Bangladesh has occupied a unique position in the globe in many respects both in positive and negative senses. The distribution of new textbooks at the beginning of every academic year free of cost among the learners of primary and secondary levels again has created a unique example in the known world. The colossal amount of textbooks is being reached to all the students with some possible disruptions at the beginning of every academic year which can claim an effort which may be second to none in the world.
The government has been distributing books at the very beginning of academic sessions since 2010 and has so far distributed around 121.38 crore copies. All the textbooks have been uploaded to the National Curriculum and Textbook Board website. This year the government has planned to distribute nearly 30 crore copies of textbooks to more than 3.73 crore students of class-1 to class -IX despite the back-to-back shutdown. With due festivities, on January 2 was observed as the first day of the new academic session, the ‘Textbook Festival Day’. Education Minister Nurul Islam Nahid inaugurated the festival by releasing balloons at the capitals Government Laboratory School. He handed books to students from four schools and one madrasa. Some students were skipping around in joy, while others were flipping through the books. Many parents and teachers also joined the fun. The smell of new books hung in the air, with many of the students holding balloons and cheering. More than a thousand students from BCSIR High School, Dhanmondi Government Girls High School, Kamrunnesa Government Girls High School and Hafez Abdur Razzak Dhakhil Madrasa attended the festival.
Getting news books at hand at the beginning of the school year definitely gives a special kind of pleasure to the young students. The smell of new books really makes them overexcited.” I am very happy to get new books. I will start reading them as soon as I get back home” said Sumayia, a student from Kamrunnesa Govt. Girls High School. This undoubtedly represents the jubilant mind of the students who have got new textbooks. A parent observed “The quality of the textbooks has improved significantly. Getting books on the first day of the session will encourage them to learn more. “Thanks to the government in general and the Education Minister in particular for undergoing such a trouble and making the whole story happens successfully in spite of countrywide repeated hartals and blockades. The government has printed about 29,96,75,938 copies of textbooks to distribute among 3,73,36,672 students of primary, secondary, ebtedai and dakhil madarasas and technical institutions this year. Over 11.59 crore copies of 33 subjects are for over 2.31 crore primary students, 1.74 crore copies of 34 subjects for some 26 lakh ebtedai students, over 13.59 crore copies of 114subjects for 92.58 lakh secondary and English version students, 16.63 lakh copies of 16 subjects for 1.86 lakh SSC vocational students and 2.86 crore copies of 71 subjects for 21.17 lakh Dakhil and Dhakhil vocational students.
The free distribution of textbooks retains several positive implications. First of all, the students get the books at the same time (though some remote places get them late) across the country. As they get the books without any cost and the books are quite new, they get a special kind of pleasure and excitement which cannot be bought by money or anything else. Our students have hardly any excitement or pleasure, but the smell of new textbooks fills that gap. Then all the guardians, particularly the rural and slum guardians cannot buy books which discourages them to send their children to school. So, it attracts students to come to school. It indirectly reduces the number of dropouts from schools. It also makes the students attentive to their studies and increases their interest to come to schools. Our schools are still unfortunately not enjoying places for the students. So, they don’t find any interest or feel any attraction to go there. But the new books have added some value here. The school has a greater role in advising the students to be more attentive to studies as the schools distribute the books. A social bond and tie also develop between the schools and the community. All the schools can start and go forward their academic year harmoniously as the teaching materials are in their hand at the same time.
I feel constraint to share an experience here in this connection. BRAC Education Program works in several countries of the world which sometimes gives us the scope to go insight into the textbooks and education system of those countries. Very recently I had to review the textbooks of primary (class one to six) and junior secondary (class 7 to nine) of Sierra Leone where BRAC Education is in function. All the textbooks of Mathematics, Science and English are really colorful, picturesque, with nice illustrations and good printing. Our textbooks lack all these which are the first and foremost condition to make them visually attractive to the students. Interesting thing is, all the students of Sierra Leone don’t have the textbooks. Students of primary level get the books from the government free of cost but not all the students get them. The junior secondary and above level students are to buy books. 30-40 percent students don’t have the textbooks. They use the books in groups in the classroom. They hardly take the books at home. Why? The books are comparatively costly and all the students cannot afford to buy them. Number two– students don’t take books back their home. They do various project works at home based on the class they attend. It allows them to become more creative and less book-based. Hence creativity is encouraged; students get more time to engage themselves in various activities lessening their dependence on textbooks. And no note and guide books are necessary which necessarily hinders to bloom their rational and creative faculties. Again, they don’t have the scope to be fed up with so many books and homework that our students face every day to make them mentally sick. Definitely our students are overburdened with books, homework and examinations. Finally, our students’ going to schools and going to coaching centers or teachers’ home have become synonymous at the cost of their extra expenditure and time. These things still remain absent in Sierra Leone education field.
Our efforts, measures and even laws have failed to stop private coaching, publishing and using guide and note books of lower qualities. We have tried to ban note and guide books but still they flood the market. We have made law to stop private tuition, but it still proves to be a thriving business to many teachers and institutions. The known better institutions of the country produce students who are really meritorious, creative and very potential but these institutions make them just result oriented and exam based students. These students don’t develop harmoniously achieving the twenty-first century skills such as debating, presentation and problem-solving skills. They are not allowed to exercise their creative faculties. They just remain busy with particular books and questions just to make a good grade in the public examinations. To ensure it, they go to coaching and private tutors and depend on note and guide books which tell them how to pass and get good grades following a very short-cut way. May be our textbooks fail to cater to the needs of our students, and this is why they cannot stop going to their private teachers and using note and guide books.
The worse situation is, some private publishers have become the standard to set the questions of public examinations. What they set in their books, are set in the public examinations. They have become the model. These factors have paled into significance all the good efforts of the ministry of education. Corruption still reigns supreme in the field of education, education offices. Of course, it is not possible by our honest education minister alone to bring a drastic change here. He has been striving to bring changes here. We all should cooperate with him so that the field of education can see a clean picture absolutely free from corruption. We must find out the lacking of our textbooks and develop really creative questions so that students need to utilize their own thoughts and creativity which will discourage them to meet the private tutors. The guide book companies will develop new kind of books which will encourage students’ real engagement without following the means of ‘regurgitation.’ Closing down this so-called book industry suddenly and absolutely seems to be an absurd decision in the present set up. We must compel them to develop creative books.
The Education Minister greeted the students in his speech while distributing the new textbooks among the cheerful students “We are delighted that we have been able to give the students books on the very first day, despite many obstacles like hartals and blockades enforced by the opposition. He urged them to concentrate on studies to get the best possible education. “We fully endorse the views and hopes of the minister. Let our future generation gain real education harmoniously blended with morality and empathy. They have already learnt how to face and tackle the turbulent political situations. Hope they will win over all odds and present a worthy leadership to the nation.
MASUM BILLAH: Program Manager, BRAC Education Program and Vice-President, Bangladesh English Language Teachers Association (BELTA), Dhaka, Bangladesh.