The National Curriculum and Textbook Board (NCTB) has been preparing to distribute around 354 million textbooks free among 42.5 million students of primary, high school, madrasa and vocational institutions in the coming year.
The government has been doing this on the first day of educational session since 2010.
NCTB sources said the government has distributed over 331.47 crore books, including those of the coming 2020 session, in the past 11 years at a cost Tk 10 billion each year. It will have to spend around Tk 10.5 billion for the next session alone.
The number of students who would receive the books in the coming session (2020) is greater than the population of many countries, according to education ministry and NCTB officials. They said that this was an unparalleled example.
Education ministry and NCTB officials said earlier the government would distribute half of the books free among primary school students while the remaining books had to be bought. High school students had to buy their books.
It would take few months to avail the books while many could not afford to buy the books. This would create inequality among the students. That is why the government started distributing free textbooks among the primary and high school students since 2010. Now students of pre-primary and from ethnic minority groups (up to third grade in five different languages) also have been brought under the coverage.
Sometimes, questions have been raised about the quality and content of the books. There were demonstrations and criticism for changing content of textbooks following demand of a Qawmi madrasa-based organisation. But nothing could deter the free distribution of textbooks at the beginning of each year.
Former education minister Nurul Islam Nahid often said whenever he met the representatives of different countries at various international fora, including the UNESCO, they were impressed about the free distribution of such a huge number of books and said this does not happen in any other country.
One the one hand, the distribution of books helps reduce the inequality among the students, at the same time the number of students is on the rise and the dropout rate is also decreasing.
The number of students has risen by more than 15 million into the 11th year of distribution of free books. At the same time, stipends, school feeding and awareness raising programmes also have helped increase the number of students.
Speaking to Prothom Alo, NCTB’s member (textbook) professor Md. Farhadul Islam said prior to free distribution of textbooks we saw many students dropping out. Sometimes, it would take up to June to get all the text books. But the dropout rate and inequality among students has fallen significantly since the beginning of this free distribution of textbooks. Currently, the dropout rate is 18 per cent at the primary level and less than 40 at the high school level.
Earlier it would have taken one or two months to begin classes, but now classes begin from the very start of the session. This is because of free distribution of textbooks, he said.
Farhadul Islam also claimed that changes are being brought in the curricula so that the students could learn with enjoyment.
NCTB has been implementing the project for free distribution of books. It hope to receive the Swadhanata Padak, the highest civilian award in the country, for this exemplary task.
NCTB sources said when they began distribution of free textbooks in 2010, the number of students in primary, high school, and ebtedayee, dakhil and dakhil (vocational) level of madrasa, and SSC (vocational) was 27,662,529. A total of 199,096,561 books were printed for them. Since then, almost every year the number of students and books has increased. The number of books printed for 2020 session is 353,994,197 for 42,772,747 students.
An NCTB official, however, said the number of students could be five per cent less as the number is calculated based on the requisition of copies of books by the educational institutions.
A high official of NCTB recently told Prothom Alo that they already have sent around 24 crore textbooks to various upazilas. The remaining books will be sent within the stipulated time.
Speaking about this to Prothom Alo, primary and mass education adviser to a former caretaker government Rasheda K Chowdhury said one of the very few achievements in the education sector of the country is this free distribution of textbooks among the students on the first day of the year.
There could be questions about quality of books and the contents, even teaching and learning. But the advantages of this free distribution of books are undeniable. Both students and guardians are happy about this, she added.
*The report, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Shameem Reza