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In Mali: giving textbooks new life

Photo of Kadiatou, a trainee at the Sebekoro teaching centre, concentrating on her repair work.

In order to have a sufficient number of textbooks, 33% would need to be replaced every year. This is a costly goal and is beyond the financial capabilities of most African countries.

Project background

After observing the textbook situation in Djibouti, a Canadian community college proposed the idea of creating a process to repair textbooks in Mali. The professional and technical school, the Collègecommunautaire du Nouveau-Brunswick (CCNB), conducted a study in 2000 for the World Bank.The results revealed that while there were no textbooks in students’ desks, a messy pile of unusable textbooks filled a corner of the classroom. At that time in New Brunswick, textbooks were being repaired in a shop staffed mainly by disadvantaged workers, particularly those with physical disabilities. An idea took root: skill-building through textbook repair.

Canadian aid had just begun a project to develop the Malian textbook industry. Focusing on building the skills of textbook authors and supplying books for basic schooling, the project’s goal was to give Malian students access to these tools that are essential to their development.

Textbooks are handled extensively and can fall apart quickly. Many studies showed that the average life of a textbook in Africa is three years, and even fewer in the lower grades. Such deterioration lessens the impact of recurrent investments for purchasing textbooks, so it was urgent for the Malian and Canadian governments to develop strategies to extend the life of textbooks.

These observations prompted ripe conditions for implementing a development project to teach textbook repair skills. With guidance from the CCNB, the project was first carried out as a pilot project in the Kayes region from 2005 to 2008.The Kayes region was singled out based on the skills learned in a past project supported by Canada through Fondation Paul-Gérin-Lajoie, which was involved in decentralizing school management.As a result of the pilot project, the textbook repair service was expanded throughout the country (2010 to 2018), to the great benefit of Malian students and teachers.

Canadian involvement

Textbook repair logo: Réparation de manuels scolaires

First and foremost, the Capacity Building for the Repair and Management of Textbooks (CBRMT) project was based on a three-way partnership between Canada, which provided the funding; Mali, which provided the human resources to manage the repair service; and the CCNB, which coached participants based on its expertise and know-how.

Canadian aid initially provided Can$1 million to fund the textbook repair pilot project in the Kayes region, from 2005 to 2008. Canada contributed the funding directly to the Government of Mali, which asked the CCNB to be the technical partner in the project. Given the project’s conclusive results and Mali’s request to continue the project, Canada provided another Can$8.5 million in 2010 to fund the expansion of the textbook repair project to the rest of the country, until 2018.

Through the Ministry of Education (ministère de l’Éducationnationale [MEN]), the Malian government contributed significantly to the project’s implementation. However, the funding to develop the skills of textbook repair workers does not in itself guarantee the project’s success or longevity. The textbook repair service relies on the schools having credits to use it. The MEN clearly understood the need to fund the repair process, so it announced in 2011 that it would address the associated funding risk by setting aside a budget of $100 million CFA francs for textbook repair in the regions of Kayes and Koulikoro. The budget was intended to cover the needs for 2011. After that, a permanent budget line for textbook repair allowed the MEN to help implement the service in all of Mali’s regions. By including this budget in the country’s law on finances, Mali demonstrated not only its support for the program, but also its commitment to fund it to continue improving access to textbooks. The MEN allocated $409 million CFA francs to the 2018 textbook repair program budget.

Through its centralized and decentralized structures, the MEN also significantly helped implement the process. At the beginning of the initiative, skill-building in textbook repair resembled a conventional aid project. Gradually, as the project pilot was expanded, the “Canadian” project became a Malian program, led by Malians and rooted in the MEN action plans. So the Canadian trainers (who coached the repair people during the pilot project) taught Malian trainers selected from the pool of textbook repair workers, who then took over the training aspect. The MEN officers, particularly those from the Textbook and Pedagogical Material Division, gradually took on managing and supervising operations, and are now prepared to continue the process beyond the project. Directors from teaching academies, like N’GoloKonaté, for example, who was the director of the teaching academy in Kayes during the pilot project, saw it as a personal responsibility to convince their regional partners of the importance of repairing textbooks, thus ensuring their support for the service and their contributions to implementing the repair program. N’GoloKonaté was not the only one; the officers working for the MEN’s decentralized structures have become fully involved in monitoring the program in their jurisdiction.

