Saturday, 26 November, 2022

Uncertainty in Timely Distribution of Textbooks

Masum Billah

Distributing free textbooks among the students timely stands as a big challenge every year for the government. Students definitely enjoy the day on which they receive new books in their hands with new smell. An uncertainty has developed due to some reasons to give away the new textbooks to the children as only three months left before us to complete the printing of a colossal number of books. So far as we have come to learn that NCTB is yet to give  the work order to print books though around 35 crore books need to be printed and  the  previous years’ experienced the distribution of nearly  6 to 7 crore books by this time. 

Every year some common phenomena come with distributing free books such as books get available in the black markets, some local authorities take money from the students and schools and students are compelled to buy note books along with free textbooks and books don’t reach the students of the remote areas even after six months of the year. The quality of papers also comes as a constant question every year. Blurred printing, low quality paper, no colourful pages for the children appear are some other facts that we hear all around. This year the same problems along with uncertainty to reach books to the students have come up as a point to think. We have been talking about joyful learning that remains far apart till today. Only getting books has appeared as a big challenge at the beginning of the coming year.

It would be really difficult to print all the necessary books by 31 December 2022. The continuing process may at best complete printing 30-35 percent books. Some printing companies may not be able to supply the books against which they received orders.  Colourful book is a demand for primary level children that may see a haphazard situation as   the increased price of white papers may compel the printing companies to print books in newsprint as they received the orders at a lower price. Printing the pre-primary level books has been given to twelve institutions and among which eleven don’t; have any suitable printing machine that definitely hints to make delay to supply the books. As an upshot of it, children may get the low quality books as a repetitive game like the previous years. A strange news drew my attention that NCTB could not have finished any tendering work of six companies who are going to print books because of its starting the procedure late. As a result, no contract has yet been made to print books.  According to new curriculum, new books for four classes have to be supplied but due to late piloting of primary level curriculum, printing order was not done. Piloting classes in the secondary level has been done somehow. However, books have not been finalized. Furthermore, increase of fuel price, paper and dollar and the disruption of electricity have created a fear for being unable to print the books necessary for the New Year. Finally, the printing companies submitted their tenders mentioning the price 25 percent less than the actual amount that clearly tells us whether we would get the quality books or not.

The general secretary of the Society of Printing Industry has said that the uncertainty that has developed in this field has been created by NCTB as the price of papers was beyond the practicality that may compel minimum fifty farms not to supply books at all. He added that many printing companies may have to submit only papers let alone books printed in newspapers. In this situation some think that things will be completed pretty late as NCTB at the last moment wants just books, not quality books. Taking this opportunity some printing companies may give books in low quality newsprint. If NCTB had started the process earlier and dropped the low priced schedule, things would have been different.

The notification award for printing books for grade three to five has just been sent to the authorities. The bidding for the books of grade one and two has just been sent to ‘purchase committee and for the approval of prime minister through primary and mass education ministry.  The purchase committee has approved the bidding for grade six and seven books. After the approval of prime minister it will come back to education ministry and then to NCTB. After that, notification award will be served for the bidders. Totally a big and complicated process it is. Only NCTB cannot be made responsible for these long standing complexities.  As per the existing rule, bidders get at least one week time since agreement letter is signed and then they get another four weeks to make the contract.  NCTB gives consent to it when the bidders give security money or performance guarantee. Then they are given manuscripts along with work order. It takes another 3-4 days time to start printing books. General Secretary of Printing Industry Society says it takes one and a half month time to start printing books after getting the agreement letter. According to this estimate, it would not be possible to start printing books from 10 November even if serious pressure is created. On the other hand, in the previous years at least primary level books reached up to district and upazila and by 31 December it is doubtful whether 30 percent books would be printed. That means a big uncertainty and mismatch regarding reaching the books to the students is waiting for us. It is learnt that the printing companies get four weeks time even after the final date when they can submit books paying a nominal amount of fines. Taking this opportunity some companies submit books even in March and this case is common almost every year. This I also came to learn while visiting different parts of the country in March, April or May and many schools informed me that they had not yet received free books and were having problems to run classes.

All the concerned citizens are worried about the distribution of textbooks. However, NCTB Chairman claims that there will be not problem to distribute books among the students beginning of next year and he says that things are running as per plan and there will be no problem to distribute books on time. He also says that dual monitoring system has been developed to stop low quality and newsprint books. Those who will do it may not be spared. Last year one organization was given work order to print 3 crore 20 lakh books and this year the same organization has received the orders of printing two crore books so that they can manage things timely. NCTB Chairman says, in our country very few printing companies have suitable machines to print children’s books. So, they did not mention particular type of machine while inviting tenders even though it is a rule.  However, the general secretary of the Society of Printing Industry says that at least twenty companies have machines of such sizes. Interestingly, NCTB does not give them work. Books are not printed as per desired design. Green ribbon is supposed to be at the end of page but without ‘flash cut’ books are supplied. As a result, below the colourful ribbon extra white paper appears.  If white part is cut, the size of the books will be smaller and so they don’t cut it. In the bidding it is mentioned which size of books will be printed but for some interesting reasons the size of the machine is not mentioned for printing pre-primary books. So those who don’t have such type of machine also get the work.  It is also learnt that the 12 companies who have got the wok only one of them has such machine. Addressing all these difficulties might seem very hard for NCTB alone. Still, we must continue efforts to produce quality books in terms of papers and quality.


The writer is the President, English

Teachers’ Association of Bangladesh (ETAB).

Email: [email protected]