Delay in supply of textbooks affects courseworkThe new academic year in many mountain districts kicked off over 10 days ago but the lack of textbooks has rendered lessons ineffective, teachers say.
Dilesangmu Tamang is currently enrolled in grade five of Buddha Secondary School in Magrigau, Mugu. She passed her fourth grade exams relying on old books passed on to her class by the senior students.
It has been eleven days since the new academic year began in the mountain districts of Karnali but students are yet to receive their textbooks. Thirteen-year-old Dilesangmu is disappointed and says going to school without textbooks has dampened her excitement about starting in the new grade.
“Last year too, I had to use old, torn and tattered books. I wasn’t happy about it but at least we had books,” she said. “This year we don’t even have old books to refer to in class.”
According to Dilesangmu’s mother, Chitu Tamang, the last time her daughter received brand new textbooks was in 2018. “Since then, the school hasn’t distributed new books. My daughter says she doesn’t feel like studying anymore,” said Chitu.
Tika Prasad Upadhyaya, the principal of Buddha Secondary School, said the lack of books has affected the coursework of students of all grades. The school runs classes from grades one to 10 with a total of 472 students.
Schools in another mountain district, Humla, have also not received textbooks for this academic year.
There are two basic schools at Limi in Namkha Rural Municipality-6, Humla that have about 100 students enrolled but there are never enough books for all of them.
The remoteness of the area and the difficult terrain make access to Limi difficult. To reach Limi from the district headquarters, Simkot, one has to cross Nara and Nyalu highlands, which is at an altitude of about 5,000 metres. Due to heavy snowfall, the road to Limi gets closed for about six months every year. In the other six months, teachers who go to the district headquarters carry some school textbooks for the students but the individual effort of the teachers is not enough to ensure each student gets his/her own textbooks.
Kailash Rokaya, a teacher at Balmandir Secondary School in Humla, said he is worried about the completion of the coursework this year.
“I don’t know how we will manage without books. Some students did not return the used books so we are short of even old textbooks,” he said.
The lack of textbooks has increased absenteeism among students, says Rokaya. “Students do not come to school regularly because there are no books. The curriculum of 4th, 7th and 9th grades has changed this year but we don’t have any books for reference.”
“We downloaded the new syllabus on our phones but it doesn’t help much,” he said. “We give the students classwork and homework in accordance with the syllabus but since they don’t have textbooks, they can’t complete their work.”
In Shey Phoksundo Rural Municipality, Charkatangsong Rural Municipality and Dolpobuddha Rural Municipality in Upper Dolpa, students have to go through their academic years without textbooks due to the difficulty in transporting books to the region.
“Expecting school textbooks to arrive at our doorsteps is only going to lead to disappointment. This is a place where even food grains aren’t supplied on time,” said Pemba Lama of Dolpobuddha Rural Municipality-4. “Most of the schools in Upper Dolpa do not have enough textbooks.”
Schools in Mugu have also not received textbooks. There are around 500 students enrolled in the Mahakali Secondary School in Gamgadhi, the headquarters of Mugu district, and most of them don’t have textbooks. They go to school carrying only their pens and notebooks.
According to Rup Bahadur Malla, a resident of Chayanath Rara Municipality-2 in Mugu, despite the federal government's policy of delivering textbooks to schools a month before the start of the academic session, schools in the mountain districts never get books on time.
“Students are forced to refer to old books even when they go to a new class. Even last year, traders used the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse and this time they say it’s the election that has caused the delay in the supply of books,” said Malla.
According to Surya Khatri, chief of the Education Development and Coordination Unit in Mugu, 141 community schools in four local units of Mugu are yet to receive textbooks for this academic year.
Jayalakshmi Bham, the owner of Jaya Lakshmi Bookstore that delivers school textbooks to schools in Chhayanath Rara Municipality, said the delay in the supply of textbooks was caused due to the local level elections held across the country on May 13.
“The elections derailed all the supply systems this year,” he said. “We should be able to send textbooks to Chhayanath in the next 20 days.”
According to the Ministry of Social Development of Karnali, there are 657,000 students enrolled in 5,774 community schools in the province. The ministry has supplied about 900,000 books to the province’s schools so far, according to Janak Education Materials Centre, Surkhet. The centre distributes textbooks for grades 4 to 12 while books for grades 1 to 3 are supplied by a private supplier.
According to Dhan Bahadur KC, the provincial chief, the complete set of books for grades four, seven and nine has been sent to Surkhet while a few sets of books for grades five, eight and 10 are yet to be sent.
“Around 400 sets of books were dispatched to Namkha, Simkot and Kharpunath of Humla on Tuesday,” said KC.
“We only had 66 percent of the total cost for transportation. The airlines said the amount was not enough to cover the cost of transporting the books. That is why we have sent textbooks to Humla from Mugu via mules. The books should reach the region within three days,” said Kc.
Similarly, new textbooks are yet to reach Manang, a mountain district of Gandaki Province. Students have complained that their studies have been hugely affected in the absence of books.
“We don’t have books. The old books are of no use as our curriculum has been changed this year. It is very difficult to follow what the teachers teach us in class and to do homework as well,” said Jayaraj Thapa, a ninth-grader at Lokpriya Secondary School in Chame.
The new academic year began in all 26 community schools of Manang in April. But teaching-learning activities have not been effective due to the shortage of textbooks.
“Most of the students do not come to school regularly as they do not have books,” said Jagaram Bishwokarma, the headmaster at Thonche-based Prakash Jyoti Secondary School.
The Education Development and Coordination Unit in Manang claims that it has been pressuring the authorities to supply textbooks immediately.
“I call the Pokhara office of Janak Education Material Centre almost every day, urging them to dispatch the books soon. The office has assured us to manage books within a few days,” said Matilal Chapai, chief at the unit.
The shortage of textbooks has hit Sudurpaschim Province as well with students having to study without books even after two weeks of the academic session’s commencement. According to Dhrubaraj Panta, chief at Sudurpaschim Province office of the Janak Education Material Centre, around 2.4 million copies of textbooks are required for students from grades 4 to 12 in the province.
“Only 600,000 copies have arrived so far. Efforts are underway to distribute textbooks to all the students by mid-June,” said Panta. He said the available books have been dispatched to remote districts like Bajhang and Bajura.
The Janak Education Material Centre, a government holding company, is yet to print around 3.5 million copies of textbooks. According to the centre, out of the 19.8 million copies of books it was supposed to print, it could print only 16.3 million copies of books so far.
Anil Kumar Jha, managing director at the centre, claimed that all the textbooks could not be published on time due to the shortage of paper caused by the Russia-Ukraine war.
“Printing of ballot papers and the local elections also delayed the printing of school textbooks. Papers have arrived and the printing of books is going on in full swing. All required textbooks will be published by June third week,” said Jha.
(Raj Bahadur Shahi in Mugu, Chhapal Lama in Humla, Aash Gurung in Manang and Mohan Budhaair in Dhangadhi contributed reporting.)