As the project’s operating partner and originator, the CCNB contributed significantly to the project’s success by providing the technical resources needed to implement the project; people to design the training programs and work tools; the specialized Malian repair workers and trainers; the training in results-focused management, the competency-based approach, leadership and so forth. Above all, the CCNB helped create a rigorous and inclusive work culture based on monitoring results, planning its withdrawal and transferring control to the Malian partners.

Involvement of other partners

The CBRMT project also benefited from many other direct and indirect contributions enabling it to meet the critical conditions for implementing a lasting repair system.

From the beginning of the pilot project in 2011, funding textbook repair was a crucial issue. Given that the textbook supply was under the central MEN’s jurisdiction, the schools did not have any credit source to fund repairs. This is when the World Bank became an indirect partner of textbook repair. It made funds available to schools to pay for small material needs through the Direct Support to Improve School Results (Appui direct à l’amélioration des rendementsscolaires[ADARS]). Thanks to dialog between the partners, it was admitted that 10% of the ADARS funds were going to textbook repair, which helped the appropriation process continue.

Working together from 2013 to 2015, three partners,MEN, Canada and UNICEF, developed a communication strategy to extend the life of textbooks. It relied on changing the behaviour of school principals; teachers; and school steering, parent and student committees toward maintaining and preserving textbooks. Public and private radio stations broadcast messages in the country’s 11 languages, in the towns in all Mali’s regions.

Several school partners also became actively involved in implementing the textbook repair program. Right from the start, the school steering committees joined the service and integrated it into their financial plan for managing their school. Individuals involved in educating girls played a big role in informing women about the trade of repair worker, which substantially boosted recruitment.

Communities also had a part in making the service viable. Several towns were early believers of its relevance and funded repairs through equity in the schools in their jurisdiction. The town of Yélimané, for example, not only funded 50% of the textbook repairs, it also sought the services of a textbook repair worker to bind the communal archives, thus broadening its operation.

Lastly, if the repair workers were able to continue working during the social crisis following the coup d’état in 2012 (which suspended all external aid), it was because of civil society, which kept requesting their services to repair Korans, dictionaries and other printed works. It became clear that book repair could include much more than textbooks.


The results proved the initiative to be entirely justified. Namely, the project helped set up a network of textbook repair workers, improved access to textbooks by giving damaged books new life and cut the cost of textbooks for families and the government. The process relies on recruiting repair workers to offer their services to schools in every region in the country. These candidates are recruited from the hardest-to-employ groups: women and youth, who are self-employed workers who must start and manage their microbusinesses.

A committee of representatives from the decentralized education structures recruited the workers using specific criteria: age (18 to 35 years old), education (basic studies diploma or equivalent), familiarity with the field, etc. Once recruited, the repair workers are trained by project coaches in textbook and book repair techniques, as well as in managing an income-generating business. They receive guidance in business management, from offering their service to accounting. This includes their work in the network of formal jobs, which, for all goods and service providers, is a condition to receiving public funds.

Over the past decade, a large number of repair workers have been recruited and trained, thus adding to the number of newly created jobs.

Between 2006 and 2017, 343 repair workers were trained through the project and are now able to work in a trade that will help them improve their and their family’s quality of life. Interestingly, at the beginning of the pilot project, women repair workers were only 18% of the group. By the end, there were 43% women throughout the country. The number of women in the training program increased over time due to the information provided by women’s associations during the recruitment campaigns.

Some repair workers excelled at their new trade, mastering both technical repair and marketing. Given their remarkable skill in sharing their know-how, four repair workers have gone on to become trainers. Starting in 2014, all the training sessions have been provided by Malian coaches selected from the pool of practicing repair workers.

Photo of Kadiatou, a trainee at the Sebekoro teaching centre, concentrating on her repair work.

