Yearender/Education: The wood female sheep year saw the beginning of a new era in education: the central school.

Communities and government agencies often locked horns either about the location of the central school or facilities provided.

Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay and former Indian ambassador Gautam Bambawale formally launched 24 pilot central schools at Wangbama central school, Genekha.

Bhutan has come a long way. With just 11 schools and about 400 students in 1961, Bhutan has 655 schools with 175,393 students today.

A total of 49 central schools have been planned in the country. Free uniforms, meals, boarding facilities and stationary were some of the main reasons why parents chose to enroll their children in central schools.

But these very facilities turned controversial when children residing at walk-able distances were denied admission to hostels of central schools. Parents were also not happy that day-scholars received almost nothing of the facilities.

As rightly expressed by a parent in Gomdar, Samdrupjongkhar, a central school is a blessing for some villagers who will no longer have to look for the money to shop for their school-going children.

As the government moves ahead adding more central schools, such issues could be closely reviewed to ensure that poor villagers are benefitted the most.

Most of the central schools have managed without caregivers and washers, needed to take care of boarders in classes PP-III.

Another new development in the education was that schools began functioning independently. As part of reforms, the education ministry granted autonomy to all 24 central schools, taking the number of autonomous schools to 43 across the country. Another 19 schools were granted autonomy in 2014. By all measures, central schools are large and they ought to have certain freedom on how they function. It is hoped that autonomy will improve the quality of education.

Towards the end of the year parliamentarians raised concerns on the need for the government to rationalize its investment of central school funds to achieve quality considering the interest and need of other schools. Inadequate consultation with communities also caused a debate on central schools.

The Indian government supported the establishment of 37 central schools with Nu 3.4 billion through its project tied assistance (PTA) programme. The Indian government also supported the establishment of 12 more central schools through a small development grant of Nu 536.4 million. The government provides all recurrent costs, including salaries, provision of uniforms, stationary and meals, among others.

In a move to retain and attract the best and brightest into the teaching profession and to make the profession a career of choice, a teacher Human Resource (HR) Policy was put in place last year.

To improve access to the interest-free education loan facility started in 2014, the G2C service introduced an online system to avail the loan.

Meanwhile, 42 former employees of the Royal Education Council (REC)are awaiting their next appointment as promised by the Prime Minister. Their employment was discontinued in October after REC was merged with the education ministry’s department of curriculum research and development.

The Prime Minister promised  to find them jobs within six months, in October last year.

Nirmala Pokhrel