Textbook printing and paper quality must not be compromised

EditorialProthom Alo illustration

From the year 2010, the government has been providing textbooks free of cost to all students of the primary and secondary level. This initiative of the government has been lauded at home and abroad. But the question is about the quality of the books.

The printing and the paper of these books is so poor at times that within a few days these are no longer readable. The students are at a loss. Last year the students received many of the books late due to a delay in issuing the work orders. Some books only reached the students in March. We presume that from this experience the National Curriculum and Textbook Board (NCTB) has already begun the printing this year. There are five months left.

It is learnt from Prothom Alo reports that the printers have taken up the printing work at a cost much lower than the estimated cost for the secondary level. Also, the brightness of the paper has been lessened by 5 per cent compared to last year. Last year it had been 85 per cent. NCTB officials have said that this has been done due to the paper crisis.

The NCTB estimated cost of books of classes 7 and 8 was Tk 3 per forma. But the lowest cost offered by the printers for the Class 6 books was Tk 1.93 per forma. For the Class 7 books it was Tk 1.79. The volume of books to be printed is around 64.5 million for Class 6 and 44.5 million for Class 7.

Every year a certain section of printers create problems with the textbooks. They take the printing orders at a low cost initially and then come up with all sorts of excuses regarding delay in delivery. And finally when the books are delivered, the printing and the paper quality is extremely poor. NCTB officials themselves have said the government funds may be saved somewhat by relaxing conditions or giving work orders to low bidders, but the printing quality cannot be ensured.

If the rates given by NCTB are justified, then the low rates given by the printers are unjustified. And if the estimates of the printers are justified, the questions arise regarding the NTCB rates. The matter should be apprised not by NTCB, but by outside printing experts. It is not acceptable to get the books printed a low cost and hand over low quality books to the students. A syndicate or vested interest group has emerged regarding the printing of textbooks.

Another allegation is there may not be as many students as the number of books being printed. Books for 16.7 million students are being printed at the secondary level. But the number of students in secondary schools and madrasas is much lower. The argument in favour of printing extra books is that these can be given to new students getting admitted at the next academic year. But that will hardly constitute 5 to 10 per cent more.

Punitive action must be taken against the NTCB officials or the printers’ syndicate, no matter who is responsible for the poor quality of printing. Before the tenders are approved, their qualifications and competence must be assessed. NTCB must be much more vigilant against handing over low quality books to the innocent children.

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