LAHORE, Dec 30: The Punjab Textbook Board seems to be on the verge of collapse – administratively as well as financially – because of the apathy of none other than the Punjab school education department authorities.
The Punjab government has established a supervisory body – the Punjab Curriculum Authority (PCA) -- through an Act of provincial assembly but assigned it the roles that have traditionally been performed by the Punjab Textbook Board (PTB).
The PTB’s 1962 and 1970 Ordinances are also in force creating clash of roles – “to regulate and control printing, publishing and sale of textbooks and other supplementary materials”.
The PTB has already lost its five-decade old role of making arrangements for timely production of textbooks and their supply to the schools and in the market (to the private publishers) following the introduction of the National Textbook Policy and Learning Materials and Plan of Action 2007.
However, the past few years’ experience shows this arrangement has failed because textbooks remained in short supply in the market since the very start of academic sessions due to private publishers’ weak financial resources and lack of capability.
Instead of rectifying the situation by improving working of the Punjab government as well as the PTB, the Punjab school education department had proposed PCA’s draft bill, taking over PTB’s major role [Clasue 6(c)] “of regulating and controlling printing, publishing and sale of textbooks and other supplementary materials”.
“The school education department intentionally included PTB’s regulatory role in the PCA Act to erode the Board’s authority,” a source in the authority told Dawn.
Since the passage of PCA Act 2012, the PTB officials are demanding that the Board should be allowed to perform its well-defined functions to ensure timely production and supply of books to the schools and in the market.
The PTB is also facing financial crunch as the Programme Monitoring and Implementation Unit (PMIU) has inordinately delayed the payment of Rs988 million against supply of free textbooks from 2007 to 2012.
Sources said that to resolve the issue Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s son and MNA Hamza Shahbaz organised a meeting of PTB stakeholders and Punjab school education additional secretary with CM’s principal secretary Nadeem Hassan Asif in the chair to review the working of the Board at CM’s Camp Office at 180-H, Model Town, on November 15.
It is learnt that PTB chairman Shahid Ahmad Bhutta apprised the meeting of development of textbooks under National Textbook Policy 2007 and its pros and cons, future mechanism to ensure the quality and timely supply of textbooks to the students of public and private sector schools, and inordinate delay in payment of dues by PMIU and its repercussions viz-a-viz timely supply of textbooks.
On the instructions of CM’s principal secretary, the PTB chairman forwarded a seven-page summary to the school education secretary on November 17 for onward submission to the chief minister, explaining the role of PTB, impact of National Textbook Policy and Learning Materials and Plan of Action 2007, shortage of textbooks developed by private publishers and Punjab Assembly legislation in this regard after 18th amendment.
The chairman proposed that the Board should be allowed to develop textbooks as per PTB Ordinance 1962 and 1970 for Classes I-XII for the academic session commencing from April 1, 2014. He stated that the Board should be allowed to adopt textbooks developed by it for 2013-14 academic session, to purchase the paper, revert to the previous system and get books printed through registered printers and publishers for public and private sector schools.
In order to ensure textbooks supply well in time, Mr Bhutta stated the PTB would advertise in national dailies for Expression of Interest for writers, authors, editors, illustrators till November 30, 2012. The board would receive manuscripts from authors by February 28, 2013, submit all manuscripts for NOC from PCA by May 31, 2013, while the authority would issue NOCs by July 15, 2013.
The PTB chairman again urged that the PMIU be advised to make payment of outstanding amount of Rs988 million and early disbursement of current bills to enable the Board to supply of books to public sector schools in time.
Ignoring the essence of PTB chairman’s summary, the school education department secretary Aslam Kamboh moved a “four-paragraph” summary to the chief minister after three weeks. It also left PTB chairman’s timeline irrelevant.
Kamboh’s summary explained the role of PTB and outsourcing of 41 textbooks for their supply to the market for the academic session 2012-13 before the enactment of PCA Act without even mentioning the books’ acute shortage since the very start of the academic session.
It also explained the role of PTB after the passage of PCA Act and stated that the textbooks would be supplied well in time for the 2013-14 and 2014-15 academic sessions, without explaining how?
Sources said Mr Kamboh in the summary did not even mention the PTB’s dministrative and financial crisis that might result in short supply of textbooks in the market before the start of next academic session.
Pointing to the downside of outsourcing of textbooks, the sources warned the shortage of textbooks developed by private publishers would turn acute at the start of the next academic session. They also observed that the liability of the Punjab government would increase manifold due to the books price escalation by private publishers.