Track N Trace: Enhancing Book Supply Chain Systems

Despite investing decades of funding for books in low-income countries, many early-grade classrooms have insufficient learning resources to meet the needs of students. Textbooks and materials can go astray at any stage in the delivery process. Government and donor agency officials may discover that materials have not arrived at schools, but without the availability of tracking information, they do not know where they were lost in transit. Our experience in developing countries suggests that when parents, teachers, and other local stakeholders know what books are to be delivered and when, they will advocate for on-time delivery.

In 2015, John Snow, Inc. (JSI) and World Education were awarded an All Children’s Reading Grand Challenge grant to create Track and Trace, a technological solution that improves the community’s visibility into the location of textbooks and other teaching materials during the distribution process. This has empowered parents and teachers with the information needed to advocate for improved supply chain performance.

In 2016, a prototype of the Track and Trace tool was created and tested in two Malawi schools in collaboration with World Vision, USAID, and the Malawi Ministry of Education. The field test demonstrated the usability of the system and received positive feedback from schools and the community.

The pilot in Malawi developed a smartphone application with a short message system (SMS) and interactive voice response, both of which helped the app’s users track where their delivery was. Track and Trace also provided the distributors with barcodes and web-based dashboards with maps so that government officials and school administrators could receive alerts when a delivery was delayed or an item was missing.

The tool assists the process of delivering supplies in three main ways:

  1. Tracks the delivery process
  2. Confirms the arrival and availability of the supplies
  3. Engages the school community to ensure the books arrive

After the pilot in two schools in Malawi, World Education and JSI collaborated to scale and enhance the tool in a new market: Cambodia. In July 2017, JSI and World Education were tasked with expanding Track and Trace to 400 schools in Cambodia with new features to allow schools to request books and school support committees to conduct classroom spot checks using chatbots rather than SMS.


Warehouse in Cambodia packing books to deliver to schools.

When designing for Cambodia, World Education drew on its 25+ year partnership with the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport (MoEYS). To be successful, the team had to ensure that the technology was used to simplify and streamline processes so users felt the benefits of technology and not additional burden. The strong relationship with the MoEYS meant the team was able to work side-by-side to accurately map the current process of book ordering and distribution and design a tool that would streamline tasks and complements current distribution processes. The process was highly collaborative and based on intensive needs and feasibility assessments at school, district and ministry levels.

A school director in Cambodia uses the Track and Trace tool to put in a textbook procurement order for the next school year using his phone.

School Directors like Mr. Bunsot are now able to order textbooks for students and track their delivery with greater ease and efficiency.

“The Track and Trace tool is very useful and easier than using the paper method to order,” says Mr. Bunsot. 

School Directors engage with the TnT Chatbot during the book request process in Cambodia.

The Track and Trace project is bringing transparency and efficiency to education supply chains. From Cambodia to Malawi, this digital tool has the ability to enable governments, publishing agencies and schools all around the world to collect real-time data on supplies and better manage procurement process, eliminating wasted resources and ensuring that students have materials to learn. 

As Sarah Andersson, JSI’s senior technical advisor, explains:

“Our hope is that the work we have done in Malawi and Cambodia could be used to benefit other countries and programs. Textbooks and reading materials are critical to ensuring quality education and this is a simple tool that can help shine a light and make sure books are making it. We believe we have developed a good process and prototype that is not specific to the software and can be applied to other technologies.”

Track and Trace could be used for tracking many commodities across a range of sectors, such as healthcare, agriculture, and relief aid programs where tracking supplies to the last mile are critical. With their combined expertise, JSI and World Education aim to enhance supply chain efficiency and strengthen the performance of procurement and distribution systems.