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Building a National Textbook and Book Industry

Textbooks that are free of sexist stereotypes allow girls to believe in their full development potential.

Project background

The arrival of the 2000s brought major changes in how school textbooks were supplied in several African countries, including Mali. In the previous decades, the government’s textbook production monopoly had curbed the development of a national book industry. Many studies have shown that African publishing’s stunted development is due to the lack of a free market for textbook production, the recurring reprinting of foreign-published textbooks and a chaotic distribution of textbooks through the Ministry of Education’s various structures. In Mali, despite decades of outside funding for school textbooks, very few local development outcomes have occurred in terms of local skills and economic development.

These observations prompted the Malian government to instigate a major change in how textbooks were supplied by developing, starting in 2001, a national policy on textbooks and educational materials which outlines the main elements of the reform. Overall, the Government of Mali is committing, through the policy, to first, make available to students and teachers an adequate number of good-quality textbooks and educational materials that follow the existing curricula; and, second, to create an environment that favours the development of a private industry to write, publish, print and distribute textbooks and educational materials for schools.

Through these two commitments, the government initiated a significant partnership with the private book sector in Mali to entrust its publishing professionals with the writing, production and distribution of textbooks for Malian schools.

For both parties, this is a major commitment with significant challenges. Producing textbooks is very different from other books, particularly since textbooks must meet the strict requirements of educational programs and individual teaching approaches. Given the complexity of publishing textbooks and the expertise required, it became imperative to enhance the skills of these book professionals (writers, publishers, graphic designers, illustrators, editors or other) so they would be able to produce textbooks that would meet the needs of the educational system and provide Malian students and teachers with excellent teaching tools. The Ministry of Education faced the challenge of changing its practices toward a reliance on outside partners to run the textbook production and distribution chain.

Canadian involvement


Already in 1998, as part of the education development program in Mali (Programme de développement de l’éducation; PRODEC), Canadian aid began a small initiative to rewrite and republish three textbooks in the Djoliba Collection used to teach French in Grades 3, 4 and 5. Republishing the textbooks was particularly an opportunity to coach the authors (Mamadou Sissouma, Cheick Kanté, Karim Sangaré) in textbook rewriting and to enhance the skills of Malian authors, illustrators and private publishers (through Ba Maïra Sow, Director of Éditions Asselar, and Aly Thiam, illustrator at Éditions Donniya). Despite the initiative’s limited reach, it did address a real need. Notably, the Malians greatly appreciated the coaching culture engendered by Beauchemin International, a Canadian publisher that also provides consulting. At the end of the project, the Malian Ministry of Education told the Canadian donor agency it would be interested in taking this guidance a step further to also broaden the skills of private publishers, a need greatly justified by the new policy on textbooks and educational material. This sparked a lasting partnership between Canada and Mali in the textbook industry.


Building on what was learned through the Djoliba project, Canada launched a new project, Capacity Building for Stakeholders in the Textbook and Book Publishing Trades in Mali, which was in effect between 2005 and 2008. The coaching mandate was granted to a consortium formed by Beauchemin International and CRC Sogema. With a budget of Can$1.5 million, the project consisted of three capacity-building elements for private publishers: (1) writing textbooks, for textbook authors; (2) guiding authors, managing a publishing project, publishing and graphic design, for publishers; and (3) interpreting pedagogical and technical specifications and preparing bids for textbook production projects.

Two main observations arose from this second support project in the private book publishing sector. First, three years was not long enough to complete a skill-building initiative in such a complex industry as textbook writing and production.

Second, given the central role attributed to the private book industry in implementing the new textbook and teaching material policy, the industry needed to strengthen its own structures to be able to play its role in promoting and defending the profession. It was also important for Mali’s book publishers’ organization (Organisation malienne des éditeurs de livres; OMEL) to shore up its foundations and rally industry members around the sector’s shared development strategies.


The third project in Mali’s publishing sector emerged from this context. The PAGE project (Projet d’appui à la gestion de l’édition) to support publishing management was led by the Canadian consortium Agriteam/CODE. The Can$4.3 million project began in late 2011, but was suspended during the coup d’état in March 2012. It took up its activities again in 2014, and is still underway. PAGE aims specifically to build skills in the textbook sector in Mali through two components. First, it aims to augment the skills of OMEL, particularly in advocating and defending the profession, but also in the services it offers to members and its ability to self-fund. Second, PAGE supports the capacity-building of textbook and book professionals (authors, publishers, graphic designers and so on).

The Canadian support initiatives in the book sector stand out for their innovation in the area of international development. In fact, it is quite rare to see projects that develop the private sector in order to develop public education. It is also rare to see the governments of developing countries like Mali recognize the importance of building strong publishing partners and accept to invest in strengthening the private sector. This is evidence of the partners’ ability to get behind a long-term vision for supplying textbooks.


It is still early to detail the outcomes of the PAGE project, which was the largest of the three capacity-building projects in textbook publishing. Yet, some significant achievements were noted over the years in each category of support beneficiaries. Throughout the duration of these projects, we ultimately were able to witness the creation of a book industry in Mali.

