The government is racing against time to print and distribute a whopping 36 crore copies of school textbooks at the upazila level on time due to severe disruptions to the massive undertaking, caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The pandemic delayed the tender process, issuance of work orders, and other necessary tasks related to the printing of such a large volume of textbooks for primary and secondary students across the country.
As a result, the textbook board could dispatch only 40 percent of primary-level textbooks to the upazilas, as of Saturday, said the chairman of National Curriculum and Textbook Board (NCTB).
Usually, the NCTB is able to send around 90 percent of the textbooks to the upazilas by mid-November, according to insiders.
Currently, officials and printers are working round the clock to ensure that the students get the textbooks by the beginning of the New Year despite uncertainty over school reopening.
“We have started sending primary textbooks to the upazilas and only a nominal number of secondary books were sent to upazilas,” NCTB Chairman Prof Narayan Chandra Saha told The Daily Star.
“As we started late in the process of awarding tender and work order, we have set a target that all books will reach the upazilas by December 26,” he said.
This year, around 35.36 crore textbooks will be printed and distributed among 4.16 crore students of pre-primary, primary and secondary levels. Of them, around 10 crore books are for primary students.
The government, however, will not arrange its “Textbook Festival”, held on January 1 every year, due to the pandemic.
“The festival is important but it will not be wise to hold such festivals that could create a health risk,” said Education Minister Dipu Moni recently.
According to the NCTB chairman, it is still not decided how students will receive the books.
NCTB officials blamed the Covid-19 pandemic for the delay in initiating the tender process, issuing work orders, and other necessary tasks related to the printing of such a large number of textbooks.
Usually the tender process ends by April-May, and winning bidders receive their work orders by June-July and start printing books in August.
The textbooks are ready in October and almost all new textbooks reach students by January 1, the first day of the new academic year.
“But this year, the process of awarding tender and giving work order was completed in July and August because of the pandemic,” Narayan said.
There was a 66-day shutdown from March 26 across the country to curb the spread of the virus.
And even after the shutdown was lifted, the board could only work with 25 percent of its manpower due to government orders about attendance of officials and employees at offices for several more weeks.
A section of NCTB officials, however, were sceptical about the quality of the textbooks as several printing companies combined to bid for the tender.
These companies got the work at about 25 to 30 percent lower than this year’s bidding price of the estimated printing cost of textbooks.
Asked about the matter, the NCTB chairman said they will supervise the quality of books. “We will not give scope for anyone to give lesser-quality books.”
TEXTBOOK DISTRIBUTION HISTORY
Since 2010, the government started distributing free textbooks to both primary and secondary level students at the very beginning of the academic session.
Previously, the government used to distribute free textbooks only at the primary level, which turned out to be difficult for many students belonging to low-income groups or disadvantaged communities.
A set of textbooks would cost between Tk 1,000-1,500.
Besides, printers would often create an artificial crisis by not printing and distributing books on time. In some cases, books used to hit the stalls in March-April or even later that year.
In the last 10 years, the government has handed out over 331.38 crore copies of textbooks to students.
The success has led to significant improvements in enrolment at the primary and secondary levels, as well as a decrease in the dropout rate at both levels, say NCTB officials.