State Prints Tanzanian Texts as Schools Struggle

January 20, 2010

Investigative Reports

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The NerveAt Batesburg Leesville High School, assistant principal Ross Kerry makes do with textbooks of varying quality.

“We have some in that aren’t in particularly good shape, but because of the budget situation, I’m just putting them back together, rather than trying to get new books,” he said. “As long as the insides are OK, I’m willing to fix up the outsides so that we can keep using them.”

Ironically, an hour down US Route 178, S.C. State University is being paid millions of dollars by the U.S. government to produce high school textbooks – millions of high school textbooks.

But unfortunately for Kerry and administrators at other schools around South Carolina, those textbooks are headed overseas, more than 8,000 miles away, to the African nation of Tanzania.

Last September it was announced that S.C. State had landed the largest grant award in the school’s history, $13 million from the federal government to develop and produce textbooks for students in Tanzania.

S.C. State will use the money over the next three years to produce 2.5 million secondary science and math textbooks and other learning materials for schools in Tanzania.

The grant marks the second phase of the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Textbooks and Learning Materials Program. The university was awarded $5.5 million for the first phase, in which it produced more than 1 million textbooks and learning materials for secondary students in Zanzibar, a semi-autonomous island nation off the coast of Tanzania, last year.

While there’s no doubt that other parts of the world suffer from a lack of educational materials, something seems amiss when U.S. tax dollars are being used to fund the production of textbooks at a state-funded institution for students 8,000 miles away when there are schools in our own state – which ranks 47th in the nation in SAT scores – that could use new materials.

“We’ve definitely got some books that are on the ragged side,” said Cliff Warren, principal of Colleton County High School, 55 miles south of S.C. State. “We’ve got books that should have been replaced several years ago.”

Officials with neither S.C. State University nor the U.S. Agency for International Development would talk to The Nerve for this story.

However, S.C. State administrators have been singing the program’s praises in media reports and press releases.

“For me, it was personal,” interim S.C. State Vice President Leonard McIntyre told The State. “I had always dreamed of making a contribution to the motherland.”

McIntyre led S.C. State’s efforts to participate in the program, which was created during the Clinton administration to get books and other learning materials to African nations.

A glance at the performance of high schools in the Orangeburg area underscores how such a contribution could be used closer to home.

Not one of the high schools in the three different Orangeburg school districts managed to beat the average composite score for South Carolina public school seniors on the 2009 SAT, which was 1,445. At Hunter-Kinard-Tyler High School, the average composite score was 1,125 while at Orangeburg Wilkinson, one of the state’s largest high schools, the average was 1,261.

The closest any school in the Orangeburg area came to the national average of 1,493 was Lake Marion High School, which registered an average SAT composite score of 1,347 but had just 13 students take the test.