Crisis looms for millions of Punjab schoolchildren
By Zahid Gishkori
ISLAMABAD: Millions of children may not find some of their textbooks when they get promoted to the next level as the Punjab government barred private publishers from printing books under its new curriculum reformed policy.
Background interviews and meetings of this correspondent with all the stakeholders suggested that the Punjab Curriculum and Textbook Board (PCTB) has created a major stumbling block for hundreds of private publishers by introducing new complicated NoCs criterion with demand of heavy fees, and 7.5pc royalty as well. All private publishers/printers were protesting against the PCTB administration after authorities cancelled their old NoCs, leaving hundreds of thousands unemployed and triggering what could snowball into a major crisis for parents and students in months to come.
“The government of Punjab goes one step ahead to implement the SNC by imposing its own 30 ‘model books’ as syllabus. The PCTB has imposed a new fee of Rs450,000 on one book, a move where the board could generate an amount of around Rs9 billion. This amount could go up further with 7.5pc royalty and taxes imposed by the PCTB. This move would further burden millions of students and parents,” said Fawaz Niaz, President Textbooks Publishers Association, Punjab. Around 250 private publishers/printers publish over 20,000 books (textbooks/supplementary materials) per academic year in the province, he added.
Punjab, while implementing the Single National Curriculum from class one to five in one go by putting the entire new syllabus into practice within two and a half years, may create a new crisis in the educational system by putting millions of children who are studying in class three to five at risk, according to educationists. Punjab is the first province which embraced an uproar of parents, private publishers and some other stakeholders after it was set to implement the SNC from Grade-I to Grade-V in the first phase this year. Federal government announced one system of curriculum in 2019-20 for all the children to have an equal opportunity for quality education in light of emerging international trends in three different phases (2021-23).
Private publishers, authors and printers said that the PCTB, without providing model textbooks to the private sector, granted a blanket approval for the adoption of the SNC. The board being a regulator has become a main competitor. Public sector publishers have been allowed to publish the ‘model textbooks’ under the Punjab Education Sector Reforms Programme while the private sector has yet to get NoCs, they observed. “This is a clear violation of Section 3 of the Competition Act, 2010 which deals with equal educational material development programme. New academic year is about to start but we have yet to get model books. How will we be able to publish millions of books/supplementary material, get approval for these books and other supporting material and provide books to students before the next academic year,” said Fawaz Niaz, a private publisher. The government should listen to all stakeholders to resolve their genuine issues raised under the Scheme for Development of Textbooks and Supplementary Reading Material-2021, he added.
“Yes, private publishers’ concern is genuine. I asked PCTB to ease the NoCs process. The PCTB should play a role of facilitator rather than creating hurdles for the private sector’s desire to publish books and supporting materials,” said Shafqat Mahmood, Federal Minister for Federal Education and Professional Training.
This might be a new issue if this [PCTB’s] bureaucratic hurdle continues to exist, Mahmood observed. “We are going in the right direction. My ministry, however, is committed to addressing genuine concerns of all stakeholders in Punjab as well as in other provinces to get this NSC implemented within the due time period. I have already consulted all the stakeholders,” he said.
The SICAS, a private school system in Punjab, wrote to students’ parents that private schools can teach other subjects such as IT, Music, Art, etc. but textbooks/resource books to be used need to be approved by the PCTB. “Textbooks for these subjects would be provided by the PCTB but we can use other textbooks or additional resource books that have been sanctioned by the PCTB through their approval process. We might not be able to use suitable textbooks and resource material to deliver the curriculum and maintain the quality education for your children to prepare them for international exams,” stated Dr Noha Mazraani, Academic Director SICAS, in a letter written to parents.
When asked why the PCTB was not timely issuing NoCs to private publishers, PCTB MD Dr Farooq Manzoor said, “No problem exists on the issue of NoCs in PCTB. NoCs would be issued to all private publishers in a stipulated time period. We have a capacity to review thousands of books in a timely manner and all stakeholders were consulted while preparing model textbooks.” In response to the question that why PCTB was demanding NoCs from private publishers charging heavy fees with 7.5pc royalty (taxes, etc.) at a time when there was a fear of non-availability of books to millions of children in Punjab, he said, “New heavy fee has been withdrawn. This matter, however, is also sub-judice in the court.” When asked where in the world a regulator becomes a competitor or money making machine, he said, “PCTB is a major stakeholder in implementing a reformed curriculum. We are taking up this issue with private publishers to address their concerns accordingly.”
Parents of children who study at English medium schools look more worried about this looming crisis of books and medium of language as compared to parents whose kids are enrolled at government schools, Geo News learnt. Parents say their children would cover social sciences subjects in Urdu format who never got prepared for such methods of readings. What is the logic behind changing the medium of instruction to Urdu which is the mother tongue of hardly 30pc kids in Pakistan, questioned Dr. Shazia Naeem, a mother of two schoolgoing daughters. “A single book will lead to rote learning. It is important that learning shall not be language dependent. English has always remained easy to understand, and if children have to learn in an unfamiliar language, then English is a more useful tool to teach in schools,” she said.
Sindh has outright rejected the SNC as Education Minister Saeed Ghani said, “Education after the passage of 18th Amendment remains a provincial matter. Our review committee did not see any new productive change in the new SNC and we are not going to implement it at all.”
The Balochistan government spokesperson Liaquat Shahwani said, “The government has conveyed concurrence to the federal government with regard to SNC for grade one to five. Its implementation will take place in due course of time.” Government officials in Islamabad told this correspondent that Balochistan and KPK were not well prepared to implement this new reformed curriculum this year.
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