The Financial Express

Addressing costly educational implements

| Updated: November 18, 2022 22:15:02

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There are certain issues politicians on both sides of the aisle are hardly vocal about. But in terms of importance, they do not lag far behind the basic human rights. Particularly, in a pseudo-democratic set-up under the influence of a matching deformed free-market economy, even the social welfare programmes remain either half-heartedly devised and implemented or totally overlooked. One such aberration concerns the commercialisation of education where polarisation of educational institutions puts the learners of the poorer segments of society at a great disadvantage. Unless students from poor and low-income families are exceptionally meritorious, they stand no chance of advancing far in pursuing higher studies. Already pitted against overwhelming odds on account of the breakup with in-person schooling during the long Covid closure, these learners are now facing a further threat from the rising costs of all kinds of educational implements. The way papers, exercise books, geometric boxes, calculators, pencils, pens, rulers and other materials considered essential for class work are becoming dearer poses a daunting challenge for them to continue study. Do the nearly 200,000 fewer candidates this year for higher secondary (HSC) examinations than the previous year's total give any indication?

Although the digitisation hype has blinded most people about faster and convenient paperless exchange of information, monetary transactions and office works, the simple and plain paper still remains the centrepiece of human civilisation and the medium of individual life's quest for what one wants to be. Sadly, the crisis of writing and printing papers ---both white and newsprint---has been deepening for long and right now at its tipping point, it is set to upset education from the primary up to higher secondary level, academic and literary pursuits and the print media. Under immediate threat is the printing of about 350 million textbooks for primary, secondary and higher secondary students by December and distribute those among them on the first day of the New Year. Then comes the time of Ekushey Book Fair, when the country witnesses publication of the largest number of books compared to the rest of the year.

Newspapers may not be directly linked to academic education but nevertheless it carries forward the advancement of information and knowledge and the crisis the industry is facing now is multifarious. It is bound to trigger its snowballing effects on dissemination of information and knowledge. An adversely impacted education sector together with an imperilled newspaper industry first limits the scope for scholarship and then further shrinks the space for liberty of individual and collective minds and dreams.

It is against the context of emerging crisis, the policy of discouraging import of common white paper and newspaper warrants a review now. Of the 206 paper mills in the private sector, 70-75 are reportedly now in operation. True, they also face problems in importing pulp, the main raw material, and have to go for production far below their optimal capacity due to crisis of gas and electricity. But still the price levels which are 25-40 per cent higher ---in some cases double the previous rate---are not justified. It is for the government to act decisively now. It should allow import of paper on an emergency basis and the duty should be either waived or fixed at a minimum possible rate. Patronising knowledge is at times more important than procuring foods.

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