Students not to get textbooks on time

KARACHI, May 9(Dawn): After an inordinate delay of five months and departure of two chairmen, the Sindh Textbook Board (STB) on Tuesday succeeded in issuing allocation letters to the publishers and started procuring paper for printing textbooks for the academic session starting from August 15 this year.

Textbooks should be printed by the mid of July and distributed by Aug 15 among schools across Sindh, but the unnecessary delay due to wrangling within the department may deprive millions of students of textbooks for at least two months of their academic year.

The printing process would take three months and the books could be delivered to students on time if the printing had been initiated on April 1, reliable sources said.

According to sources in the STB, the allocation letters had formally been issued to the registered publishers and a formal agreement between the STB and the publishers would be signed on Thursday.

Sources said the procurement of paper should have been started six months ago, but the top hierarchy in the education department and the provincial government optimistically believed that the work that they failed to accomplish in the past many months would be 'successfully' completed before the next academic session. That gigantic work involves many phases.

The initial phase would be pre-press work, which included the provision of corrected textbook copies, preparation of films, approval of ammonia, print order and paper permits. Sources said if pre-press work was completed in two weeks, printing would possibly be started in the last week of this month which would follow binding and distribution.

The situation is not as easy as the authorities optimistically believe. The printing of textbooks require nonstop supply of electricity to the printing presses, which is next to impossible at a time when prolonged load-shedding has become order of the day.

The situation, insiders in the STB said, could worsen in the coming months as many publishers had complained to the STB authorities that forthcoming monsoon could aggravate the power supply situation.

Even if the textbooks were ready in two months, sources said, the authorities were not at ease while formulating a strategy for their distribution when monsoon would be at its peak and many parts of the province would be facing flood threats.

"It is unlikely that textbooks would be provided to all the schoolchildren before the commencement of the new academic year," admitted an official in the education department.

The delay in the procurement of paper and issuance of allocation letters to publishers is mainly attributed to the education department's internal strife.

The crisis started developing in January when the STB chairman Aziz Mehranvi retired and Dr Mohammad Ali Shaikh, who is Director General (Colleges), was given the charge of STB acting chairman.

He was then relieved of the additional charge on Feb 25 by the education secretary. After him, Mazhar Ali Siddiqui assumed the acting chairman's charge twice until he was replaced by Shams Solangi, a retired senior bureaucrat.

During the musical chair in the textbook board at the top level, gross violations of rules in procurement of paper were reported. The situation remained grim despite the provincial education minister's directive for a final decision on the purchase of paper in a meeting held in March. The meeting focused on the procedure of implementation of new curriculum for English and Urdu for classes one and six, Mathematics of classes one and six, and Islamiat of classes one, three and four, and Science of classes four and six.

The publishers were asked to prepare specimens for the specified subjects and submit them to the education department by March 31. However, the books are still lying with the concerned authorities and have not yet been sent to the Curriculum Wing, Islamabad, for final approval.

The secretary of the Sindh Textbook Board was not available for comment.



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