Placing repair workers across the country does not in itself guarantee that the trade will be recognized after the project. This is why effort was put into fostering interaction between the repair communities to encourage them to start regional, and eventually national, repair worker associations to defend the profession before the authorities. To this end, bridges were built with trades associations, so that textbook repair would be fully recognized as a formal employment activity that serves mainly educational establishments.

In order to have a sufficient number of textbooks, 33% would need to be replaced every year. This is a costly goal and is beyond the financial capabilities of most African countries.

Photo of a batch of damaged textbooks

The actual textbook repairs began slowly. Thanks to awareness-raising among education stakeholders, the repair workers’ quality work, which doubled the life of the textbooks, and customer satisfaction, the number of textbooks submitted for repair grew over time. Since 2011, with help from the Malian government, the number of repaired textbooks has risen appreciably and the repair service is offered to all levels of schools, to private schools and even to individuals for their own printed materials.

Photo of a batch of repaired textbooks

Between 2006 and 2017, when the project ended, approximately 1.6 million textbooks and library books were repaired at a dollar value of approximately 800 million CFA francs (Can$1.8 million). This amount has clearly risen in more recent years given the growing number of repair workers. We now believe it will be possible to repair approximately 1.2 million textbooks per year. Working at this rate will also enable more than 300 repair workers to rely entirely on their trade and develop mechanisms to introduce other unemployed youth to the field as successors in the profession.

Lower costs

One of the initiative’s greatest advantages is that it quickly provides tangible, measurable results. When we consider that replacing a damaged textbook would cost about 4,000 CFA francs (Can$9), while repairing it would cost 500 CFA francs (Can$1.15), the return on investment is huge, especially since a repaired textbook typically lasts even longer than a new textbook. Considering 1.6 million textbooks were repaired between 2006 and 2017, costing nearly 6.4 billion CFA francs (Can$15 million), the Malian government saved 5.6 billion CFA francs (Can$13 million). The government will continue saving billions of francs and will increase its ability to ensure access to enough textbooks to provide a good education. The textbook repair service does more with less and has a major impact on public finances.

Besides creating jobs and savings for the government, the textbook repair service has also led to other outcomes, some of which were not expected at the start of the project. At the beginning, some people believed failure was inevitable since the system relied on self-employed people offering payable repair services to educational establishments. The experience proved the opposite.

The repair service offer is one of the rare long-standing public-private partnerships in the education system. The repair workers are not the MEN employees, but they work for education. This creates a double challenge. On the one hand, they have to be encouraged to prefer the self-employed status over that of employee and live with the resulting advantages and disadvantages. On the other, the MEN employees (centralized and decentralized) must respect the repair workers’ independence and autonomy, and their right to make income from their work and pay for the services the workers provide. This may seem obvious, but it was not.

Over the years, the parties have become comfortable with the conditions of their partnership, which at first were strange to them, and have come to believe in the benefits of this innovative system.

The conclusive results from implementing a textbook repair system based on a daring, innovative strategy are now the pride of the entire Malian education system and the repair workers. They constitute a key Canadian aid contribution to the education sector.

A new trade

A group of repair workers from Kayes (2015) pose for a photo after receiving their training certificates.

We do not have the occasion to create a new trade every day. Most sectors cannot offer new solutions to old, recurrent problems. And yet that was what happened with the textbook repair project the CCNB designed specifically for Mali.

Its goal was not to stimulate work that would bring in sporadic income, but to create a veritable trade corps with legal recognition. To do so, several tools were needed to help the trade persist after the end of the Canadian aid and to document every step of implementing the process and training the repair workers so it would be easy and natural for the Malian professionals to take the reins. All the elements are in place for the trade to continue.

Implementing a textbook repair program was also a great challenge for the centralized and decentralized structures of the MEN, which it surmounted with everyone’s help under the leadership of the Textbook and Educational Material Division. The situation stemming from the 2012 crisis led the CCNB to decide to transfer responsibility to the MEN and train officers in the Textbook and Pedagogical Material Division. These latter took on responsibility of follow-up and were guided through a gradual transition to manage the project.

