SC State lends hand to Zanzibar

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Project creates books for schools in need in sub-Saharan Africa

High school biology students on the East African island of Zanzibar no longer will have to share textbooks after South Carolina State University officials deliver 165,000 of them early next month.

And that's just the beginning of the good news for science students.

The university will produce 10 different science textbooks, along with other educational materials, that it will deliver to the students on the semiautonomous island in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Tanzania. The project is funded with $5 million from the U.S. Agency for International Development's Textbooks and Learning Materials Program. The program pairs historically black American colleges and universities with education leaders in sub-Saharan African countries to produce textbooks that meet the countries' literacy needs.

Leonard McIntyre, the university's interim president, has been the director of the project since it was launched in 2005.

"The project offers great benefits for (S.C. State) faculty and students, and it has given us international recognition," he said.

Freeman Daniels, a USAID field liaison who is working with S.C. State on the project, said the agency is now working with six universities. The project's primary objective, he said, is to get books in the hands of students who otherwise wouldn't have them.

"In many areas in Africa," he said, "there may be only one book in a classroom and the teacher guards it with her life."

McIntyre and several others from S.C. State who worked on the first two biology textbooks will leave for Zanzibar next week to present the books to Zanzibar's President Amani Karume at an independence ceremony Jan. 7.

Many other dignitaries and education leaders will attend the event, McIntyre said.

The group that's developing the books faces some challenges, McIntyre said.

Elementary school students in Zanzibar are taught in a dialect of Swahili, he said, but the schools switch to English instruction in the upper grades.

The textbooks have to be written in the most basic English possible while maintaining the rigor of the science material, he said.

The books must also be "culturally sensitive and culturally relevant," he said.

For instance, he said, the island produces spices, so the authors included references to various spices in the books when they could. And they selected a photograph of the red colobus, a monkey native to the island, for the cover of one of the biology texts.

The project gave S.C. State a chance to offer service to students in Africa, McIntyre said. And it will also help the university.

The grants will bring $400,000 to $500,000 to the university for indirect costs associated with the project. And if other countries purchase books, the university will receive royalties of 5 percent, he said.

By Diane Knich | The Post and Courier