;
  • Published a training manual on Gender Sensitive Editing;
  • Played a key role in facilitating sessions during the Zimbabwe International Book Fair (ZIBF) Indaba sessions on specific book policy themes (1996-2001);
  • Facilitated the establishment of guidelines to integrate gender aspects into national and agency book policies;
  • Encouraged APNET and PABA to work together in a complementary fashion, which has led to a historic memorandum of understanding on their respective roles in the book trade;
  • Facilitated the emergence of a cadre of specialists concerned with the different aspects of book development and the book chain in Africa;

Publications

The Working Group on Books and Learning Materials has published a series of books on key issues involved in publishing and developing educational materials in Africa. The books are the result of recent research in a number of African countries. Decision-making for those involved in educational publishing in Africa is hampered by the lack of reliable information. 

The Perspectives on African Book Development seeks to inform debate and discuss strategies which are both appropriate and vital for policy planning and development in the sphere of education and publishing. This series includes books published by WGBLM on key issues of book development in Africa:

  • The Cost Effectiveness of Publishing Educational Materials in African Languages 
  • An Introduction to Publishing Management
  • Expanding the Book Trade Across Africa 
  • Upgrading Book Distribution in Africa 
  • Making Book Coordination Work! Crossing Borders: Adapting Educational Materials for other Countries
  • Changing Public/Private Partnerships in the African Book Sector