37 Million Students Start New Year with Free Textbooks in Bangladesh

A Student rises up a textbook during the "Textbook Festival Day" program organized by Education Ministry at capital's Government Laboratory School. Image by Firoz Ahmed. Copyright Demotix (2/1/2014)

A student lifts up a textbook during the “Textbook Festival Day” program organized bythe  Education Ministry in the capital's Government Laboratory School. Image by Firoz Ahmed. Copyright Demotix (2/1/2014)

More than 37 million school students in Bangladesh have received nearly 300 million free school books from the government as part of “Textbook Festival Day” on January 2, 2014, setting a new world record in free textbook distribution, according to Education Minister Nurul Islam Nahid.

One of the aims of the annual textbook festival, which has been held since 2011, is to combat illiteracy in the country. According to UNESCO, about 80 percent of youth are literate in Bangladesh. 

In the past few years, the country has made tremendous progress [bn] in its education sector. Bangladesh has achieved almost 100 percent enrollment of eligible children in primary schools, male-female student parity, and ensuring free textbook for all. In 1991, the rate of enrollment was only 61 percent. In 2011, the rate rose to 98.2 percent and in 2012 to 99.47 percent. The rate of female enrollment in primary schools increased from 32 percent to 51 percent and in higher secondary from 18 percent to 54 percent of total students.

In 2014 school year the total books distributed were 299,675,938 among 37,336,672 students of primary, Ebtedayee, Higher secondary School, Dakhil and vocational school systems. The new textbooks can also be downloaded for free or read online from the government's e-book website and the National Curriculum and Textbook Board (NCTB) site.

Blogger and educator Masum Billah noted on the site Articles on Education of Bangladesh another benefit of free textbooks:

Free book distribution for all the primary students emerges as a great contributing factor to reducing drop out.

Different media published photos of students’ happy faces as they received their textbooks.

Film producer Rowshan Ara Nipa remembered on Facebook her own memories of school, when it took at least a few months to receive a new book for the school year:

গত ৫ বছর ধরে জানুয়ারীর ১ তাং এলেই সব বিদ্যালয় গুলিতে এক অসাধারন আনন্দ উৎসব আমাকে সুখকর এক ঈর্ষায় ফেলে দেয় , আহ্হারে আমি যদি ওদের বয়সী হতাম তবে তো আমিও আজ এই আনন্দের ভাগীধার হতাম! তবে আনন্দ যে একেবারে হয়না তা ঠিক নয়, বছরের শুরুর এই দিনে এক সাথে এত কচি কাচার হাসি মুখ এর চেয়ে বড় কোন শুভেচ্ছা আর আছে কি?

খুব মনে আছে এই তো ৫ বছর আগেই কোন ছাত্র-ছাত্রী নতুন বই কবে পাবে তার কোন ঠিক ঠাক সময় ছিলনা, বছরের ৩ মাস পেরিয়ে গেলেও নতন বই এর দেখা পাওয়া বড় সৌভাগ্য বলে গন্য হোত অথবা ২/১ টা নতুন বই আর পুরোনো বই মিলে একটা সেট বানানোর প্রান পন চেষ্টা করা হোত । আমার মা- বাবা দুজনেই প্রাথমিক বিদ্যালয়ের শিক্ষক ছিলেন। নতুন বই তো দুরের কথা ফেব্রুয়ারী-মার্চ পর্যন্ত কোন বই ছাত্রদের হাতে নাই এ নিয়ে দুশ্চিন্তার অন্ত ছিলনা…

The date January 1 meant a day of joy, which makes me happily jealous, if I were like them I would be part of the celebrations. But it is grand is to see all those happy faces of the children.

I remember that only five years ago there were no guarantee for the students when they would receive books. It would be pure luck for the students if they could get one or two books from the whole set after three months. Both my parents were primary school teachers. They would worry a lot how they were going to carry on with teaching the curriculum in the absence of books till February or March.

Sandipan Basu made fun of the situation:

এখনকার পোলাপাইনগুলা অভাগা। আমাদের কালে আমরা বই না পাওয়ার অজুহাতে পুরা জানুয়ারি স্কুলে যাইতাম না। আর পোলাপাইনে এখন বছরের প্রথমদিনই বই পাইয়া যায়। ক্যামনে কি !!

Today's students have no luck. We could skip school for the whole of January because we did not have new textbooks. Now they get new books at the beginning of the year. How is it possible?

Students rise up textbooks during the "Textbook Festival Day" program organized by Education Ministry at capital's Government Laboratory School. Image by Firoz Ahmed. Copyright Demotix (2/1/2014)

Students celebrating the “Textbook Festival Day” in the capital's Government Laboratory School. Image by Firoz Ahmed. Copyright Demotix (2/1/2014)

Bangladesh is advancing despite its problems. The distribution of books on the second day of the year is one such example. Blogger Arif Jebtik wrote:

যাঁরা ভাবে বাংলাদেশ এগুচ্ছে না, তাঁরা আমাদের বাংলাদেশ দেখেনি। আমি জানি এই দেশ কীভাবে কতটুকু আগাচ্ছে। [..]

আজ বই হাতে পাওয়া প্রিয় প্রজন্ম, তোমরা সুখে থাকো। তোমাদের যখন পিছু ফিরে দেখার সুযোগ হবে, সেই বয়েসে তোমরা যে বাংলাদেশে দাঁড়িয়ে থাকবে, সেই সুন্দর বাংলাদেশের কথা ভেবে আমি মাঝে মাঝেই তোমাদের ঈর্ষা করি…

Those who think that Bangladesh is not progressing, they are not aware of Bangladesh. I know how it is leaping forward. [..]

Please be happy that the new generation received new books on time. When you look back at this moment one day, like I am doing, you will have lived through that progressive Bangladesh, and I am very much jealous.

Political violence has been a feature of many people's lives in Bangladesh, including children. Freedom fighter and activist Akku Chowdhury wrote:

this is the kind of Bangladesh we would like to see…Children happy with new books seeking knowledge….not Children with gun powder learning to make human BBQ….we want violent free democratic and peaceful nation moving forward with the spirit of liberation war….we want leaders ready to walk the talk…leaders who lead by example….we want politicians who considers power as a public service but not self service to become wealthier….joi manush (hail humans)


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