Increasing availability of banned guidebooks and notebooks amid lacklustre monitoring remains an impediment to fostering creative and thinking faculties among the learners as one of the main objectives for education set in the National Education Policy 2010.
Banned guidebooks, in many cases prescribed by the teachers, are being sold at bookstores in every nook and cranny of the country, posing a major setback for creative and thinking faculties among students, academics have said.
There are allegations that because of an unholy alliance with publishers, many teachers compel students to buy the guidebooks and notebooks which bookshops are selling openly defying a government ban on notebook in place since 1980.
In December 2009, the Appellate Division upheld a High Court verdict which banned guidebooks and notebooks and directed the government to take action against anyone found flouting the ban.
All these are happening in front of the authorities like Directorate of Secondary and Higher Education, National Curriculum and Textbook Board and others who turn a blind eye to the illegal sales of the guidebooks.
Teachers say that students learning from guidebooks containing serious errors can never overcome their mistakes.
As reliance on guidebooks takes pupils away from textbooks, they get used to rote learning which destroys their creativity and analytical faculties, says National Education Policy 2010 formulation committee member Professor Siddiqur Rahman.
Creative system of education adopted by the government has increased students’ dependence on guidebook and notebooks, finds Siddiqur, who led a team consultants which developed the current curriculum.
Bangladesh Publishers and Books Sellers Association president Arif Hossain says that printing and selling guidebooks are illegal. ‘But we publish books that help students as there is huge demand’.
NCTB chairman Professor Narayan Chandra Saha shifted the responsibility of monitoring and curbing sale of illegal guidebooks and notebooks to the Directorate of Secondary and Higher Education authorities.
DSHE director (Secondary) Professor Abdul Mannan says that DSHE is not a ‘policing’ organisation but still their field level officials are working to ‘curb’ the sale of banned guidebooks and notebooks.
He makes the comments when bookstalls across the country are full with guidebooks and notebooks with attractive names published, by both renowned and less known publication houses, with promises of good results in the public exams.
During random visits to bookstores in the capital and five outlying districts, New Age has found that guidebooks published by at least 20 publishing houses are on display at bookstores.
Parents and students are lured into buying guidebooks by what is written on their covers that make lofty promises to pupils that they will find all the answers to creative and other questions.
These bookstores are full with guidebook and notebooks for all classes published by Panjeree, Lecture, Anupam, Royal, Adil, Computer, Jupiter and Classic for English version. Besides, Panjeree, Jupiter, Popy, Mizan Library, Kajal Brothers, and the Royal Scientific Publication’s guidebooks for Class XI and XII are also on display.
These books have different attractive names like Test Paper, Auxiliary Books, Made Easy, One in All and others. Besides these guidebooks, there are various guidebooks for graduation and post-graduation level students, for admission and job coaching, English proficiency tests and others.
All these are happening although there is a law that has banned notebooks in Bangladesh with penalty and punishment for breaching it.
Considering that notebooks might be hindering the development of creativity of students, the government banned printing, import, sale and marketing of notebooks in April 1980.
Note-Books (Prohibition) Act, 1980 prohibit printing, publication, import, distribution and sale of note-books on textbooks for primary schools and secondary schools up to Class VIII.
According to the law, notebook means any printed book that contains notes, annotations, explanations, comments, references, answers or solutions to any questions on any subject or matter in, or translations or paraphrases of any part of, any textbook but does not include any such book published by, or under the authority of, the board.
Section 3 of the law says ‘No person shall print, publish, import, sell, distribute or in any manner put into circulation or keep for printing, publication, sale, distribution or circulation of any notebook’.
Whoever contravenes any provision of section 3 shall be punishable with rigorous imprisonment for a term which may extend to seven years, or with fine which may extend to Tk 25,000, or with both, it says.
The education ministry in December 2007 issued an order to all deputy commissioners to take steps, including conducting mobile courts, to enforce the law.
The then president of Bangladesh Book Publishers and Sellers Association Abu Taher filed a writ petition with the High Court in February 2008 challenging legality of the government order.
In March in 2008, a High Court bench gave the verdict that not only notebooks but also guidebooks would be banned.
Later, the notebook publishers filed a writ with the Supreme Court against the HC verdict. But the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court dismissed the writ in December 2009.
‘Law by and large remains on paper,’ says Siddiqur, also former Dhaka University Institute of Education and Research director.
‘We hardly see any initiatives from the authorities to curb the booming illegal guidebook and notebook business,’ he laments.
‘We never have heard about any action against any of the publishing houses,’ he adds.
Education policy 2010 says that one of the aims of education will be to foster creative and thinking faculties among the learners through a system of education that contains indigenous spirit and elements and which will lead to a life-oriented development of knowledge of the learners.
Aims of education is also to evolve an education process that is oriented to creativity, practicability and productivity to achieve advancement in the economic and social fields of the country; to create a scientific mindset of the students and to develop in them the qualities of leadership.
