Distribution of free textbooks among all primary and secondary students on the first day of the forthcoming year has been put into uncertainty as printers are yet to begin the printing of new books owing mainly to not getting their performance guarantee fund from the Directorate of Primary Education (DPE).
The DPE keeps 10% of printing bills with it as a guarantee and gives the amount back in March the following year with a clearance letter, which is submitted to banks for loans.
Printing presses say banks are turning them away for loans for failing to provide them with clearance letters, eventually hampering the printing of books.
They also blame a shortage of necessary papers and incomplete work on a new curriculum for the delay in printing new books for first-seventh graders.
As per rules regarding the printing of new textbooks, the education ministry has given printers 70 days to complete the work. The printers can take an additional 28 days, paying a penalty for the delay. That means the printing houses have an obligation to deliver all the textbooks within 98 days.
Usually, one-third of the new textbooks are sent to upazilas by mid-October each year. But this time, it did not happen.
Tofael Khan, president of Bangladesh Textbook Printing and Marketing Association, claimed that the ministry and the National Curriculum and Textbook Board (NCTB) have wrongly halted their performance guarantee fund.
Printing presses will not start printing new textbooks until they get their performance guarantee fund.
Shah Rezwan Hayat, director general of the DPE, told The Business Standard, "There were some problems that we have almost resolved. We will release the fund as early as possible and will provide them with a clearance letter."
NCTB Chairman Professor Md Farhadul Islam said he had talked with the state minister for Primary and Mass Education Ministry on resolving the existing problems so that the printing of textbooks can start as early as possible.
The printing of books for secondary level students except for Class VI and VII is going on.
The NCTB chairman said, "We have now completed the curricula of Class VI and VII. There has been a delay because we had to rearrange the curriculum of VII in line with some observations made by the education ministry. Hopefully, we will go for printing from Friday."
In the meantime, printers say they cannot work properly because of frequent power outages, which also may delay a timely delivery of textbooks.
SM Mohsin, proprietor of Bright Printing Press, said he cannot print books owing to load shedding and the forced closure of industries on Sundays in Matuail and Kajla areas.
"How will I deliver the books in time if the load shedding continues? It is not my problem; it is a national problem. Nothing is in my hand," he also said.
Farhadul Islam said, "I wrote a letter to the secretary of the Power Division, requesting an uninterrupted supply to the printing presses. He has asked for a list of the printing presses and locations to be sent to him and also assured me of providing electricity for two more hours compared with others."
"Actually, we have to understand the current situation of the country as well as the world. We will do our best to distribute textbooks on time," he added.
Education Minister Dr Dipu Moni told TBS, "There is concern over distributing new textbooks on time, but we are still hopeful."
Professor Emeritus of Brac University Dr Manzoor Ahmed told TBS, "Many students are in a learning gap. If the distribution of free textbooks is delayed next year, it will have another negative effect."
According to the NCTB, a total of 34, 61, 63,000 books will be printed for the 2023 academic year. Of them, 9,98,53,000 are for pre-primary and primary students and 24,63,10,000 are for secondary level students.
About 4 crore students are studying at around 2,00,000 educational intuitions from pre-primary to secondary level across the country.