Punjab Education Crisis: Textbook Board Asks Publishers To Pay Rs150,000 For Clearance Certificate Per Book

Punjab Education Crisis: Textbook Board Asks Publishers To Pay Rs150,000 For Clearance Certificate Per Book
Punjab Textbook Board has raised the review and registration fee for publishers seeking clearance and review of private books. A notification which has not been made public yet says that the review and processing fee from pre-Primary to Grade XII is enhanced to Rs. 150,000.

Since the onset of the Single National Curriculum drive by the federal education ministry, there is very little understanding of what the future of Pakistan’s education set up looks like. As a direct consequence, Pakistan’s education Czars are aiming to bring every single educational institute and publishing association onto its radar, to ensure the same material is taught everywhere. For these reasons and in the past two days, Pakistan’s Textbook Publishers association and All Pakistan private schools association protested against the new restrictions on right to publish and teach freely, amidst mounting uncertainty regarding new restrictions. The protest was held outside the Punjab Curriculum Textbook board’s office in Gulberg and protestors marched all the way to Liberty roundabout. Protests were held in Islamabad and Lahore.

The protestors were marching against the idea of ‘Single book’ and increased bureaucratisation of the education sector via restrictions. While there remain concerns around the disadvantages of Single National Curriculum, there has also been significant chatter and talk of a ‘single book’ to be taught everywhere, which could effectively make a North Korea or China out of Pakistan.

Education Minister Shafqat Mehmood has refused to rule this ‘single book’ out on multiple platforms and no clarity has been made yet about this. This was echoed in remarks by President of Textbook Publishers association (TPA).

The representatives of the school association and TPA argued that it is important to note that in Punjab, more than 50 per cent of the population by 2010 live in a village with at least one private school. Therefore,  several thousands of these private schools rely on their ability to choose from a wide variety of books (already published along provincial textbook board guideline) based on book quality, content, design, reader friendliness etc. This is precisely the basis on which private publishers compete in the private schools market which form the bedrock of Pakistan’s education setup, and fill the gap between government and students. Schools and publishers protested against the incoherent new policy, which could wipe out their choice, discretion and right to publish.

Regarding latest restrictions, the President of the Textbook Publishers association claimed that there are zero grounds for the Punjab textbook board to make it mandatory to obtain Non-Objection Certificates for every book that requires publication. Per the new notification issued by Punjab Curriculum Textbook Board, any book published without a Non-Objection Certificate would result in an FIR being lodged against the respective publisher. Sources inside the board say that the board lacks capacity and ability to review thousands of books which could be submitted for NOCs as early as next year. The consequence of it would be disastrous as books will remain stuck with bureaucrats and not reach the market for months to come. Schools will be unable to choose new books based on Single National Curriculum, primarily because of severe delays in NOCs.

Naya Daur Media has learned that upto 12,000 books were already submitted for NOC’s in 2018, and no approvals were handed out till date. This strengthens the impression that the board lacks the capacity to issue approvals in timely manner.

Moreover, sources claim the board is aiming to obtain fee for every approval, which was denounced as an illegal and immoral charge by the protestors. The President of Textbook Publishers association added that any fee for NOC submissions would be a violation of the Board’s regulatory role which should be limited to guidelines as opposed to adding financial difficulties for entrepreneurs and publishers. The association also demanded that SNC be implemented by 2022 to allow publishers breathing space to produce books along the new curriculum guidelines. The protestors demanded the board to negotiate with them, instead of turning to draconian measures, and to reach a satisfactory solution to address their concerns.

The protest comes in the backdrop of multiple bans on books by Punjab Curriculum Textbook board and a controversial Ex- Director who was transferred to a different department in August.

The writer is co-founder Future of Pakistan Conference and a graduate of the London School of Economics and Political Science.