| April 18, 2010

Donated Paper Books… a Good Thing?


Donated paper books are fine. They are sent by well meaning people and received (after overcoming the logistical challenge of getting them there) with dignity and gratitude. They fill up bookshelves and give the impression of a well resourced educational institution. Schools in developing countries like them.

Well…. actually not all schools like them.

In most of the educational systems of the developing world there are indeed schools under resourced, with poor teacher motivating and often no connection to light and electricity, never mind an internet connection.

But they are indeed operating within a system. That is to say a systematic approach to designing a curriculum, to training the teachers, to stretching limited resources to achieve set and shared goals for the children.

Like in all systems the unexpected, the unplanned, the incomplete can be much more of a headache than a blessing. And frankly on the evidence of what I saw in Ghana, those well intentioned headaches continue to flourish.

Simply scan some of the photos on this blog. You´ll spot the material on the bookshelves in the background. Trouble is that is often on the bookshelf is where they will remain.

Morning assembly in Ayenyah. They have systems here too!

Educationalists may argue about the laissez faire approach of education but generally it is agreed that some systematic approach is necessary in the classroom, without having to revolutionize the way teachers teach (and there are some that want to do just that)

I have visited a number of schools and a university in Ghana.  You often come across bookcases stacked with books and you feel relieved that at least they are receiving some material. Then you see the forlorn look of “well yes, it was great to receive these books, but they were not what we needed, or they were in variable condition, or there were simply not enough of them to use across all of a class”.

Question: Once you set up a system, in the developed or developing world, can a third party predict what that sytem needs and simply send along what he/she thinks is best?  And if they do exactly that, is that a good thing?

Good intentions should perhaps remain that, intentions not realities. This unplanned approach to supplementing the meagre resources of schools in Ghana, probably holds their education systems back. They need the books that are produced for their specific needs, just like in schools in Madrid or New York. Books that complement and scale a system and don’t unintentionally undermine it.

Donated books for libraries are fine because a library is all about delivering the expected and the unexpected reading opportunities and as such, broaden and open young minds.  The educational systems of developing countries however deserve more.