Textbook shortage besets schoolchildren

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KARACHI: A typical school going child’s routine is incomplete without the mundane yet vital activity of packing their school bag containing textbooks of a variety of subjects however, as a severe shortage of course books hits the public education sector in Sindh, countless students experience a bizarre start to their day as they set off to school each morning carrying an empty bag.

Despite the unanticipated surge in government school enrolment following the rise in the rate of inflation, the inherent pitfalls of the public education system continue to hamper the academic prospects of millions of school children, as a dire shortage of course books on a large variety of compulsory subjects has left millions of students in a strange scenario, where the simple activity of doing their homework and preparing for their examinations, has become a utopian fantasy.

“While we can ask students to complete their classwork by sharing textbooks with their classmates, how can we expect them to do their homework without a course book,” questioned the principal at a primary school in Karachi, who went on to add that photocopying textbooks for all the different subjects was not a feasible option for most parents.

According to information obtained from the School Education and Literacy Department, almost 2 million textbooks for a variety of disciplines including English, General Knowledge, Mathematics, Easy Urdu, Sindhi, Islamic Studies, Social Studies, Science and Computer Science are short in supply, with up to 50 per cent of students in each class not having access to a textbook for more than four months, that is half of the current eight month long academic year 2023-2024.

“The shortage of textbooks has become an annual affair because of which students suffer a lot,” acknowledged Dr Muhammad Ali, an educationist, former Vice Chancellor of the Sindh Madrasa al-Salam and Former Chairman of the Sindh Textbook Board, who opined that the current Chairman of the Sindh Textbook Board should take responsibility for the ongoing textbook crisis.

In his defense, Agha Sohail Pathan, the present Chairman of the Sindh Textbook Board, stated that the board had received an order from the previous government to print only 50 per cent of the usual stock of textbooks. “We will start printing the required amount of two million textbooks in phases from November 10th,” assured Pathan.

Concurring with Pathan, Aziz Khalid, President of the Pakistan Publishers and Booksellers Association, also confirmed that various publishers had not received orders for printing more textbooks until the final week of October.

Khalid’s assertion holds value given that the current caretaker government just recently released the required budget of Rs1 billion for printing textbooks soon after the shortage of course books in government schools started receiving popular attention. However, even as publishers start printing textbooks, distribution can take at least a month, making it highly unlikely that the books would be available to students before November end.

Speaking to Dily City news on the matter, Shireen Narejo, Secretary of School Education said,” This year, the dollar rate was peaking and paper had become very expensive, due to which the government could not afford to print the regular number of textbooks given its limited finances. However, now the Chief Minister of Sindh has taken notice of the matter and we have issued an order to print more books.

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