Disappearing ink- Shak Bahadur Budhathoki | 2021-09-24
Mar 8, 2016-The persistent shortage of textbooks—the primary means of learning in Nepal’s public schools—has crippled the education sector for several years now. This year, the problem has been compounded by the undeclared Indian blockade, which caused a shortage of fuel, paper and ink for printing textbooks. Given this context, short supply of textbooks is highly likely to hit hard once again. To deal with this, there is a need to enforce the existing policy strongly through a close collaboration of stakeholders—the Janak Education Material Centre (JEMC), District Education Office (DEO) and schools, among others. Additionally, the government policy needs to be amended while looking for alternatives in the long run.
Policy and practice
Since 2009, the government provides textbook grants to virtually all community schools up to grade ten based on the number of students as indicated in the Flash Report issued by the Department of Education (DoE) annually. As per existing education regulations, the students should receive textbooks within two weeks of the new academic session. However, the Flash Report of 2015 itself reveals that about 20 percent students do not receive textbooks on time while research by New Era in 2013 showed that about 40 percent students do not receive textbooks within the stipulated time.
According to the existing policy, the Curriculum Development Centre prepares a camera-ready copy of textbooks six months before the new academic session. Then, the JEMC prints and distributes textbooks of grades six to ten while 23 private publishers do so for grades one to five. Nonetheless, the bitter reality is that the JEMC has failed to execute its duties even after many months. The district level JEMC depots are often left without textbooks at the prime time of distributing them. This seriously raises questions about the very existence of the JEMC as it has failed to fulfil its obligations year after year.
Similarly, the policy assumes that the DEO and regional directorate monitor the availability of the approved curriculums and course books in the respective districts one month before the commencement of the academic session and report to the Ministry of Education (MoE) and other bodies accordingly. Moreover, school supervisors and resource persons should report data about the number of students and so forth to respective authorities, based on which the Flash Report is updated every year. Besides, there are textbook monitoring committees at the centre and local levels.
Even so, the annual reports of the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority and the Office of the Auditor General point out that the number of students is inflated significantly in many districts over the years. In 2011, misuse of textbook funds drew a huge concern from stakeholders as one of the committees to investigate the shortage of textbook grants revealed that 730 million rupees was misappropriated systematically, clearly indicating the status of poor monitoring and supervision.
The short supply of textbooks is often prevalent even for primary grades because private publishers do not publish the required textbooks based on the data provided by the DoE. This is partly because they think all the books may not be purchased and consequently they will have to bear a loss. In addition, they do not deliver textbooks in the remote areas because of the associated transportation costs.
Most of the complaints are about the lack of textbooks of grades eight to ten because the students of private schools also need them as they have to compulsorily sit for examinations conducted by the government, but the DoE does not include the number of private school students while preparing the Flash Report. Further, there are instances of the shortage of optional textbooks as data on this are unavailable.
There is a provision for ‘multiple textbooks’ in education regulations, with an amendment in 2006, and recently discussions are being directed towards this. In simple terms, the idea is that there can be multiple textbooks based on the national curriculum, among which schools may choose one instead of a particular set of textbooks throughout the country. However, this has been confined to policy for policy’s sake. Demands have also been made to produce quality textbooks that can last for more than a year, and voices are raised by distributors to review the prices of textbooks. These discussions indicate the need to update the existing policies.
The Constitution of Nepal 2015 envisions that every citizen shall have compulsory and free education at the elementary level and free education up to the secondary level. However, this constitutional promise appears difficult to be realised in a context where students are deprived of textbooks. The perennial shortage of textbooks seriously affects the everyday learning process because Nepal’s classroom activities are mostly dominated by a teacher-centric teaching method.
To deliver textbooks on time, firstly there is a need to enforce existing policies strongly through the effective collaboration of stakeholders. In particular, the JEMC should function effectively in delivering textbooks in a timely manner and the DEO and other monitoring bodies should duly fulfil their respective duties.
As for private publishers, the policy should be amended in a way that guarantees the purchase of the textbooks printed. In fact, the government should directly pay private publishers as they deliver textbooks. Such an assurance may give them impetus for making textbooks available to students on time.
Similarly, the MoE as well as other stakeholders need to work towards supplying textbooks to remote areas, which are more vulnerable. At the same time, the Flash Report should include the number of private school students, who sit for national or district level examinations, as well as the number of students taking optional subjects to make the textbook distribution process smoother.
Finally, the government should strive for an alternative policy for textbooks in the present context of Nepal. The provision for ‘multiple textbooks’ is one of them.
Similarly, use of mobile apps and digitisation of textbooks may be other options since the use of such technologies is rapidly increasing.
Budhathoki is a researcher at Martin Chautari, Kathmandu