Confusion has hit the education sector following government’s eleventh-hour decision to defer implementation of a new secondary school curriculum, The Nation can reveal.
Implementation of the new curriculum was supposed to roll out at the start of the current academic year, but government postponed it with just a week left before classes opened.
According to the ministry, the review aims at, among others, equipping students with learner-centred approaches, adequate and relevant skills to cope with tertiary education, the world of work and life in general.
It also aims at incorporating critical temporary and cross-cutting issues such as environmental conservation, language skills and a reading culture among learners and improving teaching and learning of science subjects.
And MIE, which is government’s curriculum centre, in its March 2014 report on the Junior Secondary School Textbook Evaluation and Selection Results watermarked ‘confidential’, announced that it had completed the evaluation and selection of Junior Secondary School core and supplementary textbooks and approval had been granted by the ministry.
The textbook evaluation exercise, which took place at MIE campus in two phases—20th to 31st January, 2014 and then 24th February to 7th March, 2014—received submissions in 20 subjects for both core and supplementary categories. And more than 300 titles were submitted by both local and foreign publishers.
The purpose of the textbook evaluation was to select eligible textbooks that best respond to the reviewed secondary school curriculum.
After MIE circulated the approved list of titles, publishers whose textbooks had been selected immediately went into printing the books in readiness for the new curriculum, which was to be implemented in four years starting with Form Ones during the 2014/15 academic calendar.
Investigations by The Nation have revealed that the majority of the publishers got loans from commercial banks in order to print the books in India.
While most schools were set for the new syllabus, a week before schools opened, the ministry, in a statement dated 1st September 2014, and placed in the newspapers on 7th and 8th September 2014, advised the public that due to “technical and logistical challenges”, it had postponed implementation of the new syllabus.
“Due to technical and logistical challenges being faced in the provision of teaching and learning materials to support the curriculum implementation, it will not be possible to roll out the curriculum in the 2014/15 academic year.
“There is need for more time to source more teaching and learning materials and, thereafter, provide in-house training of teachers, inspectors and advisers in handling the new curriculum,” reads the statement in part.
The development has thrown the sector into turmoil, with government not really knowing how to handle the situation, according to sources.
The most affected are secondary school students and book publishers who have now been thrown into an egg-and-chicken scenario.
Some publishers confided in The Nation in separate interviews that they got huge loans from banks with the hope that they would recover the money from the textbooks’ sales, but now they have been thrown into an economic mayhem.
While we could not establish how much exactly the publishers borrowed from the banks, indications show the problem has aggravated the coffers of the already financially-struggling publishers.
“We do not even know how we will get through this bank loan. It is a disturbing development,” mourned one senior official from one publishing house who did not want to be named.
It has also been revealed that stocks for most essential textbooks for the old curriculum have run out of market and publishers are not ready to print more.
Spot checks conducted by The Nation in some bookshops showed that the market is full of new textbooks, which students and teachers were supposed to start using this year.
The new curriculum postponement has also hit hard several schools—both public and private—and students who already procured the books in readiness for the new academic year.
CLAIM Mabuku general manager Andrew Chisamba confirmed that their bookshops have no textbooks for the old curriculum as they had turned their focus to printing titles for the new curriculum.
“We had re-channelled all our resources into printing the selected new titles in readiness for the new curriculum, so we could not waste our resources printing textbooks that were being phased out,” explained Chisamba.
As we went to press, Ministry of Education spokesperson Rebecca Phwitiko had not responded to our questionnaire to properly account for the confusion that has hit the sector.
But education activist Steve Sharra has blamed government for creating the confusion, which he said could have been avoided.
Said Sharra: “When they were suspending the introduction of the new secondary school curriculum, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology indicated, in a written statement, that schools were being encouraged to choose an area of specialisation, based on the resources the school has.
“My interpretation of the statement was that schools which were already equipped to offer subjects in the new curriculum could go ahead, once teachers were oriented.”
Sharra observed that the problem seemed to have arisen in the level of consultations authorities conducted before suspending implementation of the new curriculum.
He observed that the process to develop the new curriculum was remarkably consultative, but towards the end, consultation was not kept up.
“That should be the reason the publishers went ahead to publish new textbooks based on the new curriculum, and stopped reprinting the old textbooks.
“Consultation works better when it is maintained throughout a process, rather than done selectively,” said Sharra.
Last week Tuesday, the Book Publishers Association of Malawi (Bpam) led a high-powered delegation of publishers to Lilongwe for a meeting with senior management of the ministry to discuss the matter.
Bpam President Alfred Msadala, while confirming leading the publishers, refused to be drawn into commenting on what the two parties discussed. n