Since its establishment eight years ago, Naro gewog’s lone school, Barshong Community School, has been facing shortage of students.
The school has one of the highest teacher-student ratios in the country with two teachers teaching its seven students today.
The school was opened in 2010 after people of the gewog requested the government for an extended classroom (ECR) as their children had to go to the school in Lingzhi gewog, which is a two-day walk from Naro.
The government’s only condition then was that the public would arrange for a room to be used as the classroom.
Two years after its establishment, the ECR was upgraded to a community school in 2012 and His Royal Highness Gyaltshab Jigme Dorji Wangchuck inaugurated it.
The government also built a three-room single-storeyed house of stone and mud motor masonry with corrugated iron sheet roof for the school. One of the rooms is used as a library and another as a teacher’s residence.
The school has a clean water supply, solar electricity, and separate toilets for boys and girls. It is next to the gewog’s grade II basic health unit.
But the school, which has up to grade IV today, could never have more than 11 students in an academic year.
That is not because the gewog lacks school-going age children. The highlanders claim that there are enough children to fill a primary school.
A highlander from the gewog, Wangdue, has been living with his five grandchildren in Chamgang, Thimphu in a rented apartment for the past three years.
He is from Zhomthang, a pastureland that is closer to Phajoding in Thimphu. It takes three days on foot to get to Barshong. “Sending our children to Barshong school is impossible.”
He said that to enrol his children in that school, he has to rent space near it to build a temporary house to live in. There is no shop in Barshong or in any parts of the gewog.
“We’ll have to transport food supplies and other essentials from Thimphu via Dodeyna spending more than Nu 10,000 for vehicle and horses to ferry the supplies enough to last half a year,” he said. “If one of them falls ill, then who’ll look after the rest when I take him to the hospital in Thimphu.”
The people, during the Prime Minister’s visit to the gewog last week, did not ask the government to upgrade the school.
Highlanders said there are more than 20 of them who have children in other schools in other parts of Thimphu and Paro.
Many highlanders say that they opt to enrol their children in schools in Kabisa and Chamgang in Thimphu, and in Paro because they live in places that are more than a day’s or two walk away from the gewog centre in Barshong.
Of the 69 households in the gewog, only about 15 are close to the school.
“We can enrol our children in Barshong school only if the school has a boarding facility,” Tenzin, who lives in Kabisa, a village about half an hour drive from the capital city, said.
Even to those who live close to the school, keeping their children in school throughout the year is problematic.
Three highlanders from every household go to collect Cordyceps Sinensis, which has become the mainstay of the highlanders’ livelihood, for a month between May and June every year. The academic session does not break for summer break until the end of June.
A highlander living next to the school, Yangki, had to request a teacher to look after her son as her family left to collect the highly-prized fungus.
Naro gup Wangchuk said that a survey last year found that there are 15 students aged one to five. “We don’t have many children here because most of our youth settle in towns and don’t return home,” he said.
He said that life in the highlands is demanding and given the tempting options of an easy life in towns elsewhere closer to hospitals, and modern amenities, people don’t want to return.
Meanwhile, Wangdue entrusted his cattle and yaks to his four children. The pasturelands are scattered and he claims that life is difficult up there in the mountains.
“Without proper schooling, our children will get nowhere in the future,” he said. “The natural resources could exhaust one day, that’s why most of us chose to live like this to educate them.”
Tshering Palden | Naro