Textbook availability and affordability have improved for over 4 million children in Cameroon.
The high cost of textbooks has been reduced by over 50 percent between 2013 and 2020, and the number of textbooks in public schools has quadrupled since 2020.
The student-to-textbook ratio has improved from 12 students for every book in 2016, to a package of three essential textbooks for every two students in 2023.
An estimated 98,808 refugee and internally displaced students (35 percent of students in public primary schools) benefited from this support in 2023.
The transformative national textbook policy of 2021 has improved the efficiency and transparency of the textbook industry, improving costs and quality.
A decade-long engagement between the Government of Cameroon and the World Bank has improved textbook availability and affordability for over 4 million children nationwide. Since 2014, a combination of interventions has helped to reduce the high cost of textbooks by over 50 percent, quadrupling the availability and number of textbooks in public schools. The student-to-textbook ratio has significantly improved, from 12 students for every book, to a standard package of three essential textbooks (French, English, and Mathematics) for every two students. The goal is to attain a ratio of three books per student by 2026. A landmark national textbook policy supported by the World Bank established the free provision of textbooks to all public schools. It also improved the equity and transparency in book selection and procurement. These efforts aim to support quality classroom instruction to boost learning outcomes.
Although Cameroon has made progress in expanding access to basic education, the quality of education remains low. For instance, the learning poverty rate is extremely high: almost 72 percent of children cannot read and understand a short, age-appropriate text by age 10. In Cameroon, the extremely limited availability of school textbooks has been a longstanding challenge that has severely impacted student learning outcomes. Prior to 2017, Cameroon had one of the lowest textbook-to-student ratios in Sub-Saharan Africa, with only one textbook per 12 students nationwide, and one for up to 30 students in disadvantaged areas. Without access to textbooks, children struggled to learn in school. In communities with refugee and internally displaced students, acute textbook shortages exacerbated the challenges faced by these students. In this context, there are an estimated 2.2 million people displaced within Cameroon due to civil conflicts, as well as an influx of refugees from neighboring countries.
The cost of textbooks was almost three times that of comparable countries. A weak textbook policy framework resulted in ineffective management of the book development chain, insufficient public funding for books, and an impractical and costly “multiple titles” policy that allowed schools to each have vastly different books for the same subject. Textbooks also changed every year, which made it difficult for children to use their older siblings’ books in school. These challenges led to the high cost of textbooks, which imposed a financial burden on families. It also caused shortages outside of major cities and resulted in low textbook quality. National student assessment data showed that students without direct access to textbooks performed significantly worse than comparable peers who had their own textbooks. This policy framework, with multiple titles per subject, all changing every year, benefitted multiple actors along the production chain at the expense of quality in the primary school system.
I am really happy that we are now able to have more books in our classroom. I have the opportunity to read more in class.
Ndogbassi Public Primary School – Littoral region
Since 2014, the Government of Cameroon and the World Bank have worked together to strengthen textbook policies and improve transparency in the procurement and provision of textbooks. This collaboration has led to significant changes, making books more affordable, accessible, and of higher quality. This process began with a collaboration among stakeholders (including the government, non-governmental organizations [NGOs], and civil society) to analyze challenges to the availability and affordability of textbooks, as well as identifying actions to overcome them. Development Policy Financing (DPF) and technical assistance from the World Bank, as well as extensive policy dialogue championed by the Office of the Prime Minister, helped to strengthen the commitment to tackling this challenge. It also supported the government in achieving a series of institutional reforms pertaining to textbooks beginning in 2017. These culminated in the National Textbook Policy of 2021, which was endorsed by a broad group of stakeholders.
The World Bank’s ongoing Cameroon Education Reform Support Project (ERSP), launched in 2018, has helped to implement these reforms by supporting book procurement and distribution across the country and by creating operational plans and structures to ensure sustainability. Among other objectives, the project aims at increasing the availability of essential textbooks in public primary schools (including refugee-affected local councils). This project built on the gains achieved by the Cameroon Equity and Quality for Improved Learning Project, a Global Partnership for Education (GPE)-financed grant that initiated improvements in textbook procurement processes.
With the increase of textbooks in my class, all the children are more attentive, and they also participate more in the activities. They can now share 1 book for two children, compared to only a few books for all 120 children I have in my class.
M. Cesar Gouye,
Teacher, Class 6, Bindia Public Primary School – East region
This long-standing engagement has led to tangible improvements in textbook availability and accessibility for over 4 million students across Cameroon by creating more equitable, transparent, and efficient book procurement processes.
Key specific results include strengthening the legal framework for textbooks by supporting a transformative 2021 law governing the Organization and Promotion of the Book Sector in Cameroon. The law mandated the free distribution of essential textbooks in public primary schools and helped to streamline and regulate the sector. This reform promotes quality and transparency by: (i) mandating a single book per subject across all schools in primary grades; (ii) establishing a process for the selection of materials based on objective criteria; (iii) creating a calendar that ensures the list of textbooks is published five months before the start of the academic year; (iv) stipulating a 3-year minimum lifespan for textbooks to optimize resources and ensure the sustainability of investments; and (v) instituting an independent technical committee to select these texts and monitor textbook reform processes, thereby creating a permanent space for dialogue between the government and textbook industry stakeholders.
This project has increased the availability of textbooks by reducing the textbook-to-student ratio in public primary education from 1:12 (one textbook for 12 students) in 2016 to a package of three essential textbooks (French, English and Mathematics) for every two students in 2023. Ongoing projects aim to make this package available to every student by 2026. Moreover, the engagement has helped to reduce the cost of textbooks by over 50 percent between 2013 and 2020 from an average of US$6.25 to US$2.90. It also eliminated the financial burden on families by establishing specific budgetary allocations for the purchase of books nationwide, with a focus on underprivileged “education priority zones.”
Textbooks were also distributed to refugee-affected local councils; around 10 percent of textbooks distributed to schools are prioritized for communes affected by the refugee crisis. Schools serving internally displaced children are also prioritized. An estimated 98,808 refugee and internally displaced students enrolled in public primary school (35 percent the total) benefited from this support.
Improvements to Textbook Unit Costs in Cameroon, 2013-2020 (US$)
World Bank Group Commitment
The Cameroon Education Reform Support Project (ERSP) is financed by the International Development Association (IDA) of the World Bank Group for a total amount of US$175 million, including additional financing of US$45 million and a Global Partnership for Education (GPE) grant in the amount of US$52.45 million. It was preceded by the Cameroon Equity and Quality for Improved Learning Project, a US$53.3 million GPE-financed grant.
The textbook policy reform is the product of a multisectoral effort to bring more books into the classroom. Consultations to develop the reform brought together high-level government bodies (including the Offices of the President and Prime Minister); the line ministries, including Education, Finance, Culture, Trade, and Economy and Planning; the private sector (book publishers and distributors); parents; civil society; and development partners.
The World Bank supports the Government of Cameroon in operationalizing the National Textbook Policy of 2021 and moving toward its target of one textbook per essential subject per child by 2026. Thus, key actions are needed to promote sustainability and improve implementation capacity. The next phases of support (2024-2026) under the ongoing Cameroon Education Reform Support Project may focus on: (i) improving multi-year financial planning and budgeting; (ii) further reducing the cost of books; and (iii) refining targeting mechanisms to give priority to the areas with the most pressing needs. In addition, several bills are in progress to put the policy into action, including to secure sustainable domestic funding for textbooks. To improve implementation capacity, an evaluation of how books are distributed, stored, and used will lead to recommendations for improvements to the distribution chain, as well as for enhancing the lifespan of textbooks.