The initiative quickly became a model for transferring control to Malian partners. The textbook repair program’s impact on institutions could be felt most at the decentralized level. Starting with the pilot project, it was noticed that the functioning of the textbook repair program required the partners to work together in a whole new way. The teaching academies, education centres, schools, school steering committees and even the towns worked together to find the funding for the program. The towns will manage the credits associated with textbook repair, accentuating the cooperation between education structures. Managing the textbooks is often the first concrete application of the decentralization of education management and, more specifically, decentralized textbook management.

Image of a textbook cover offered to students by the repair workers.

The involvement of so many groups sparked the shared realization of the value of textbooks, their importance to a good education and the necessity of keeping them in good condition. The enthusiastic and generous response of some towns demonstrated the success of this awareness-raising strategy.

In some regions, during the first visit to a school, repair workers brought students a selection of papers to be used to cover textbooks. The covers included messages explaining what the “enemies” of books are and showing how to best preserve the textbook. With these tools, the students were directly involved with caring for their textbook through specific and fun actions.

A major impact

Thanks to the CBRMT project, more than 320 unemployed individuals became self-employed workers. This radical shift was a difficult challenge, but one they can be proud of having faced with determination. They now have a rewarding, paying job that helps them and their family live a dignified life in their communities.

A quick calculation based solely on the budget line granted by the Ministry of Education for 2018 (409 million CFA francs) shows that the average income of repair workers is not far from that of teachers, even considering that they provide their own supplies. Their potential income may also come from other funding sources. It has become evident that the entrepreneurial aspect of the project has played a major role in keeping the repair service going. During periods when no budget was available from the education system, the repair workers themselves worked to unblock the funding, which the schools also benefited from. This was not limited to remote communities. Some repair workers also showed exceptional initiative in developing the market for their services. For example, some workers successfully solicited local private companies to help pay for repairing textbooks in their community’s schools. One repair worker from Bafoulabé even went to Guinea to offer his services and come back surprised by the vast need and thrilled with the reception he got.

Photo of two repair workers from Sanankoroba at work. Aminata Bagayoko (left) and Cheick Oumar Traoré (right), who is also a trainer.

At the beginning of the pilot project, the repair workers had a hard time getting the supplies they needed (string, glue, covering paper, etc.). Those living in Kayes had to ask a family member to get the supplies in Bamako, an expensive and exhausting trip. But local suppliers quickly became interested in their work, listened to their needs and took steps to make the necessary products available throughout Mali, which led to a parallel regional economic development alongside textbook repair.

The repair workers developed strategies to expand their client base and the range of services they offered. They bound administrative documents and repaired archival documents. They also offered their services to other educational institutions (high schools, private schools, madrasas, technical teaching schools, libraries, etc.). As well as repairing textbooks, several workers expanded their activities to creating notepads and sketchbooks, illustrated with art that appeals to young people, and sold them on the school market.

An initiative to replicate

Mali’s skill-building program for textbook repair is new and original. It does not exist anywhere else. But its results caught the attention of neighbouring countries, like Senegal. Based on cooperation between the project’s partners and the Senegalese government, a contribution agreement was recently signed by the CCNB and Global Affairs Canada to bring the Malian project to Senegal. The Textbook Preservation Project (Projet pour la Préservation des manuelsscolaires [PREMAS]) is now in its early stages as a pilot project in Senegal’s Kaolack and Thiès regions.

Yet Mali’s input is not limited to exporting an idea. Senegal was able to benefit from the many lessons Mali has learned in the process and use a host of training and monitoring tools that can be adapted to the Senegalese reality.

But Mali’s most interesting contribution is that its coaches will train the Senegalese repair workers in during the pilot project. The textbook repair program has led to a South-South aid project that will serve as both a lesson and a model for other partnerships.

Challenges encountered

Implementing the textbook repair program was not easy; there were a number of problems that required constantly adjusting the intervention strategy. There are a certain number of prerequisites to smoothly implement a textbook repair process so that it runs well. Yet, for many reasons, some of these critical conditions were not achieved.

The first challenge of securing funding for textbook repair was resolved during the project. While this guarantee was threatened during the crisis following the events of 2012, the funding provided through the national budget is now a given, yet it must be protected for the program to continue. For 2018, the MEN committed to grant the program 409 million CFA francs. A stable budget line and confirmation of automatic annual credit renewal will make the funding more predictable.

