The distribution process of free textbooks for children of government schools in Punjab, which had come to a halt with lockdown imposition after coronavirus outbreak, has restarted.
The district-level depots of Punjab School Education Board (PSEB) have started delivery of textbooks to block-level offices after following the ‘proper sanitising procedure’.
In district-level PSEB storerooms, where new books received before lockdown were kept, packed bundles are being sprayed with disinfectants before being sent out for students. PSEB depot managers said that they were trying to sanitise each bundle of packed new books. The books being printed now are also being sanitized at the press before being loaded into vehicles.
However, a bigger challenge now lies ahead for the education department and school authorities. With the schools still closed, the teachers in Punjab have to implement a massive exercise and distribute at least 1.60 crore textbooks to more than 21 lakh students from classes I to XII following proper social distancing norms. Teachers said that they are yet to get any instructions on how books will reach children — either their parents have to be called to schools turn-wise or teachers have to home-deliver them at village level using their own vehicles.
In the four-step process, it is still unclear how textbooks will reach children — if they will be called to schools or teachers will be asked to home-deliver. Books are first delivered to PSEB district-level offices after printing. They are then sent to block primary education officers (BPEOs) and then BPEOs supply books to government schools from where they reach children via teachers. Following coronavirus outbreak and lockdown, the fourth and last step’s implementation is still unclear.
Meanwhile, the Punjab School Education Board, which is entrusted with responsibility to print free textbooks for all students from classes 1 to 12 and supply them till the block-level, is not taking any chances. Each district-level PSEB office where books are kept in storerooms, have been instructed to sanitise the entire storerooms and each bundle of books, before they are transported to block-level offices.
Tarlochan Singh, manager, PSEB office Ludhiana, said that on May 9, they received instructions to get four storerooms sanitised, and bundles of books were sanitised too. “We transported 11,000 books on Tuesday and 29,000 books on Wednesday to block education offices. All four storerooms where books were stored have been sanitised. It is not possible to sanitise each and every book as they are packed in bundles so we are spraying disinfectant on bundles before transporting them. We cannot take any risk as children are involved and they will touch them. Though 22 titles were received before lockdown started, we have sanitised all the bundles.”
He added that least 15 lakh books will be supplied in 19 blocks of Ludhiana district from PSEB office in the city.
“We have opened Ludhiana PSEB office with 33 per cent staff to sanitise books and storerooms after receiving orders. Supply of books will be started thereafter,” he said. “We have not yet received books for classes 11 and 12 as exams/results of board classes are still pending. Priority is to distribute books for classes 1 to 10 first.”
Speaking to The Indian Express, Gurtej Singh, deputy director (publications), PSEB, said that responsibility of the board was to ensure that freshly printed books reach block-level offices safely after sanitising them, and further it is the responsibility of BPEOs to ensure books are delivered safely to students.
“We have instructed all district-level offices to sanitise storerooms and bundles of books before delivery to block-level offices. Also, books are being sanitised after printing at the press also. Of total 1.60 crore books that we have to supply for this session, nearly 75 lakh have been printed and procedure was stalled due to lockdown. It has now been restarted to print remaining books too and supply them to district offices as soon as we can,” said Gurtej Singh.
Amarjit Singh, assistant state project director (textbooks), Punjab education department, meanwhile, said that exact strategy on how books will reach children was still being chalked out. “We might leave it to the principals to ensure that books are distributed at their own level following social distancing norms. They can either call parents or children turn-wise to school. Like a certain number of children can be called in one hour to hand over the sets or for some children books can be home-delivered. Principals and teachers have to work it out at the ground level. Priority is to make books reach block offices first,” he said.
Swaranjit Kaur, district education officer (secondary), Ludhiana, said that they will coordinate with principals to ensure that children are given books in a safe manner without crowding in schools. “Social distancing will be followed as per norms. Schools are not yet open for children but only staff. We are yet to work out how books will reach children,” she said.
On Tuesday, Punjab school education secretary Krishan Kumar wrote a letter to all the deputy commissioners in Punjab to allow district education officers and district managers of PSEB to distribute books to the students studying in government schools. The secretary in his letter said that due to the lockdown, the schools are not allowed to open. He wrote that schools have declared results and parents have started asking for books as students are suffering loss in studies.
He further wrote that PSEB has got the books printed and the same will also be delivered to districts and block headquarters.
He requested the deputy commissioners to allow DEOs and PSEB staff to distribute books to the students studying in government schools and also grant them the permission to engage labour for the same. He said that DEOs would ensure all necessary precautions are taken.