Bangladesh in a race against time to print free textbooks for students

Factors such as high paper prices, load shedding, and delay in work orders have hampered printing in time for distribution to students on Jan 1, the first day of the academic year.

Mohiuddin Alamgir

Mohiuddin Alamgir

The Daily Star


Photo: Prabir Das

November 3, 2022

DHAKA – The government is struggling to print textbooks in time for free distribution to primary and secondary level school students on January 1 — the first day of the next academic year.

Officials at the education ministry and the National Curriculum and Textbook Board said the printing of around 10 crore textbooks for primary students is yet to begin, while the printing of around 24 crore books for secondary level is underway.

The power crisis and unavailability of paper, however, are hampering the work, they said.

If things don’t improve, the officials fear, it will be difficult to have all the books ready for distribution.

Against this backdrop, Education Minister Dipu Moni yesterday held a meeting with top officials of the education, and primary and mass education ministries, and of the NCTB.

It was pointed out that several printing companies have not signed a contract with the NCTB even after winning the tender. The meeting decided the authorities concerned would look into the rules and procedures for awarding the work to second bidders if these printers don’t go ahead with the work, meeting sources said.

After the meeting, Dipu Moni assured that the students will get their books on January 1.

“We have taken all necessary steps. I am assuring that pre-primary, primary and secondary students will get their books on time. I have personally spoken to the printers and paper manufacturers.”

She said it was true that the cost of paper was high in the international market, and hoped that load shedding will come down soon.

“If needed, we will get paper from alternative sources … Printing of books for secondary students has already begun and we hope the printing of primary level books would begin in a day or two.”

The government is aiming to distribute 34 crore textbooks this academic session.

Twenty-one printers have signed a contract with the NCTB to print around seven crore primary school textbooks. Three printers have still not signed the contract.

Meanwhile, officials said the NCTB is yet to issue work orders for publishing three crore primary school textbooks.

Seventy-eight printing companies have singed a contract to print around 24 crore secondary school textbooks. Around three crore have been printed till October 31.

The officials added that many printers have slowed down the printing process due to high paper prices and continuous load shedding.

An NCTB official said that a section of the printers always raise issueswith printing on substandard paper. “It is no exception this year.”

“We are hopeful the quality of textbook papers will be maintained. [But] We cannot check each and every book,” Dipu Moni said.

Since 2010, the government has been distributing free textbooks to both primary and secondary level students at the very beginning of the academic session.

Between then and now, the government has been able to distribute about 400 crore free textbooks, earning praise from home and abroad.

The success has led to significant improvements in enrolment at the primary and secondary levels, as well as a decrease in the dropout rates, NCTB officials said.

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