Reading the riot act on donating books abroad
I read with interest the article on schools sending out their old books to the Caribbean ("Ahoy! Old books set sail for Jamaica", 12 December). The container included "a reading scheme to see one class all the way through primary". However, no mention was made of whether the reading scheme was linked to the Jamaican education system or whether the content of the books was culturally appropriate.
I have just returned from visiting primary and secondary schools in Malawi where we are starting libraries to help children develop a love of reading. One secondary school library was full of old geography and maths books, untouched by any young person but making the shelves look full. At an orphanage the library was crammed with ancient books sent by well-meaning donors who didn't need them any more. The children told us they didn't use the books because they weren't "very interesting".
We work hard in Scotland to choose books for our children that will keep them interested, making sure they will understand and relate to the stories so they want to read and learn more. Why do we think that our unwanted, out-of-date books would interest children who are culturally so different?
I spent months researching a reading scheme that Malawian children would be able to relate to. In an education system with few books and a society where the priority is ensuring your child is fed rather then well-read this was no easy task. I have settled on a reading scheme from South Africa, written for children acquiring English as an additional language. The children tell us they enjoy the stories, which they can relate to and understand and which have illustrations of children who live similar lives.
We buy the books from Anglia Books based in Blantyre, Malawi. Using a local company means we are building relationships locally, contributing to the economy and supporting local employment. It also means we are not wasting money paying for transportation halfway round the world.
So please, before your school packs up its old rubbish and sends it out in a container to a far-away country, imagine you are a teacher there. Is it worth sending those books or is there something more purposeful you could do to improve children's education?
Executive director of education, Glasgow City Council
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