Perpetual problem

  • Despite delays, publication, distribution of schoolbooks must stay with govt
Perpetual problem

Jan 29, 2015-

Every year, without fail, course books do not reach students of public schools at the start of the academic session. Janak Shiksha Samagri Kendra (JSSK), which is the sole authority for publishing textbooks for grades 6 to 10, nonetheless, keeps promising to complete its task on time. It has, however, never met the deadline since 2009. So on Wednesday, the government asked JSSK, along with Sajha Prakashan, which is responsible for distribution, to furnish a detailed plan about the available stock and the number of books that can be published and distributed by the next two and a half months. Chief Secretary Leela Mani Paudyal further warned officials of stringent actions if they fail to meet the deadline. Whether his words will be heeded or not remains to be seen.

In seven mountain districts—five in Karnali region, along with Manang and Mustang—the academic session is set to begin in mid-February while classes start in mid-April elsewhere. The Managing Director of JSSK claims that the Kendra has adequate stock to meet demands for those districts. It has, however, only readied 11 million books and is still short of eight million units. Repeated delays and pressure from donors have already forced the government to delegate the task of printing books for grade 1 to 5 to private sellers. Should Janak Shiksha and Sajha again fail to meet the deadline, the government is mulling handing over printing contracts for the remaining units to private publishers also.

The Kendra can meet the deadline if it wants to; it can print 124,000 books a day on its 18 presses. But according a 2014 report by the Office of the Auditor General, it utilises only 65 percent of its manufacturing capacity. The report further mentions that Janak Shiksha opts to outsource its work to private publishers to earn commissions. Lack of coordination among the Ministry of Education, the Curriculum Development Board, and the Kendra has also caused problems in the past. This year, the Ministry of Finance did not disburse funds as loans to the Kendra on time.  

Despite all of this, handing the responsibility to print and distribute books to private publishers in entirety is not the best option. Private entities could be reluctant to transport books to remote districts where they make less money in commissions. For now, the government should continue to monitor Janak Shiksha and Sajha and keep pressuring them to ensure timely publication and delivery. In the long run, it has to close the loopholes that allow Janak Shiksha to underutilise its resources, along with an overhaul of the organisation. Coordination issues between related government bodies must be resolved and any setback of work should be punished. For, this delay is not just about books but also the education of millions.  

Published: 30-01-2015 09:16

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