It looks like thousands of students in public schools will be without books once again as the new school year starts in less than three months.
Despite attempts to publish textbooks on time, the perennial problem of book shortage in public schools looms on the horizon as the state-owned Janak Shiksha Samagri Kendra (JSSK) is publishing them at a sluggish rate.
The state-owned entity tasked with bringing out textbooks has yet to print around half of the targeted number for the upcoming academic year. New session begins in seven Mountain districts—five in Karnali and Manang and Mustang—in mid-February, while the schools elsewhere start their classes from mid-April. According to Anil Jha, managing director of the JSSK, hardly 10 million units, including the stock from last year, had been readied by Friday—against its target of 19 million books.
The publishing house has been producing just around 50,000 units per day. At this pace, it will take another six months for all the books to be printed.
Adding the time taken for getting the books to far-flung districts, it looks like students in remote areas are unlikely to get their textbooks before September, when they will be due to take their half-yearly exams. If the JSSK is to meet its target on time, it now has to more than double its production rate.
“We are working to arrange for printing paper in the required volume so that we can increase production,” Jha told the Post. The JSSK had to halt work for around three weeks recently in the lack of printing paper. The Ministry of Finance recently released Rs 300 million in loan, which would be used to buy the paper.
The Education Ministry has earmarked Rs 1.86 billion to fund free distribution of textbooks to about 5.99 million students from grades 1 to 10 studying in around 29,000 public schools.
Of the total 40 million books needed for next year, half will be published by the JSSK, while the remaining are printed by private publishers. The government, under pressure from donor agencies, has been cutting on the share of books the JSSK produces, given its repeated failures to make the books available on time.
Private firms will now publish textbooks for grades 1 to 5, while the JSSK prints books for grades 6 to 10. Earlier, they had been supplying books for grades 1 to 9 in the eastern and western regions.
Since the government decided to provide textbooks to all school students free seven years ago, there has not been a single year that the JSSK has met its target on time.