Under the Right to Education Act, 2009, the government is obliged to provide free textbooks to all elementary school children in the public education system within the first week of the academic year.
But this is rarely the case. Surveys conducted across India have found that textbooks do not reach students on time, sometimes arriving towards the end of the academic year. A 2014-’15 study by an NGO called the RTE Forum, conducted in 457 schools across 10 states, found that textbooks were not available on time in 50% of the schools.
The country’s national capital is among the worst-performing states on this account. According to a 2013-’14 study by District Information System for Education, 27% of the government primary schools surveyed did not receive textbooks at all. Among the states, Kerala fared the worst in textbook distribution, followed by Delhi and Chandigarh.
Hurdles to learning
In the 2016-’17 academic year, children in Delhi’s government schools received their textbooks in phases, over months – some reaching them six to nine months into the session, which starts in April, a survey conducted by the Delhi RTE Forum in eight districts found.
For example, textbooks for mathematics and science reached schools in East and North East Delhi only by September, and a textbook called Pragati, a preparatory book for Class 6 and Class 8, reached schools in the eight districts just days before the final exams on March 8.
The non-availability of textbooks for such a long period directly compromises the process of learning and students’ performances. It is impossible for any child to cover the entire syllabus within a short period. Children are unable to cope with their studies for no fault of their own and then progress to the next grade without grade-appropriate learning.
Aside from the unconscionable delay, the printing and binding of textbooks is often of poor quality and does not meet norms described in procurement guidelines. This creates additional hurdles for children to access knowledge.
Textbook pe charcha
Ahead of the 2017-’18 school year, Campaign for Change, a network of individuals working towards social reform, organised community charchas or discussions on the problems arising by the delays in textbook distribution. The discussions covered the Seemapuri, Sunder Nagari and Haulambikalan localities. The main challenges identified were:
- Inordinate delays or complete unavailability of some textbooks during the academic year.
- Extremely poor quality of printing and binding (for instance, pages bound upside down, faded text, wrong colours for illustrations of animals, fruits, and even an upside down map of India).
- Incomplete and error-riddled content (for example, textbooks with several blank pages or missing pages, repetition of chapters, misspelled words).
On April 2, around 200 members of School Management Committees (statutory bodies formed under the RTE Act to monitor the functioning of schools) from across Delhi and civil society organisations working towards realising the right to education held their first ever meeting to discuss how to resolve the textbook crisis in Delhi government schools.
After speaking to children and parents, School Management Committee members agreed to take up these concerns in their respective schools and pledged to ensure the timely availability of quality textbooks.
However, when School Management Committees held a meeting with Deputy Chief Minister and Education Minister Manish Sisodia, he denied any problems with regard to textbook distribution in government schools. He said that this year, fresh textbooks would reach students by April 20, but the tenders for printing were invited in mid-January this year which is around the same time they were given last year too, despite which they failed to reach schools on time.
The Delhi Bureau of Textbooks, an autonomous body under the Delhi government, is responsible for printing textbooks for free distribution in all public schools in the national capital (which includes 1,024 schools run by the Delhi government and 1,775 municipal corporation-run schools).
An analysis by Pardarshita, an NGO working for pro-poor governance, identified inefficiencies and delays at each stage of textbook procurement – from the stage at which the Directorate of Education receives the textbook requirement of each school to the selection of printers and distributors by the Delhi Bureau of Textbooks and the supply of printing materials.
These delays, which repeat every year, cannot be explained by bureaucratic and logistic inefficiencies alone. The situation is clearly one of indifference and possibly, neglect and disregard for the rights of children.
One of the first steps taken by the Aam Aadmi Party government after coming to power in 2015 was to double the budgetary allocation for education from the previous financial year to Rs 9,836 crores. This was further increased by 8.68% for 2016-’17.
The major spending in 2015-’16 was on the construction of 8,000 new classrooms, and the 2016-’17 budget allocations prioritise training of teachers, skill development of students and installation of CCTV cameras in schools. There has been virtually no change in the amount allocated for textbooks – around Rs 100 crore – since 2013.
The Delhi government’s failure to ensure the timely delivery of primary school textbooks and the poor quality raises questions about the utilisation of funds, how printers and distributors are engaged, the imposition of penalties for violations of procurement norms and the role of the Directorate of Education. Children and parents are waiting for answers.
Ravi Prakash is a child rights activist and founding member of Campaign for Change.