Timely printing of school textbooks for the next academic year has become uncertain for different reasons including a delay in the supply of papers and a re-tendering process.
The government will distribute around 35.21 crore textbooks free of cost on January 1 among the primary and secondary level students for the academic year of 2019.
The education ministry is planning to send free textbooks to every upazila across the country by October 30, two months before the scheduled time, fearing ‘political unrest’ ahead of the next parliamentary elections.
But uncertainty looms over the printing of around 15 crore out of 35.21 crore textbooks as per the stipulated time.
The uncertainty has been created as the National Curriculum and Textbook Board (NCTB) is yet to issue the work orders for the printing of over 15 crore textbooks for the delay in the delivery of papers and art cards by the contracted suppliers. Any delay in the printing might affect the timely delivery of 10 crore primary books and 5 crore secondary books.
NCTB sources said a total of 352,197,882 books will be printed for the academic year of 2019. Of the textbooks, 68,5620 will be distributed among pre-primary, 9,88,82,899 for primary, 24,58,78,627 for secondary, and 2,76,784 among small ethnic groups and visually challenged students.
According to the NCTB officials and Bangladesh Printing Industries Association (BPIA), although there is a progress in the printing of pre-primary and secondary level books, NCTB is yet to give the work order for printing of 10 crore primary textbooks.
After getting the work orders ready, NCTB will complete the signing of contracts with printing companies in 28 days. The printing firms will supply the textbooks within 84 days. So it is a long process.
Meanwhile, the printing of secondary textbooks is underway in full swing but the art cards for the cover page of the books are yet to arrive from China. The art card supplier ‘Master Simex Paper Ltd’ is yet to supply the 2.30 art card which paper is not manufactured in Bangladesh.
Apart from this, uncertainty looms over the printing of five crore secondary textbooks in 340 lots due to the delay in the supply of 600 tonnes papers by Al Noor Paper mills. The supplier actually supplied the papers earlier, but NCTB rejected the lot for not meeting the quality standards.
BPIA president Shahid Serniabat said they are yet to get the work orders from NCTB to print the primary books. He also said it might not be possible to start the printing work before Eid.
“The completion of the textbook printing is not possible before December,” he added.
The government earlier planned to print 11 crore textbooks by October 30 for pre-primer and primary level students. But the plan of printing the books and sending those to every upazila and district went in vain due to the delay caused by a re-tendering process.
NCTB set the cost at Tk 358.88 crore for printing the books, but the printing companies created a syndicate and quoted a price that is 35 per cent higher than NCTB’s rate. As a result, NCTB was forced to increase the rate by Tk 111 crore and go for a re-tendering process.
The re-tender files are now at the prime minister office. After approval, the file will go to NCTB through education ministry and a notification of assignment (NOA) will be issued. Only then NCTB will be able to sign contracts with printing firms.
“After completing all formalities, the printing of the books by October is impossible. Finishing this task by December also looks difficult,” said an NCTB official.
Sources said printing houses at Banglabazar are collecting sub-standard paper from some name-only papers mills for use in printing textbooks. They have been doing this illegal practice for making more profit.
Allegations have it that many printing houses owned by a syndicate are have no certificate from the Bangladesh Standard and Testing Institution (BSTI).
Printing of textbooks with low-quality paper, if continues, will frustrate Awami League government’s policy to distribute free textbooks among students and tarnish the image of the government.
Ministry officials, however, said NCTB will have to take the responsibility if the textbooks are not printed in time.
The book festival is organized on January 1 by the government every year to distribute textbooks among the primary and secondary level students.
When contacted, NCTB chairman Prof Narayan Chandra Saha said they are making the best efforts to deliver the textbooks in time.
“We are hopeful that the printing of around 80 per cent textbooks will be completed by October,” he said.
Distribution of free textbooks started in 2010 at both primary and secondary level. A total of 260,85,91,290 copies of textbooks were distributed from 2010 to 2018.