Prime minister’s office in a letter on February 8, 2015, sent to the education ministry, noted that a section of teachers across the country were taking bribes from 55 publishers of banned notebooks and guides and forcing students to purchase those books.
‘Like push marketing of medicines by medical sales representatives, some publishing houses have also appointed representatives for selling the banned guides and notebooks,’ said the letter.
‘The students are given free textbooks by the government but a single student of Class VIII need to spend up to Tk 4,000 to purchase a set of notebooks,’ it said.
The PMO letter was sent to the education and home ministries suggesting punitive action against the illegal syndicate that comprises publishing houses, a section of teachers, school managements, book sellers and a section of law enforcers across the country.
The letter mentioned that nearly 55 publishing houses were engaged in publishing and marketing banned notebooks, but named 19 Dhaka-based publishing houses. They are Panjeri Prakashani, Jupiter, Galaxy, Nabadut, Jnangriha Prakashani, Sure Success Publications, Abismaraniya Prakashani, Touch Publications, Teachers Publications, Eker Bhitare Sab, Al Fatah Publications, Al Baraka Prakashani, Islamia Kutubkhana, Kamiyab Prakashani, Al Madina Prakashani, Millat Prakashani, Imtehan Prakashani, Madrassah Library and Al Ashrafi Prakashani. The PMO asked the home and education ministries to find out the rest of the publishing houses located outside Dhaka.
The letter identified rampant sale and use of notebooks and guides as seriously hampering the government move to implement the method of creative type of questions which was introduced five years ago with an aim to help develop creative faculties of students.
Academics also say that not only student but also teachers are dependent on guidebook while setting question paper following the creative system. During the last four years, allegations surfaced at least thrice that question setters of public exam like JSC and HSC just copied the question from guidebooks.
The academic supervision report, which the planning and development unit of the DSHE prepared in May 2017, said teachers of about 52 per cent schools were partially or fully incapable of setting question papers in creative method at the secondary level although the system was introduced in 2010.
The report was prepared surveying 6,676 institutions in nine regions under DSHE.
As these teachers cannot set question papers in creative method, schools need to buy question papers of different subjects partially and fully from teachers’ associations flouting the ban on the purchase of question papers from outside, said an official engaged in preparation of the report.
The official said that teachers association set questions on many occasions, which were copied from guidebooks.
‘There are some teachers who set question following guidebook as they still do not have a clear understanding of what creative method means,’ Narayan admits.
The situation is worsening day by day, teachers have said, indicating that the guidebook and notebook business has reached every corner of the country. Guide book business insiders estimate that each year guidebooks worth about Tk 1,500 crore are sold in the country.
This year, the government has spent around Tk 750 crore for 4.5 crore textbooks to be distributed among 3.5 crore students from Class I to X for free.
‘There is a huge business centring guidebooks worth hundreds of crores of Taka. There are middlemen and vested quarters engaged in the business,’ Abdul Mannan says.
Guidebook and notebook of course put a negative effect on learners, admits Narayan.
‘We prepare textbook keeping in mind the curriculum, leaners’ strength to understanding, their age and class. But people in preparing guidebook and notebook prepare it in a short-cut method and they do not consider these elements,’ he points out.
‘Guardians have result-oriented attitude; they want result from their children. If they can change their attitude, it will reduce pressure on them students. We give only a few books, but the guardians to ensure good results of their children add guidebooks, adding to the burden on a learner,’ he observes.
‘I cannot say that 100 per cent teachers are fulfilling their duties. A quarter of teachers are also engaged in guidebook preparing business and campaigning for them,’ he adds.
‘There is no alternative to textbook for creation of creative and skilled human resources,’ he states.
‘We cannot catch guidebook businessman and punish them as we do not have any jurisdiction to do so. It is the Directorate of Secondary and Higher Education which is to do it,’ Naryan says.
‘DSHE is not policing organisation. Still field-level officer is trying to curb the guidebook,’ Abdul Mannan says, adding, ‘We can assume that many teachers are preparing questions copying guidebook but we hardly have specific information for taking action.’
Abdul Mannan notes that learning-based education has no place for guidebook and notebook; it has relation with business and guardians’ result-oriented approach.
Bangladesh Publishers and Book Sellers Association president Arif Hossain Chhoton denied all allegations and said they did not publish and go for marketing any kind of guidebook or notebook. ‘We publish creative books that are supportive for students,’ he claims.
‘Guidebook is that which has only question and answers. But our books contain a lot of sample answers of one particular question. So no question of hampering creativity among students arises,’ he explains.
‘Allegation against publishers that they with a nexus of teachers push and compel student to buy guidebook of certain publishing house is not authentic,’ he claims.
‘Usually bookstores in a remote town are located at long distances. Many teachers so collect guidebook from Dhaka and they keep it in a nearby bookstore and ask students to collect it. But it is not mandatory. If we get any kind of allegation, we take necessary action,’ he says.
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