Training book professionals

Many Malian book professionals received training in their specific field of activity and coaching to apply their skills in concrete projects. The Djoliba project already coached three authors (Ministry of Education officers) to rewrite three textbooks in the collection. The project also trained and coached three illustrators/graphic designers from private Malian publishing houses (EDIM, Jamana, Donniya), who applied their new knowledge to republishing the three textbooks.

The other projects (2005 to 2008 and 2012 to present) focused on building the skills of textbook production teams in private publishing houses. These editorial teams mainly consisted of authors supervised by an editor (or an editorial director). In all, the projects trained and coached a dozen teams, with nearly 40 participants in total (one third of whom were women), in writing and producing textbooks.

Photo of authors and editors grouped together for a training session.

The support consists of following up on each phase of textbook development, from designing the textbook based on the teaching program to writing a sample lesson and developing the textbook, which includes ordering illustrations and other visual elements, producing mock-ups and so forth. Authors and publishers also receive guidance in evaluating their textbooks, notably to self-evaluate how they handled the transversal values regarding the equal representation of girls and boys, of cultural values, etc. At the same time, the publishers are trained on their role in producing a textbook, which includes supervising and guiding the writing teams. They need to be the link between the authors, illustrators, graphic designers and editors, and ensure the complementarity and quality of the work of each. Canadian publishing experts then coach them to help them understand their role and affirm their responsibility for the final product.

However, textbook production teams cannot be the only textbook professionals to receive training. Other professionals are involved in the process even though they do not necessary have the tools; small publishers in Mali are indeed still in the learning and development stages of skills development. This is why PAGE provided training to all the professionals in the sector, notably on the production phases and distribution of roles in the production of a textbook, planning the writing and editing process, considering the pedagogical aspects connected to a competency-based approach, integrating transversal values like equality between women and men and protecting the environment, result-oriented management, etc. This training may open the door of the profession to future authors, publishers, graphic designers, illustrators and so on.

All the training sessions were supervised by a team of Canadian experts in textbook writing, publishing management and graphic design, and training participants work together, complement each other’s skills and receive technical coordination from a project leader. The team coaches participants through final team projects from Malian textbook publishers (Asselar, Edis, Jamana and Manding), who have shown strong commitment to completing new textbooks.

Building the private book sector

In 2008, at the end of the Capacity Building for Stakeholders in the Textbook and Book Publishing Trades in Mali, we noted the need for Malian textbook and book publishers to adopt an organizational structure that would allow them to join their voices in defence of the profession, to represent member interests and to implement joint initiatives to benefit the industry. Although a Malian book publisher’s organization (OMEL) already existed, it was not active and did not seem able to represent all publishers. So in planning PAGE, the Canadian aid agency felt a strong, dynamic professional association to represent all Malian publishers would be a critical condition to developing Mali’s textbook industry.

Consequently, PAGE included important support for building OMEL’s capacities as a professional association. Right at the beginning of the project, the Canadian experts helped OMEL hold an annual general meeting of current and potential members and elect new members to its executive office. The meeting was an occasion to adopt OMEL’s new by-laws and articles, which were revised with assistance from the Canadian experts. PAGE then coached the OMEL executive through creating a strategic development plan and a business plan that identifies the organization’s income-generating activities.

Gradually, with support from the Canadian experts, OMEL is improving their representation of members and taking action to promote and defend the publishing profession. While OMEL only had 15 members at the 2014 general assembly, with only one paying member, it now has 19 members who have all paid the registration and membership fees. OMEL can now speak on behalf of the profession with confirmed legitimacy.

Several initiatives have increased the visibility of Malian publishers and defended the industry’s rights. With support from PAGE, OMEL created, and its members adopted, a professional publishers’ charter and code of ethics that details the actual roles and responsibilities of all those in the book-production chain, and lays out guidelines for professional publishing. The Charter for Professional Publishers was presented to the highest authorities and will be used to secure official recognition of the publishing trade in Mali.

With PAGE’s technical and financial support, OMEL organized a series of activities (slated to occur yearly) for the Malian book days on April 21 and 22, 2017, which coincide with International Book and Copyright Day. Activities of this type, for publishers, readers and governmental representatives from the Ministries of Education and Culture, had not taken place for many years. As originator of the event, OMEL claims its role as an indispensable leader in Mali’s book sector.

Also thanks to Canadian technical and financial support, OMEL has gradually acquired the tools to make their sector known. These include a study on the Malian book industry analyzing its issues and a directory of book professionals and textbook publishers. It also created and distributed a collective catalog of major productions by Malian textbook and children’s book publishers. The catalog was sent to a great number of potential clients, both institutional (particularly schools) and individual.

