The possible removal of cut-off point for Class X prompted debate when Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa first spelled it as one of the party’s principal pledges. Educationists and policymakers were and are still divided on the issue that has raised more questions than answers. Education ministry juggling between keeping the cut-off mark and removing it without any clarity for all of the time until recently did not help. The inking out of cut-off point finally, after the declaration of Bhutan Certificate of Secondary Education (BCSE) results on January 30, has further muddied the waters.

On the face of it, doing away with the cut-off point for Class X sounds good. It even sings. Students who secure an average of 59.4 percent and above will now be enrolled in Class XI in public schools. This means 12,033 students who have passed the BCSE examination will go to Class XI, based on merit, of course. The government will provide full scholarship to 4,225 students who will be enrolled in the private schools.

The government argues that this is one way to narrow the gap between those who can afford education beyond the tenth standard and those who cannot. But surely not all those who fail to make it to Class XI come from poorer families. The reality could be quite the contrary. If the whole policy change is aimed, as the government claims it is, at raising the level of free education in the country, why the need to rush? What’s there for the students after Class XII? Will they all be taken in by the handful of colleges in the country?

The real challenge facing us today is the declining quality of education in the country. According to some educators, with the removal of the cut-off mark and the examinations for primary classes, the likelihood of further deterioration in the quality of education is high. But Prime minister is also right in saying cut-off mark had nothing to do with quality of education but everything to do with intake and infrastructural capacity of schools. That said, however, there will be certain loss of competitiveness among students which is not healthy for an education system.

As to the expense of full scholarship in private schools that is expected to touch millions of ngultrums every year, prime minister argued that it was an investment in the country’s human resource. The government of the day may secure the funds, which is not budgeted in the current Plan, somehow from somewhere, but the focus on raising the level of free education is far from what we need, at least for now. As our development needs broaden Plan after Plan, affordability and sustainability of the kind of free education the policy change has brought in could become the biggest bugbear for an aid-dependent country.

While we are going full steam ahead to fulfil party pledges, are we not getting our priorities wrong?