Cameroon: Turning pages, transforming lives

Students in their classroom at public primary school Mandjou-1A, East region, Cameroon. Credit: O. Hebga/ World Bank
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Story highlights

  • Limited availability of textbooks has been a longstanding challenge that has impacted student learning.
  • The government of Cameroon, with support from GPE and the World Bank, is making books more affordable and accessible for students.
  • Over 4 million children in Cameroon now have access to affordable textbooks. And the student-to-textbook ratio has improved from 12 students for every book in 2016, to three essential textbooks for every two students in 2023.
Cameroon map

This story was written in collaboration with The World Bank Cameroon.

Although Cameroon has made progress in expanding access to basic education, the quality of education remains low. For instance, the learning poverty rate is high: almost 72% 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. Prior to 2017, Cameroon had only 1 textbook per 12 students nationwide, and one for up to 30 students in disadvantaged areas, some of the lowest textbook-to-student ratios in sub-Saharan Africa.

Lack of quality textbooks

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. 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. This policy framework, with multiple titles per subject, which changed every year, benefited multiple actors along the production chain at the expense of quality in the primary school system.

These factors 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.

  • Students in their classroom at public primary school Mandjou-1A, East region, Cameroon.
    Credit: O. Hebga/World Bank

Making books more affordable, accessible and of higher quality

“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 with support from GPE and the World Bank has strengthened textbook policies and improved transparency in the procurement and provision of textbooks.

This collaboration has led to significant changes, making books more affordable, accessible, and of higher quality. The process began with a collaboration among stakeholders (including the government, nongovernmental organizations, and civil society) to analyze challenges to the availability and affordability of textbooks, as well as identify actions to overcome them.

With this support, the government achieved several institutional reforms pertaining to textbooks beginning in 2017. These culminated in the National Textbook Policy of 2021, endorsed by a broad group of stakeholders.

Cesar Gouye
"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 one 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
  • M. Cesar Gouye, during a lesson in his class at Bindia public primary school, located in the East region of Cameroon.
    Credit: O. Hebga/World Bank

Better and more textbooks for better learning

Building on the gains achieved by the previous GPE-supported program for 2014-2019, which initiated improvements in textbook procurement processes, the ongoing project 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 to increase the availability of essential textbooks in public primary schools, including refugee-affected schools.

The long-standing support to Cameroon has led to tangible improvements in textbook availability and accessibility for over 4 million students by creating more equitable, transparent, and efficient book procurement processes.

A key result was 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 mandates 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:

  • Mandating a single book per subject across all schools in primary grades
  • Establishing a process for the selection of materials based on objective criteria
  • Creating a calendar that ensures the list of textbooks is published five months before the start of the academic year
  • Stipulating a 3-year minimum lifespan for textbooks to optimize resources and ensure the sustainability of investments
  • Instituting an independent technical committee to select texts and monitor textbook reform processes, thereby creating a permanent space for dialogue between the government and the textbook industry.
  • Students in their classroom at public primary school Mandjou-1A, East region, Cameroon.
    Credit: O. Hebga/World Bank

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 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 3:2, i.e., three essential textbooks (French, English and Mathematics) for every two students in 2023.

Cameroon aims to make the textbooks available to every student by 2026. The reform has helped to reduce the cost of textbooks by over 50% 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”.

Around 10% of textbooks distributed to schools are prioritized for communes affected by the refugee crisis. Schools serving internally displaced children are also prioritized. An estimated 98,800 refugee and internally displaced students in public primary school (35% in total) have benefited from this support.

The Cameroon Education Reform Support Project (ERSP) follows from the Cameroon Equity and Quality for Improved Learning Project, a US$53.3 million GPE-financed grant. A further GPE grant of US$52.45 million is supplemented by the International Development Association (IDA) in support of the ERSP.

Looking ahead

The government of Cameroon is operationalizing the 2021 National Textbook Policy, and the next phase (2024–2026) under the ongoing program will focus on:

  • Improving multi-year financial planning and budgeting
  • Further reducing the cost of books
  • Refining targeting mechanisms to give priority to the areas with the most pressing needs.

Several bills are also 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.

May 2024