Errors and controversies in textbooks have triggered debates on different platforms from social media to parliament in the past few years, creating what some parents say a lack of confidence in the current education system of Bangladesh.
People involved in publishing the books have admitted a shortage of skilled manpower.
Some experts also see negligence on the part of the National Curriculum and Textbook Board or NCTB.
Amid intense criticism, the government withdrew altogether two books of classes six and seven last year.
The NCTB had to announce corrections to 428 mistakes in 40 books of these two grades.
Professors Muhammed Zafar Iqbal and Hasina Khan admitted that parts of an online article were translated word for word for a science lesson of class seven.
This year, just after the distribution through a textbook festival at schools across Bangladesh, the government faced criticism for photos of Hindu goddess Durga on dozens of Islam and Moral Education books of class three in Satkhira and Thakurgaon. The authorities changed the books, saying it was a “printing mistake”.
The content that triggered debates the most this year is the “Story of Sharifa”, a lesson on third gender people.
A university teacher tore up pages containing the story from the History and Social Science book of class seven at a programme, alleging that the lesson may promote homosexuality, which is forbidden in Muslim majority Bangladesh.
The NCTB has been considering a review of the story.
Mistakes in the map of ancient city Jericho have sparked another debate amid the Israel-Hamas war. Israel’s name, but not Palestine’s, was used on the map.
Mistakes in spellings, information and theory have also called into question the quality of the textbooks.
People also wonder if secondary level students are prepared for some content in the health book.
“We heard many things about the textbooks last year. So, why should there be mistakes this year? Aren’t the authorities taking the issue seriously? There’s no outcome in parents speaking about the issue,” said Fatem Yuz Zohra, the mother of a ninth grader of South Point School and College in Dhaka.
Umme Habiba, the mother of an eighth grader of Sher-e-Bangla Girls High School in the capital, said: “I’ve heard there are many mistakes in the books. The government should make corrections fast considering the wellbeing of the children. What will they learn if there are so many mistakes? The government should be more careful because this issue involves our children’s future.”
LACK OF SKILLS, TIME?
Siddique Belal, a co-author of secondary history and social science textbooks, explained to bdnews24.com that typically a team of 10 to 12 authors collaborates to write a book.
During this process, they review and correct each other's mistakes, and any remaining errors are addressed during editing.
Belal expressed frustration regarding the presence of mistakes in textbooks despite the rigorous writing.
He highlighted issues such as paper and printing quality, spelling errors, and even a notable typo regarding Israel in one of the books.
Belal attributed these mistakes to a lack of proper editing and proofreading, as well as a shortage of skilled individuals involved in the textbook preparation process.
He emphasised the importance of addressing these shortcomings and expressed disappointment that more attention is not given to such crucial matters.
On the challenges of textbook preparation, Professor Moshiuzzaman, a member at the NCTB, acknowledged logistical hurdles and a shortage of skilled personnel.
He highlighted difficulties such as finding educated computer operators and skilled typists.
"We encountered mistakes in the science books as well. Specifically, there was a typo related to the equation font used in math and science. It was challenging to find a typist in the entire Banglabazar who was proficient with this font.
"Fixing this problem took a lot of effort, similar to carefully drawing and arranging each part."
Moshiuzzaman emphasised the need for proficient individuals in areas like graphic design and underscored NCTB's efforts to address these limitations.
Professor Mohammad Tariq Ahsan from Dhaka University's Institute of Education and Research explained that errors are inevitable in textbooks, particularly with the introduction of new curricula, which require a different approach to writing.
He noted that the process now involves extensive research and innovation, leading to longer preparation times for new curriculum books.
The professor highlighted a shortage of manpower as a contributing factor to mistakes in textbook writing. For example, this year, authors from the same group had to write two books for classes eight and nine, leading to a lack of time for thorough proofreading and editing.
Consequently, some printing errors and typos remained unaddressed, he said.
Professor Fahima Khatun, former director general of the Directorate of Secondary and Higher Education, criticised the NCTB for its “lack of foresight” in preparing textbooks.
She noted that the long-standing tradition of providing students with textbooks on the first day of the academic year has been disrupted during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Schools have been receiving low-quality books for several years because of delayed printing, despite plans announced by NCTB officials to start printing books at the beginning of the year, which were not implemented.
According to Fahima, if the new curriculum books could have been finalised and sent for publication at the beginning of 2023, many issues could have been avoided.
She highlighted the lengthy process involving the authors, the NCTB, the curriculum revision committee, and manuscript selection, which took longer than necessary.
Fahima urged the stakeholders to prioritise accuracy in delivering textbooks to students.
She emphasised the importance of awareness and thorough review by everyone involved, including authors, the curriculum committee, the NCTB, and committees of the Directorate of Primary Education.
She believes that with increased vigilance and repeated manuscript reviews, mistakes can be minimised.
‘NO BIG MISTAKE’
Rabiul Islam, a history teacher of Motijheel Ideal School and College, said he did not find any major mistake in what he taught until the first week of February.
"We haven't yet discussed the part of the Israel issue that is being criticised. I think the content are there and people who are trying to create controversies regarding the issue are doing it without understanding the facts,” he added.
Sumona Biswas, the headmistress of Dhaka's Nalanda High School, also believes that the academic year has just started and the texts will be understandable over time.
She feels that the books have been student-friendly and has urged to make corrections immediately without wasting time if there are any mistakes.
"The issues that are being discussed should not be discussed in today's world. I don't think there is any necessity to debate the Sharifa issue. The students need to learn about the differences that exist in nature,” Sumona said.
About criticisms of the health books, she said students should start learning health issues such as adolescence in the primary level
“Our children undergo mental stress due to lack of learning the lessons related to adolescence and they suffer in the long run. They will not be aware of the issues regarding their adolescence unless they are told about it.
“We are preparing the children by providing them with information about health in the new curriculum. There's no shame in that," Sumona added.
NCTB Chairman Farhadul Islam said he saw no major issue for immediate correction in the textbooks.
“And we’re not agreeing with those who are demanding the cancellation of the ‘Story of Sharifa’. Objections have been raised about two words. Let’s see what suggestions we receive.”
He said the authors stood by the science lessons they wrote despite criticisms.
Farhadul said the map of ancient city Jericho will be fixed and Israel will be described as illegal occupiers. “Because we don’t recognise them [Israel].”
“But discussions with historians are still going on. We may also drop the name of Israel altogether.”
The NCTB chairman also said another panel has been formed to give a final check.
“If they think a review or correction is necessary, we’ll of course do it.”
[Writing in English by Osham-ul-Sufian Talukder, Arshi Fatiha Quazi and Shakhawat Hossain]