The printers say the National Curriculum and Textbook Board or NCTB delayed the floating of tender and repeated the process, which left them with very little time to finish their job.
NCTB officials acknowledged the delay in the tender process, but said the printing presses raised the costs through syndication, forcing the authorities to call the tender again.
With less than one and a half months left, the officials still hope that the students will receive the books on schedule.
Students celebrating the receipt of new textbooks for free at school events known as “textbook festival” on the first day of the year has become a tradition in Bangladesh after the government launched the programme more than a decade ago.
In the past 12 years, the Awami League government distributed more than 4.01 billion textbooks to the students of primary and secondary levels for free.
The books were sent to the primary educational institutions in time this year, but the delivery to the students was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic. As many as 343 million textbooks were distributed in phases in 2021.
The NCTB said at least 100 million books have been printed and sent to different parts of Bangladesh for distribution on New Year’s Day of 2022. The government plans to distribute 347 million textbooks at the beginning of 2022.
Dhaka Printers in Banglabazar got the order to print 550,000 books for the secondary students. Its owner Amin Khan said they have completed half of the order.
The printing presses used to get 98 days to complete the task, but this time they got 74 days, according to him. “It will be quite hard to deliver the books in this short period of time.”
“Those having a big workforce may not face any trouble, but it becomes a race against the clock for companies like ours. It would have been easier for everyone if the NCTB tenders were done in time. We're trying our best to deliver the books in time.”
Generally, the tender process for printing the textbooks for the following year is completed by May and the printers begin to work in June after receiving work orders. The entire process was deferred last year due to the pandemic.
Fresh tenders with amendments were also called again to supply the books of grades three to five on Aug 8. And the international tender for printing the Bangla books, ‘Amar Boi’, for the primary school students was called again on Nov 9.
Many of the press owners said they received the work order in the beginning of November. They are not sure if they will be able to deliver the books by Jan 1.
Work orders are yet to be issued and contracts are still needed to be signed for some secondary-level books, according to Shaheed Serniabat, chairman of Bangladesh Printing Industry Association.
"To be honest, things with textbook printing is not good. The NCTB still owes us money from last year. Prices of everything have gone up, especially those of oil and paper. We have no way but to charge more. We used to buy the ink for Tk 122 to Tk 128, which has shot up to Tk 165-170," a printing press owner said on the condition of not being named.
“When the tender was issued first, the tax was 5 percent only, but it shot up to 7 percent in June. But of course, we couldn't increase the rate."
Some of the printing presses, however, said they would finish printing the textbooks on time.
At least half of the 5.4 million primary textbooks have been delivered, he said.
The owner of Mousumi Offset Press in Banglabazar, Nazrul Islam Kajal said they got a work order to print more than 19 million textbooks this year. Among those, 3.3 million books for primary classes have been delivered and 1.8 million books for the secondary education level are under process to be delivered.
He hopes to print and supply the remaining 5 million books by Dec 20.
Professor Farhadul Islam, a member of the NCTB, said the printing of textbooks is their highest priority, and therefore, they start preparing for the task from day one each year.
“We lost some time because of the pandemic and other issues. For example, the prime minister was travelling abroad and gave us approval after her return. But our preparation has been going on in full swing.”
“Initially, the press owners quoted a rate 30 percent higher than we had estimated. They were united on the issue and came up with that rate. They did this despite being well aware of the quality of our tender. That’s why the first tender lost its validity,” said Farhadul.
“Can’t we give the work order to those who quote the rate we expect? Maybe he didn’t negotiate with others and that’s why the order went to him.”
The NCTB Chairman Prof Narayan Chandra Saha hopes to distribute textbooks to all students on the first day of the year.
“We have already supplied 100 million books to different Upazilas and more will be supplied. Those who failed to bag work orders are spreading rumours. Many printers have supplied all of the books according to the orders,” he said.