Textbooks could be to rented out to the students instead of distributing them for free every year

Two months into the new school calendar, and the concerned authority has not been able to supply textbooks to the schools across the country. This, however, is not the first time that schools have faced a shortage of textbooks after the new school session has commenced. It is a perennial problem, with no one being held accountable for the lapse year after year. The government-owned Janak Educational Materials Centre Limited (JEMC) is responsible for printing the textbooks in time so that they are readily available in the market or in the schools when the new session starts. However, the publisher has escaped being hauled over the coals under one pretext or the other. This year, it has cited the local election for not being able to print the books on time, as it was occupied with printing the ballot papers for the May 13 polls. And then the war in Ukraine has been raging since the Russian invasion in February, which has led to a shortage of printing paper in the market. Also the demand for textbooks this year has been greater than expected.

On Tuesday, the House of Representatives, Education and Health Committee had drawn the attention of the government and officials concerned to the unavailability of textbooks even after two months of the new school session. Earlier, on May 25, the committee had issued directives to the concerned bodies to make alternative arrangements to produce and distribute textbooks to avoid the shortage. So, private presses have been given the responsibility to print textbooks of grades 1 to 3 and the JEMC books from grades 4 to 10. The JEMC claims that only 5 per cent of the targeted number of textbooks remained to be printed. Although the private printers are capable of printing textbooks of all grades, their prices need to be kept low as they are meant to be distributed for free. Printing textbooks is only half the job - distributing them to all the schools, especially those located in the remote areas, is going to be a horrendous task, what with the floods and landslides being caused by the heavy monsoon rains.

A solution to the problem of textbook shortage could be to rent out books to the students instead of distributing them for free every year. Textbooks could be written in such a way that students don't need to write on them, and they could be printed on fine paper, so that they could be used for many years. This would save the government a lot of money as well.

There is also a need to standardise the textbooks written in the English language used by the private schools. Grammar apart, there are many complaints that the books written and published in haste contain a lot of factual mistakes about Nepal's history, geography and national symbols. Last year, the government had issued directives to confiscate all textbooks that did have the revised map of Nepal and penalise the publishers. To do away with the anomalies persisting in the education sector, including the shortage of textbooks, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology must present the Federal Education Act and four other education-related bills in the parliament at the earliest. The laws will then guide the concerned officials on how to deal with the problems related to education.

Migrants' voting right

Nepali Congress secretaries Gagan Kumar Thapa and Bishwo Prakash Sharma on Tuesday met Chief Election Commissioner Dinesh Kumar Thapaliya and urged the latter to ensure voting rights for the Nepalis working abroad as migrant workers. An estimated 3 million Nepalis are working abroad as migrant workers, who have been denied voting rights for the local, provincial and federal elections. It has been more than four years since the Supreme Court directed the government to ensure voting rights for those working overseas as migrant workers.

Instead of putting pressure on the EC, the secretary duo should urge the government to introduce a bill to amend the existing Election Act, which does not have any provision to cast votes in elections from outside the country. The political parties, lawmakers, EC and election experts must come together to find a way out to ensure the voting right of those staying abroad. Till date, nobody has come up with a convincing idea or modality as how the out-of-country voting right should be managed. One of the best ways to ensure the voting right of the migrant workers is to launch a pilot project in a foreign country, where a large number of Nepalis are working and where Nepal has set up its diplomatic mission.

A version of this article appears in the print on June 23, 2022, of The Himalayan Times.