The short supply of school textbooks has considerably affected the teaching and learning process in many schools in a number of districts each year
It is six months for the new academic session to begin for the schools in the country but the signs of the decades-old problem repeating itself seem to be surfacing again ritually.
According to the director general of the Department of Education, Babu Ram Paudel, the department has already submitted a proposal for printing school textbooks to the Ministry of Education but a decision has not been taken as yet.
The proposal relates to allowing the private firms to print textbooks in Nepali as well.
Last year they had been permitted to print the textbooks from Class I to V with a view to making up for the deficiency of the state-owned Janak Education Materials Centre (JEMC), which has been entrusted with the responsibility of printing the government’s textbooks for the community schools, whereas private schools have been using the textbooks written in English and printed by private publishers following the same government curricula.
Despite this, the government has been unable to print all the textbooks for the community schools on time, and distribute all of them on time, to all the districts in adequate quantities.
As a result, tens of thousands of students do not get a full set of textbooks on time, and the reports of students having to make do without some of the textbooks even weeks into the commencement of the new academic year have become routine every year.
This kind of short supply has considerably affected the teaching and learning process in many schools in a number of districts each year. This problem has not been one of a year or two but of decades, like the food shortages in some remote districts which occur every year, without any effective corrective steps having been taken.
It has been clear that, for whatever reasons, JEMC has proved its inability to deliver the textbooks in Nepali on time. The private firms have also been demanding that they should be allowed to print the textbooks for Classes VI to X as well.
The question that arises is that if the private firms are allowed to print all the textbooks for the community schools, what will the justification for the existence of the JEMC remain?
If the Ministry of Education cannot arrange for even the routine printing of textbooks its ability to govern the education sector is in serious doubt where much more and much bigger projects and programmes have to be designed and operated.
If JEMC has inadequate printing capacity, it can easily be expanded or some other technical or managerial problems can be well addressed too.
Instead of resolving such problems, the stress on allowing private firms to print the textbooks reflects poorly on the government, particularly on the political leadership and bureaucratic functionaries, in as much as their administrative capabilities and their purity of intention are concerned.
The ministry is estimated to need about 40 million textbooks for the coming academic session. And the government must decide soon.
If it has to depend fully on private firms to print all the textbooks, a case could be powerfully made that the government should hand over much of what is doing now to private firms as well to make for efficiency, quality and timely delivery.
Choice for doctors
Medical directors and superintendents working in government hospitals will no longer be permitted to work in private hospitals.
It is found that many of these senior doctors are found working in private hospitals and clinics minting money. Some of them stand accused of referring patients to their private hospitals and clinics.
Because of this other doctors too are encouraged to have private practice even as they work in government hospitals. Now the directors and superintendents have been given the choice of working only in government hospitals or private hospitals and clinics.
The Ministry of Health have found that many doctors working in government hospitals are working longer hours in their private practice, and the patients have to pay a hefty fee.
The government hospitals charge much less which even the patients with moderate means can afford. The poor patients expect quality services from the government hospitals.
This should be regarded as a grave injustice for patients who usually have to stay in long queues waiting for their turn in government hospitals.
It is fitting that the MoH will make this provision mandatory in ensuring quality services in government hospitals.
A version of this article appears in print on October 14, 2016 of The Himalayan Times.