Perhaps Bangladesh is the only country in the world today where children have their New Year's Day dedicated to new textbooks. To believe it, one has to visit the centres of the book festivals at schools around the country on the 1st day of January. Apart from the main centre at the Dhaka University Playground this year, the school venues in far-flung areas offer a similar spectacle: Beaming and frolicsome girls and boys are coming out of schools, the new books clung to their bosom. Many are found taking the fresh smell of the books, while others flipping through them. It's a normal scene, but every year the festival arrives with a newer look. While many other distractions beckon them with all their tempting power, finding the children and adolescents engrossed in books make the conscious segments of people feel upbeat. However, this mood doesn't last long.
A thin veil of gloom is always there to envelop the gaiety. It stems from the fear that this outburst of spontaneous joy may evaporate in a short time. But it also has its other side. A large number of child and teenage students develop an unexplainable passion for books outside the textbooks' confines at this stage. It wouldn't have happened had the students been made to come through the old and drab ritual of buying their new textbooks on the list supplied by schools. 'Books for free' has a lot to do with the spontaneous outburst of the joy that marks the book festival. It's true, in the absence of this festive occasion many parents might have been discouraged from seeing their children in the upper classes. In the country's vast rural area, parental poverty was once a damper to the school students' continuation of studies. The distribution of free textbooks by the government has greatly helped the aspiring students fulfil their dreams.
According to academics, the children and teenagers' initial love for books ought to be retained. It needs nonstop advocacy for pleasure reading. As the students grow and are promoted to upper classes, they might perform well in mathematics and related subjects. Most of these students pick the 'science group'. Science students can afford to part with narrative studies, and yet score marvellous results. Those who are made to target Humanities due to their impressive performance in the arts subjects cannot afford to break with reading subjects ranging from Bangla, English and different books of the arts. Few students finally qualify for studying in Science. Once there was a myth that Science opens the widow on vast career opportunities. Brilliant students from the Arts have long busted the myth.
In fact, both Arts and Science progress with their unique charms and qualities. None of these groups can advocate or discourage reading. The dispassionate judgement rests with the respective students. But as the educationists view it, reading for pleasure finally enriches the mind.
Changes made to textbook contents have in the recent years been a regular feature. As the present government stresses imparting of modern and meaningful education to the students, they have taken the task in earnest to revise the books for different classes. This policy may have surprised a section of teachers and guardians. But in the academic world, revisions go with curricular activities as a natural process. Primary and secondary-level books warrant thorough revisions since many of them haven't been scrutinised since long. For instance, the Bangla textbooks hadn't undergone any change for decades even after the independence of Bangladesh. However, the National Curriculum and Textbook Board authorities at one time took steps to keep the relevant topics in place, and leave out the pieces which had lost their timeliness. Changes made to primary and secondary-level books are a continuous process. Since the authorities have made themselves committed to ensuring an education suiting the present times, guardians are expected to welcome the attitude. However, there are fears of deliberate and mindless changes resorted to by a section of the books editors and compilers. These biased changes elicit criticism from the conscious teachers and parents. Writing and editing primary and secondary school students' textbooks is a highly delicate task. For, the age from childhood to adolescence is an impressionable age. Whatever a child or a teenage boy or girl learns at this age at school remains imprinted on their mind throughout their life. A handful of authors or editors might be incorrigibly biased. On occasions, the Textbook Board authorities may feign innocence. They might say they were compelled to look the other way. As alibi, this is too weak to be accepted.
The implementation of the nationally critical textbook project warrants extreme care and seriousness. Apart from the books and their contents, paper, the printing quality - especially those related to colour pages, all are inseparable. Nicely printed and bound books attract the school-going students more than those containing interesting topics. The age is one of looks. The Textbook Board has earned a lot of infamy for its shabbily produced books. The very sight of some of the books gives rise to repulsion and apathy among the otherwise enthusiastic young learners.
This year, in 2023, the scarcity of good-quality paper, and thus low-standard books may result in ennui among the students queuing up for receiving free books. The tale doesn't end here. Although students in large cities, including the capital, and their suburbs started receiving books on January 1, students in the remote areas may have to wait for a week or more to collect the long awaited books. This is an annual phenomenon. It detracts a lot from the pageant centring round books. Watching a damper like it spoil the festivity year in and year out might start degrading the festivity to the level of a tedious ritual. The parents feel gloomy. The ethereal joy of putting hands on the fresh-from-the-press books is universal on the part of the students. The joy is boundless with children from the poorer and lower-middle class families. Those from the affluent families are used to getting new books on many happy occasions like birthdays and the book fairs.