The government’s commitment to decentralizing the management of education is also a significant prerequisite. Despite adopting a textbook and pedagogical material policy that assumes the decentralization of credits for textbooks and textbook management, no progress has been noted. Consequently, schools (the main clients for textbook repair) do not manage the creditsto allow them to have textbooks repaired and therefore do not have the power to make these decisions. Delays in decentralizing textbook management have been a serious challenge for the project and significant effort was required to mobilize the schools’ partners to reduce the effects.

Lastly, another challenge is related to standardizing the amount given to the towns regardless of their size. Although the credits should have been granted based on the number of students, the same amount was given everywhere and thus created inequity.

Gender equality

Photo of Andilla Fall, a repair worker from Tessalit, proudly receiving her training certificate.

At the start of the project, it was not clear that women would be attracted to the textbook repair trade. While recruiting the first group in the Kayes region in 2006, very few people applied to the project, and only 2 women were selected among the 11 trainees. It would seem that since textbook repair was manual and required handling tools, it was considered to be a “job for men.”

Yet textbook repair quickly became an intriguing job: the fast, visible results were surprising. Many visitors, both male and female, stopped by the workshops and quickly noticed that textbook repair work could easily be done by women as well.

Throughout the project, through close collaboration between girls’ education and local women’s associations, awareness was raised among unemployed women to stir their interest in the trade. The impact was stupendous! From year to year and from one regional campaign to another, the number of women applicants grew considerably. During the recruitment phase in the Ségou region in 2016, 67% of the repair workers were women. In all of Mali, there are 149 women and 194 men, making women 43% of the total. These 149 women are now independent earners and can start their own company.

Lessons learned

Every difficulty required a search forresolution. It is clear that for a project setting out to invent a new trade and offer a service that does not exist elsewhere, in a country as large as Mali, which has experienced periods of instability and insecurity, the lessons learned were many.

The 2012 coup d’état and the subsequent political and economic turmoil meant certain work methods were questioned. Even if the idea had already been under study for some time, the crisis sparked a move from a project management approach to a partnership-based coaching culture with the Malian Ministry of Education. Since it was impossible for the Canadian experts to travel to Mali, measures were taken by the CCNB to give Malian resources responsibility for the project and to give more control to the MEN’s Textbook and Pedagogical Material Division. Gradually, the project was seen less as a Canadian project and more as a Malian program. This change was a significant contributor to the program’s success.

The other major lesson came through the private nature of the textbook repair profession. The crisis showed that at a time when public institutions were sluggish, the repair workers were working hard to keep their jobs, despite the nearly generalized lack of monies. Had they been employed by the government, they would most likely have been engulfed by the general slow-down and would not have made the effort to develop other markets to keep up their work volume at a certain level. Textbook repair was able to make it through the 2012 crisis because of the repair workers’ entrepreneurial spirit and efforts to maintain the independence of their profession.

At the end of the CBRMT project, textbook repair was completely integrated as a regular program in the Malian education system. At the same time, the Malian government was charged with ensuring its sustainability.

The first condition to ensure its continuation is to maintain access to textbooks in schools; there need to be textbooks to repair. Yet, despite the lack of formal statistics, people on the ground have noted a regular, progressive reduction in the number of textbooks in classrooms, which may threaten the viability of the textbook repair trade.

The second condition is to have available funds. As a first step, the Ministry of Education has the duty to keep the dedicated budget line while waiting to finish the process of decentralizing textbook supply and management, which will definitively give communities the power to manage the associated credits.

For the rest, experience has shown that once these conditions are met, the repair workers will take care of continuously providing a high-quality service. There is no longer a need to demonstrate the relevance of textbook repair. Malian school administrators understand that it considerably extends the life of the textbooks by giving them a second life, improves access to textbooks and boosts the quality of education.

Thanks to Canada’s financial contribution and the technical guidance from the CCNB, Mali now serves as a model for its African neighbours.


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 in collaborationwith the above-mentioned stakeholders.

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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