Concerns over unused infrastructure of closed schools 

KP Sharma

The government’s initiative to rationalise schools has led to the closure of many schools in remote dzongkhags, leaving infrastructure underutilised, according to Kengkhar Weringla MP Rinzin Jamtsho.

The government, to promote the professional growth of teachers and ensure financial efficiency by reducing expenditures associated with the operation of small, unsustainable schools, started the  rationalisation initiative.

This initiative enables students to access high-quality education in the larger school environment. The initiative focused on upgrading lower secondary school (LSS) to middle secondary school (LSS) while simultaneously downgrading LSS to primary school (PS), consolidation or closure of small schools with enrollment  less than the required rates, and division of large secondary schools.

As per the State of Nation Report 2023, the ministry has merged 18 extended classrooms (ECR), and four small PS were merged with bigger nearby schools.

In addition, 18 LSS and one MSS were downgraded to primary level. Two PS were upgraded to MSS, three LSS to MSS, and four MSS to HSS level.

MP Rinzin Jamtsho said that while school closures were executed by past governments, lack of care for the infrastructure is worrying parents and communities.

He pointed out  that this issue is not a concern in urban areas as construction of infrastructures are done through proper tendering and careful budgeting.

“In remote places, parents and relatives actively contribute both labour and financial support for infrastructure development.”

Education Minister, Lyonpo Jai Bir Rai responded that the government has not asked schools to close and that these decisions were made by dzongkhag and local government through discussions and consultations with the community.

He said that students from smaller schools are sent to larger schools, providing them with better facilities. According to the minister, the ministry reviews proposals from dzongkhags when they consider merging schools.

“Some schools closed in the past were reopened while some decisions to close were reversed after considering all the factors,” Lyonpo added.

On the unused infrastructure of the closed schools, Lyonpo Jai Bir Rai suggested that dzongkhags and gewogs renovate the facilities for projects that benefit the community such as community skill development or non-formal education.

He further stated that if there are enough children in the community, these infrastructures can be repurposed as Early Childhood Care and Development centres.

Lyonpo said that the closed schools are often located far from settlements which makes finding immediate uses challenging.