For a few years now, the National Curriculum and Textbook Board (NCTB), the largest state-owned publishing house in the world, has been immensely criticised by civil society for their misprints, factual errors and ideologically inappropriate content. What was missing from the conversation was the breadth of the problem—and that is what came out when Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) published their research paper on November 13.
The study took almost a year to complete and reveals some horrifying aspects of NCTB's activities. Misspelled words, incorrect grammar, inappropriate teachings—what might seem like minor mistakes from the surface hides a system of irregularities and corruption. The report concluded that the independent government body is a mess. For example, according to the study, which interviewed numerous officials within the NCTB and outside, only the ruling party loyalists get picked as members of different committees. In some cases, members get excluded even if they are actually competent. According to one informant, who was an excluded candidate, “I have never been called by the NCTB, because the only qualification required for the selection of committee members is political influence.” This is in spite of the fact that NCTB is ideologically supposed to be an independent organisation.
The same thing happens when it comes to selecting people for the writers' panel, as many of the writers are picked through favouritism, personal choice and recommendations from the ministry. Many of them lack proper understanding of the curriculum, according to the report.
When contacted, the NCTB Chairman Narayan Chandra Saha informs us that they are also looking into the matter and since the different ministries are involved in the whole process, he cannot give any statement alone, without their opinion. Professor Dr Mohammad Nizamul Karim, Secretary, NCTB, also refused to say anything.
A serious outcome of favouring political partisanship is that people with actual qualifications are left out. Although there is a policy for employing at least one expert from each subject for editing the textbooks of each grade, there are instances where the editors brought in have no significant expertise.
The report stated that this was also observed in the primary education wing. Instead of hiring experienced experts to strengthen our primary education curriculum, they take in regular employees from the education ministry, who often do not have subject-specific expertise. Many are simply cadres who chose “education” as their sector when passing the Bangladesh Civil Service (BCS) exam. It does not mean their university training is in designing textbooks.
Rasheda K Choudhury, Executive Director of Campaign for Popular Education (CAMPE), sheds light on the importance of having experienced people in creating the curriculum. “According to pedagogy, we call it 'developmentally appropriate curriculum and textbook', where a textbook is prepared considering the age, intellectual capacity and psychology of the students. This process requires an expert who understands these aspects well. Simply employing government employees who were placed in the education cadre in their BCS exam will not work if they don't have the required experience or expertise,” she adds.
Renowned academician Hossain Zillur Rahman, who was a former advisor to the caretaker government, also agrees with Chowdhury that since NCTB's activities affect the development of children, the organisation should be more careful and conscious while appointing an expert. “If you compromise with merit, you cannot compensate for the impact! It will influence the entire system,” he says.
This is something that actually happened because of taking in political favourites. Dainik Shikkha published an article in May 2017 recounting how an education ministry official eliminated Abdul Hakim's poem “Bangabani” and Abu Jafar Obayedullah's “Mago, Ora Bole” and put in his own creations instead. To do this, he stopped the presses for a whole month, resulting in delivery delays of the ninth and tenth grades. This happened in 2012.
The report also unearthed that in the beginning of 2016, a number of madrasa leaders met with NCTB demanding the curriculum be changed according to their interests. The NCTB gave in to the demands. For example, a textbook for the madrasa system had a character called Uttam. The madrasa leaders changed it to Oliul because Uttam sounded like a Hindu name.
Another thing the report revealed—the local and revenue audit team took BDT 8-10 lakhs every year for the past few years so that such irregularities are not shown in their audit report. In the 2016 academic year, with the initiative of audit and budget officers, a total of BDT 1,624, 000 was collected from the monthly salaries of different employees to pay BDT 20 lakhs to the audit team. The rest of the amount was taken from the budget.
This is one example of the irregularities of the body—over BDT 50.96 lakh was spent in the last three academic years for minor tasks like making guidelines for tender, publishing advertisements, issuing work orders and preparing a list of books sent to the upazilas. However, when asked, Mohammad Monirul Islam, the Chief Accounts Officer of NCTB, informs us that he knew nothing about it.
Malpractice has also been found in the printing phase. In the 2015 production year, the estimated production cost of each forma (double dimai paper) was BDT 0.85, which increased by 60 percent in the following year. There are allegations that the contracting process was biased—that both the tender committee and printing association members were informed about the projected estimated cost before inviting tenders.
According to an owner of a printing press interviewed by the researchers, it is strictly mentioned on the tender notice that each printing press must have 23 by 36 inches size printing machines, sheet machines and UV for binding covers, as well as necessary equipment for lamination, along with their own printing and binding factory. But, most of the small printing presses do not have their own binding arrangements, and hence, they outsource. “The thing is, there is a clear difference between the quality of work of a contractor and sub-contractor—a contractor might work for the goodwill of his company, but a sub-contractor usually does not care about it,” he says.
Besides, people who are supposed to monitor the quality are allegedly negligent in their duties, and the presses can get away with using lower-quality paper. According to the informer, the presses use good quality paper during daytime, but switch out at night. These books are then sent to the schools of different upazilas.
The upazilas also bear the brunt of irregularities in the case of distribution. According to a 2017 NCTB report, around 50 percent of the books were not distributed in time to nine upazilas of Laxmipur, Noakhali and Chittagong. But, the inspection report shows that all books were distributed on time.
However, Md Farhadul Islam, the new Chief Distribution Controller of NCTB, informs us that he does not believe that this is entirely true. “Last year a shipment arrived in time, but we were not able to receive it within the deadline because of formalities. That is why we tried to bring books from other districts and arranged book festivals in different upazilas of Laxmipur and Noakhali districts,” he says. Islam also assures us that since the information regarding malpractice and irregularities have come out, they are careful about the matter. “I believe that whoever is responsible for this, whether it is NCTB or printing organisations should come to light,” he adds.
Though a large number of media reports have been published in recent years on NCTB's massive blunders, compared to that, no significant steps have been taken by the respective authorities to look at what is actually going on there. However, time has come to give attention to this, as children all over the country should not be deprived of their basic right to education because of malpractice and mismanagement by the NCTB.