… but dependant on space availability

Education: Just a few weeks after the National Council (NC) deliberated recommending to the education ministry to consider accepting children below six years of age for preprimary (PP), the ministry has reminded all schools to strictly comply with the existing admission policy.

However, the ministry has asked schools to consider admission for children aged above five and half years. “However, provisions are kept to admit children above five and half years provided there are spaces available in the schools,” Department of School Education chief programme officer, Phuntsho Wangdi, said.

Earlier, the NC deliberated the need to admit children aged above five years into PP.

During the deliberations, NC members submitted that the entry age be changed since many parents have to send their children to private schools because of the policy. They submitted that the entry age for PP admission in both government and private schools be streamlined and revised to five years.

While the ministry is yet to receive the NC’s recommendations, a group of ECCDs filed a petition to the ministry last month pertaining to alleged non-adherence of the policy by some private schools. Following the petition, the ministry issued a notification cautioning both the government and private schools to comply with the admission policy.

As per the policy, a child will be admitted to PP only upon attaining six years at the start of the academic year. “Every child who has attained the age of six (international calculation) at the start of the academic session shall be entitled for the admission into preprimary class,” states the education policy guidelines and instructions.

Nevertheless, the notification also stated that after all the children have been admitted, depending on the availability of space, the schools may have the option to admit children of above five and half years at the start of the academic session. In the event the number of children exceeds the number of available spaces, priority should be given to older children.

But the ministry also has back up plans to ensure that children aged below six years get equal opportunities to prepare for school. Phuntsho Wangdi said that the ministry is opening a number of community and private early childhood care and development (ECCD) centres. “That’s why the ministry is approving a lot of ECCDs and daycare centres as a back up plan to ensure that the children who fail to qualify for preprimary have good preparation towards schooling,” Phuntsho Wangdi said.

The thromde chief education officer, Sangay Drukpa, said that while children are given admission only at the age of six, schools as directed by the ministry have been admitting children above five and half years depending on the availability of seats in a school. “For the thromde we have enough ECCDs both private and community,” he said.

In fact there are so many ECCDs in Thimphu that the private schools have been complaining of not getting adequate children, Sangay Drukpa said.

ECCD and SEN chief programme officer Sherab Phuntshok said that while there are 50 ECCD centres in the capital including both private and community, there are also 232 such centres spread across the country evenly. Nine of these centres are at workplaces such as the Bhutan Power Corporation, health ministry and election commission, among others.

“At the moment the ministry has been opening 30 ECCDs annually and such private centres are also being approved,” Sherab Phuntshok said.

Phuntsho Wangdi said that while the NC is right to push for children aged above five years for PP admission. He explained that parents shared similar opinions on the issue to revise the entry age for PP during the National Education Blueprint consultation meetings.

But the ministry could not reduce the entry level age because the student has to be aged 18 when they complete their secondary education and enter the job market. “Based on that the ministry could not reduce the entry age for PP,” Phuntsho Wangdi said.

The ministry’s decision to maintain the PP entry age at six was also backed up by research findings. Researches pointed out that admitting children to PP at an age earlier than six were found struggling at secondary education because of lack of a sound foundation The ministry therefore maintained the entry age at six but decided to develop adequate support mechanisms to prepare children by opening as many ECCDs as possible.

Tempa Wangdi