EDITORIAL: Play by the book

Millions of copies of textbooks printed by JEMC have been shelved, thanks to lack of coordination between govt agencies

Since its establishment in 1966, the Janak Education Materials Centre (JEMC) has always been at loss due to its own mismanagement and unnecessary interference from the Ministry of Education and its departments. However, the government-run publishing house, which also prints government’s sensitive documents as well as ballot papers for the Election Commission, had expected to make profit for the first time in the last 12 years as it had revamped its management and installed colour printing press to print textbooks for primary level students of the public and community schools. The government distributes a set of prescribed textbooks free of cost to each of the students studying there. The JEMC looks set to face losses this year as well, as around five million textbooks of Grade VI to X worth around Rs 250-300 million and one million copies of colour textbooks for Grade I to V worth Rs 60-65 million have remained unsold this year. JEMC officials have lamented that these textbooks are not going to be used in the years to come as the government is preparing to introduce new curriculum from next year.

JEMC officials have accused the government-run Sajha Prakashan of illegally printing and selling the government textbooks. They also accused the Department of Education (DoE) of not providing them with actual number of students across the country. Devi Ram Aryal, deputy director at Education Materials Management Section at DoE, however, claimed that actual data on students was provided to JEMC. Chitra Acharya, information officer at JEMC, has said Sajha Prakashan was asked to print only the English version of textbooks for the academic year 2016-17. But Sajha Prakashan printed and supplied the translated version of the textbooks this year as well. Such a move of the Sajha Prakashan hurt the business interest of the JEMC. The DoE had earlier asked JEMC to print 19.2 million copies of plain textbooks for Grade VI to X and 1.5 million colour textbooks for Grade I to V. It is the Curriculum Development Centre (CDC) which has the authority to select firms for printing and distributing the textbooks. Krishna Prasad Kapri, executive director of CDC, expressed his ignorance about Sajha Prakashan also being tasked with printing and distributing the textbooks.

Aryal’s claim that JEMC could not sell its textbooks this year as many community schools are using the books used by the private schools is quite unconvincing. Even if it may be true, such a large number of JEMC textbooks should not have been shelved. Since the DoE had asked JEMC to print the aforesaid number of textbooks and had also provided it with the number of students, it was DoE’s responsibility to ensure that all JEMC textbooks reached the target groups. The lack of coordination among the government agencies – particularly DoE and CDC – has caused huge losses to a state-owned publishing house. JEMC’s hope of reviving its financial health has been dashed by the DoE and CDC. Parliament should take up this issue very seriously and get the government to take stern action against those responsible for pushing JEMC towards financial loss of over Rs 100 million. It will not be able to repay the loans taken from various banks.

Make childbirth safer

Nepal has made significant progress in the last two decades in reducing maternal mortality rate (MMR) and child mortality rate. According to the National Demographic and Health Survey 2016, MMR for Nepal is 239 per 100,000 live births – a sharp decline from 539 in 1996. There has been a sharp decline in under-five mortality from 118 per 1,000 live births in 1996 to 39. Infant mortality has decreased from 78 per 1,000 live births to 32. Increased ante-natal and post-natal care from skilled providers – doctor, nurse and auxiliary nurse midwife – and availability of birthing centres have contributed significantly to this progress.

However, there are still villages where new mothers and infants are dying due to lack of birthing centres. Health facilities in Sindhuli, according to reports, lack birthing centres, due to which pregnant women are at risk of complications and even death while giving birth at home. Of the 55 health facilities in the district, only 25 have birthing centres. Authorities need to pay attention to this to ensure safety of new mothers and newborns.