Zebra Publishing: An unsung education pillar and partner

AS Namibia celebrated the global Education for All Week from the 18th to the 24th July, 2010 it was apparent that efforts are being made to achieve the second United Nations Millennium Development Goals that states that “universal primary education for all by 2015.”

But according to the Minister of Education, Dr Abraham Iyambo a lot still needs to be done to revamp Namibia’s ailing education system. Dr Iyambo is of the opinion that Government cannot tackle this problem alone and therefore needs development partners such as parents, the business community and others to assist.

The minister noted recently that “in order for Namibian education to improve, we must first tackle the root of the problem at pre-primary, followed by primary school level before looking at the secondary and tertiary institutions.”

It is with this in mind that Zebra Publishing (Pty) Ltd views its role not just as a business, but government partner in efforts to improve the quality of education through the provision of books and academic material throughout the country.

Ever since Zebra Publishing was launched in Namibia in 2002, the company has contributed immensely to the development of education in the country.

Zebra Publishing (Pty) Ltd’s core business is the publication of academic books for primary and secondary schools.

It is headquartered in Windhoek West and all books published under Zebra Publishing are available at Zebra Publishing’s Excellent Bookshops at the moment situated in Oshakati and Rundu. The products are also available at other local bookshops in different towns, Windhoek included.

Plans are also underway to spread its reach to many corners of the country by setting up sub-premises or agents. It is partly famous for its Excellent Books series first published in 2003, a historical series which has become a household name in schools and homes

Everyday Zebra books and learning tools help learners and teachers to grow their knowledge, develop their skills which help learners to pass with excellent results.

The company is underpinned by values of excellence, quality, learner and customer-centeredness. Their service is driven by professionalism and integrity.

“Zebra Publishing aims to be a leading regional educational books provider, recognized for operational excellence, customer service and its commitment to education; the choice for long-term growth, investment value and financial strength; and a company driven by the leadership, skills, diversity and character of its employees,” says Nevison Mutasa the company’s founder and Managing Director.

Through the motto “Excellent Books, Excellent Results”, Zebra strives to produce textbooks that are concurrent with the current syllabus in schools as approved by the Ministry of Education and National Institute for Education Development (NIED). The company is also in good liaison with the regional education offices, booksellers and other partners to ensure that there is an even distribution of their textbooks and other educational materials.

Two main product lines are on the market and these are the Excellent and the Discovering & New Series.

Excellent Books are revision guides that are considered as getaway to excellent results with five strong components.

They are designed to make learning and teaching fun which helps learners to understand without much difficulty.

Excellent books contain all the facts learners need to get excellent results in their grades with a comprehensive summary of well written notes for each and every chapter covering the whole syllabus. These well briefed notes are supported by well labelled and clear diagrams. The series also contain multiple-choice questions and structured questions at the end of each chapter that help learners to assess their understanding.

The greatest advantage of Excellent Books is that each series contains two or three practice examination papers and detailed answers for each chapter and examination questions. Excellent Books also enable the teachers and learners to identify strengths and weaknesses and have proven the best for exam preparation.

“Discovering & New Series are a key component in all the subjects. They provide the basis for the content of the lessons, the balance of skills taught and the kinds of practice the students take part in. In other situations, these textbooks serve primarily to supplement the teacher’s instructions. For learners the textbooks provide the major source of contact they have with the subject apart from input provided by the teacher,” Mutasa further adds.

He argues that by covering 100% of the syllabus, Discovering & New Series ensure that the students in different classes receive similar content and therefore can be tested in the same way.

The series is well developed so learners are exposed to materials that have been tried and tested; they are also based on sound learning principles, and are paced appropriately. The New Series also saves teachers’ time, enabling teachers to devote time to teaching rather than material’s production plus when learners go through them they understand without much difficulty as the notes are well explained with examples and supported by diagrams.

“With the new Teachers Guide, currently under production, the inexperienced teachers will use it as part of their initial teacher training programme”.

The Series contains activities which help learners to discuss in groups and share ideas. They also contain questions to test the understanding of the learners.”

One of the key concepts of developing educational material at Zebra according to Mutasa is the principle of “learning by doing.”

Under this concept, he says, learners can understand better when taking part in the learning process as active participants. This can be better achieved because the textbooks are designed in such a way that they are learner-centred and full of practicals, projects, discussions and fieldwork activities.

The second principle is engaging the “law of practice” where the learners have an opportunity to engage in self-assessment with or without the assistance of the teacher. The third principle involves the context of learning, where the environment prescribes the outcome of a learning situation.

“When presenting these learning situations whether they are urban, rural or any other, the children have to take into account cultural and cross-cultural issues such as HIV/Aids, gender issues, human rights and most importantly technology (ICT) so that they can be at least aware of what’s going on around them.”

Zebra Publishing Marketing Manager Frank Sibanda, says some of the challenges that the company faces in the publishing industry includes the relatively small population within some minority languages such as Setswana, the San and others that cannot readily be absorbed into the mainstream syllabus. The other, he said, is funding of the books, but this situation is improving with funding from the Education and Training Sector Improvement Program (ETSIP) and the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) Education & Training Sector Improvement Programme.

The company has grown from just having two titles under its wings in 2003 to just over 12 books in 2006. However, with continuous engagement of book and module writers from Namibia and Zimbabwe over the years, the company now boast of over 100 titles. It employs more than 10 people on a full time basis and over 50 writers, artists, editors and typesetters from Namibia and countries who are experienced in their chosen subject matter.

“We have had tremendous successes in Entrepreneurship Education, a new subject that was introduced by the Ministry of Education three years ago. The success was due to our understanding with the MED’s vision that the country has to produce entrepreneurs rather than just job seekers after finishing school. In addition to the three entrepreneurship books for Grades 8, 9 and 10 respectively, we have also produced 10 exciting comic books for pre-schools and 16 information booklets and a board game to assist teachers and learners understand their subject better,” Mutasa says.

According to the Managing Director, the company’s success lies in the fact that most of the books were produced in the area of science that the he himself is well vested in.

Mutasa is an educationist of more than 30 years’ experience, with 20 of those in science education.

Born in Zimbabwe in 1954, Mutasa initially trained as a secondary school science teacher before enrolling for a Bachelors in Education (Hons) at Bristol University (UK), followed by a Masters in Education (Leeds University) in the ‘80s.

He has worked in secondary schools and tertiary institutions in the UK, Botswana and Zimbabwe. He also worked in curriculum development for the Ministry of Education in Zimbabwe and for Nottingham Country Council in the UK.

His experience in publishing started in 1995 when he was the Publishing Director for Tasalls Publishing in Botswana, a company he co-founded with Gary Wells. In 2002 he registered Zebra Publishing (Pty) Ltd in Namibia and has been the MD since then.

Mutasa is also an academic writer with 10 educational books published so far. He is also a writer of fiction, with two (2) novels published and a series of short stories and poems.

Of late he has led Zebra into new avenues of social responsibility. Zebra Publishing now gives back to the community through various activities such as helping children from disadvantaged communities in various regions with school books and other school needs.

Company representatives are often invited to prize-giving days at various schools where learners with outstanding results are rewarded.

“We also give donations to hospital wards where sick children can read our books and develop the reading culture. This will also keep them up to date with information which they will be missing during the time they are in hospitals as well as reducing boredom,” Sibanda added.

Recently, Zebra donated books worth N$9 000.00 to Windhoek Central and Katutura Hospitals and N$11 500.00 to Oshakati State Hospital. Zebra Publishing also sponsors a Secondary School Quiz Competition where thousands of dollars’ worth of textbooks and prizes are given out to the winning schools and individual learners.PF