Fifteen students from Laya are in Thimphu for education tour. They are among the best students in the school. The main idea behind the tour is to encourage them to stay in the school system.

In the highlands, children leave school after primary education because of many factors. Highlanders meeting in Thimphu recently enumerated reasons like lack of high school educated in the communities and challenges that come with living in the mountains. In Laya, enrolment decreased by eight students in 2016. In 2017, enrolment further decreased by eight students; ten students left school. The trend has not been encouraging.

Showing our cityscapes to the children from the highlands might encourage them to realise the importance of higher education, but it could also encourage them to leave school and move to the cities. As good as the plan sounds, it could backfire. Rural-urban migration is a challenge that we have been grappling with for some time now. And it is increasing by the year.

It has been found that enrolment suffers and dropout rate increases in the highland communities because of economic opportunities that come with living in the farthest north of the country. Since the legalisation of Cordyceps collection, highlanders have benefited immensely. It is not uncommon to find children as young as 12 running around with fistful of Nu 1,000 notes in the highlands. If living standards are taken into account, our cousins in the north are much better off. Looking down from the tall, snow-capped mountains, education has no relevance. That is why education tours like this could be counterproductive even as the intents are good.

But we must find a practical solution. At a time when rural to urban migration is increasing and youth unemployment rising, the worst we can do is to add to the problems in hand. Taking higher education to the highlands could be a more sensible approach. There will be natural development in the places where there are good centres of education. We are talking about holding our own against the gusts of expansionist wind.

We must encourage children in the highlands to embrace education and its benefits. But we must do it the right way.