Another project initiative was a study trip to Quebec intended to help OMEL learn from the realities and advantages of another publishing industry and, above all, to help it forge strategic partnerships with professional institutions with similar or related goals. Five members of OMEL’s executive team met with many professionals from the book industry in Quebec and in French-speaking Canada, including representatives from the publishing and book associations (the Association nationale des éditeurs de livres, the Regroupement des éditeurs franco-canadiens, the l’Association des libraires du Québec, the Association des distributeurs exclusifs de langue française), publishing houses (Éditions Marie-France, Transcontinental), representatives from the Ministries of Education and Culture of Quebec, etc. Participants reported having had valuable discussions and will be able to use what they learned to improve OMEL’s programs and future action plans.

Improving textbook quality

Several experts confirm that the pedagogical and technical quality of textbooks in Mali have improved immensely since private publishers took over. This observation alone justifies the relevance of the Canadian aid for building the skills of Malian authors and publishers.

The training sessions and the coaching for textbook development has better equipped authors and publishers to transmit the values of equality and equity between girls and boys and to promote measures to protect the environment, via textbooks that feature Malian students and a value for their culture. An impact study in 2014 showed that “the textbooks reflect the country’s culture and are consistent with the teaching program. Free of sexist stereotypes, they contribute to changing the perception of feminine and masculine roles in Malian society” [translation].

Lastly, implementing the competency-based approach prescribed by the Malian educational system could only be effective when teachers had the textbooks to deliver and demystify it. Thanks to authors’ new skills, textbooks can now contribute to this shift and give teachers the tools to implement the competency-based approach successfully.


Many challenges have arisen in the projects to support Mali’s private textbook sector.

Unquestionably, the first significant challenge has to do with stabilizing and implementing the new curricula in the country. Doing so would resolve the dichotomy of having both the new and old programs in schools at the same time.

This challenge is linked to that of forming the next generation of professionals, especially for textbook authors. Most of the authors recruited by publishers were retired or were Ministry of Education officers who were close to retirement, and a retired teacher is not always the best person to usher in new teaching practices. They tend to be attached to the conventional methods they master and, especially, they are removed from children, whose tastes, activities and interests change quickly. Many young Malians have access to the Internet and are interested in all that is modern and trendy, at least within their peer group.

One of the challenges for textbook authors is to understand what goes on in young peoples’ minds and to suggest content that matches their interests.

Retired professionals may well remain active and provide a helpful contribution, but in the medium term, publishers needs to develop the skills of authors who can grow with the publishing house and become educational mentors in their field of expertise. Developing a young, dynamic succession is a must for publishers who want to offer textbooks that take a fresh approach to teaching methods and capturing young students’ interest.

The third challenge worth mentioning is the textbook industry’s need for continuing education. The private textbook industry is in its infancy, despite some publishing houses’ general experience. There are no authors in Mali with enough competency-based textbook writing experience to act as role model for others or to provide specialized training. There are also very few publishers, possibly none, with enough experience to teach their publishing colleagues how to supervise authors and manage production teams. As a result, when the PAGE project draws to an end, OMEL’s challenge will be to sustain a training program for textbook professionals. In the medium term, it is crucial to focus on developing a suitable mechanism for maintaining their acquired skills.

Gender equality

The training and coaching for textbook writing place specific emphasis on the issues of equality between women and men. The projects included specific training sessions on gender equality, and it is one of the criteria to monitor in textbook development and in publishing. The same is true for representing the cultural and environmental realities in Mali. Textbooks that are free of sexist stereotypes allow girls to believe in their full development potential. It is useful to remember that one of the first supports from Canada for textbooks in 1998 was to rewrite and republish the French textbooks in the Djoliba collection, particularly to remove the sexist stereotypes.

What’s more, the support projects to build the skills of book professionals in Mali helped gradually bring women into the industry. During the Djoliba project, there was only one woman (Ba Maïra Sow) among the authors, illustrators and publishers being trained. In the PAGE training relaunch workshop in 2017, nine of the 27 participants (33%) were women, which is a significant change in terms of increasing the involvement of women in the profession. One of the four teams that received the most support through the project was a team of three women working with the publisher EDIS, while one of the publishing houses (Asselar) is led by a woman and has mostly women authors on its team.

Among the publishers, three women followed the general training program. One of them, young publisher Mariame N’Diaye from Éditions AKAMA, asked for and received close assistance from the Canadian experts on some specific questions regarding managing her publishing house. Her interest in the profession allows us to believe that the next generation of professional publishers is now prepared.

Lessons learned

The main lessons learned from the assistance provided to the textbook and book industry in Mali are the following:

That is why it became clear that skill-building was just one aspect of strengthening the book sector, and that providing institutional support and guidance to a professional association was also necessary, given its role as a uniting force for publishing professionals.

Without moving from theory to practice, it is difficult to acquire the practical skills needed and to truly adopt the roles and responsibilities of developing textbooks. It is reassuring that PAGE’s training and coaching approaches and mechanisms fit perfectly with these objectives.


We would like to sincerely thank the following for their assistance in creating this impact story:

The Impact Stories series of Canadian aid in Mali was produced by the Field Support Services Project (FSSP) and with cooperation from those mentioned above.

Rue Sotuba/ACI, rond-point de l’ancienne chaussée
Bamako, Mali
Tel.: +223 44 90 44 45
Note: The FSSP received funding from the Government of Canada.

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