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Wastefulness of textbooks
By Son Nguyen
Thursday,  Sep 27, 2018,21:42 (GMT+7)

Wastefulness of textbooks

By Son Nguyen

The cost is huge and is widely seen in local media these days as wastefulness when textbooks by the Vietnam Education Publishing House under the Ministry of Education and Training are for the most part turned scrap after each school year.

The topic surfaced as the National Assembly’s Standing Committee last week posed questions to the Ministry of Education and Training over the high cost for textbooks, which places a heavy burden on students and their parents. The issue then turned controversial in local media after the Vietnam Education Publishing House went on the defensive.

As widely covered by the media, the National Assembly’s Standing Committee convened a session to preview the amended Law on Education, where the topic on textbooks was raised. Le Thi Nga, chairwoman of the NA Legislation Committee, took issue with the education ministry over the wastefulness, saying at the meeting that some VND1,000 billion is spent a year on textbooks, but most of them are discarded after each school year.

“We convey voters’ opinions to the Minister of Education. Each year, some 100 million copies of textbooks are published, at a cost of VND1,000 billion, but such books cannot be re-used for the following year,” Nga is quoted by the news site Phap Luat Online as saying.

“Why cannot a textbook be re-used for several years?” ponders Nga in Thanh Nien. The problem, according to the chairwoman of the NA Legislation Committee, is that such textbooks allow for students to add contents, and are not usable for students in the following year. “Each year, the society loses over VND1,000 billion due to the textbooks being not reusable,” Nga is quoted as saying.

As the news spread, Hoang Le Bach, general director of the publishing company, convened a press conference in Hanoi last Thursday in a bid to make the issue clear, stressing that all processes are reasonable in the annual publication of textbooks for schools across the country. The company, says Bach, has done all things right to implement its mandates assigned by the Government and the ministry, and there is no wastefulness in the company’s business.

Bach told reporters that the contents of textbooks are largely kept unchanged through the years, so that students can use textbooks published in previous years. In the past few years, he said, the Vietnam Education Publishing House has waged campaigns calling on students to use old textbooks, and “in reality, some 35% of old textbooks are re-used each year. It is not 100% waste as mentioned by many people,” Bach is quoted by the news site Mot The Gioi.

But it is the low rate of textbooks being reused – at 35% as mentioned by Bach – is already a huge waste of resources.

Phap Luat Online points out that most of the textbooks are not re-used because many of such books require students to note down directly on the books, and such a waste amounts to some VND1,000 a year. “The total waste after 16 years maintaining monopoly in textbook publishing by the Vietnam Education Publishing House may have amounted to tens of trillions of Vietnam dong,” says the newspaper.

Explaining the situation of textbooks being not reusable, Nguyen Duc Thai, board chairman of the Vietnam Education Publishing House, says in Lao Dong that basically, textbooks are not designed for students to directly add notes. However, for some subjects like mathematics and English, there are professional conditions that require students to write directly on textbooks.

But the wastefulness is not limited to textbooks being not reused only. The waste is also seen in the way the publishing company does business.

At the above-mentioned news briefing, Bach of the Vietnam Education Publishing House revealed that his company incurs a loss of around VND40 billion from the textbook business, a claim that arouses strong protests. The publishing company’s CEO also said that such losses have been ascertained by the State Audit Office of Vietnam and taxation agencies, Mot The Gioi reports.

According to Bach, textbook business receives no subsidy from the Government, and while costs increase year after year, the textbook price stays unchanged as required by authorities. To maintain business, the publishing house has to use revenues from its other business operations to compensate the shortfall.

Hoang Thi Hoa, vice chair of the NA Committee for Culture, Education, Youth, Adolescents and Children, points out in Sai Gon Giai Phong that it is the bulky and complicated procedures that lead to losses in the textbook business. The distribution system is full of loopholes, with numerous intermediary steps that cause the cost to surge, she says in the newspaper. According to Hoa, the discount for textbook distribution amounts to some VND250 billion a year, equivalent to 25% of the revenue, which is illogical and causes textbook prices to surge.

Speaking at a meeting of the NA Committee for Culture, Education, Youth, Adolescents and Children this Tuesday, NA deputy To Thi Bich Chau also questioned the high discount and demanded further explanation, according to This news site says the discount is 1.7 times the company’s pre-tax profit, and poses the question “why the publisher still accepts to pay VND250 billion in discount at a time when it is still incurring a loss of up to VND40 billion a year from the business.”

Despite the huge losses for many years on end, according to Nguoi Lao Dong, the publishing house has still clung to the monopolistic business, which is off limits to other enterprises. Despite losses, says the paper, the Publishing House still seeks to maintain monopoly, and still seeks to publish textbooks year in year out instead of publishing books that can be re-used for many years.

According to Nguoi Lao Dong, as the education ministry assigns the publishing house as the sole publisher and distributor of textbooks, there are risks of relevant parties seeking to abuse their monopolistic position to suppress competition that should be nurtured to improve quality and lower prices.

Sai Gon Giai Phong also echoes the point, saying that the education ministry has created a closed circle of monopoly in all stages in the textbook business, which kills competition as a vital element to enhance quality and cut costs.

At a recent NA meeting, many deputies have also grilled the education minister over whether there exist interest groups in printing, publishing and distributing textbooks, says Mot The Gioi.

Commenting on waste in the textbook business, Nguyen Tung Lam, chairman of the Hanoi Educational Psychology, says on Phap Luat Online that the current monopoly must be ditched if students are to benefit from higher quality but cheaper textbooks. A matter of principle is that the people’s interests and benefits must be safeguarded, instead of the publishing house’s interests, according to the media outlet.

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