The debate on sustainability and conditions of central schools reappeared in the National Assembly on May 12.
Panbang’s Member of Parliament (MP) Dorji Wangdi said the central school system was re-introduced by the present government in haste and haphazard manner without a clear policy or plan, and that has led to many problems in the schools today.
“Three years after being converted to central school, many schools are facing numerous problems and challenges such as cramped hostels, poor library, lab, and information technology facilities, inadequate dining and multipurpose hall, the dire shortage of drinking water, over-burdened teachers and so on,” he said.
He said in many central schools, the so much hyped ‘three eggs a week’ programme is a farce. Children still do not get it. “It appears that the quality of education and health and well-being of the children are being affected.”
He asked the education minister where the government has gone wrong and how the government plans to streamline and resolve the problems.
Education minister Norbu Wangchuk said that the MP was twisting and distorting the facts and challenges in the central schools.
He said there were enough measures to identify and solve problems in the central schools and that it is unlikely the schools have major problems like the MP reported.
The minister said that the central schools have been established to ensure quality education and for sustainability of the school system.
Lyonpo Norbu Wangchuk said that while the schools are trying to provide three eggs a week, the government will soon supply the schools with fortified rice for better nutrition to students.
The minister said that he visited 50 of the 60 central schools and did not observe major problems.
“There are problems in some schools but in general the central schools are working well,” he said.
He attributed the success of the schools to hard work of teachers and dzongkhag officials. “Dzongdags are asked to visit the central schools two times a month and submit reports to the ministry.”
Their reports, he said, mentioned some problems but they were not insurmountable. “The problems of hostel and water shortages are in other schools, not central schools.”
The minister said that the government had to hasten to establish central schools because problems in schools were worsening. “The government established 60 central schools in the past two years,” he said. “The ministry plans to establish another 60 in the 12th Plan.”
Lyonpo Norbu Wangchuk said that the central school teachers are bearing additional responsibilities to provide wholesome education.
“Understanding the burden on them, we have recruited 202 matrons and wardens to reduce the workload on teachers,” he said. “Administrative support staff will also be recruited and sent to the schools soon.”
The minister responding to a supplementary question from the Nubi-Tangsibji MP Nidup Zangpo said that the central schools are more sustainable than the non-central schools.
MP Nidup Zangpo said that with the development of the country, people have become economically well off and that they have to bear certain costs.
“The central school idea is a short term and expensive affair,” he said.
Lyonpo Norbu Wangchuk said that most of the schools in the country are facing problems of decreasing enrolment as the population growth has slowed and dilapidating school conditions.
He said that there are more than 555 schools in the country today, of which 255 are more than 20 years old and become unsustainable today. “About 205 schools urgently need major repairs.”
Lyonpo Norbu Wangchuk said that are 27 students in Sengor school which has three teachers. “The school has one of the highest teacher-student ratios in the world,” he said. “However, because of teacher shortage, teachers need to teach multigrade.”
The minister said there are many schools like Sengor school and many more will become like it in a few years. “There are still schools where students have to walk more than an hour to school.”
He said that when children have to walk for long hours to schools, quality education will be difficult. “Central schools are sustainable and can ensure quality education.”