Chencho Dema | Punakha 

The only primary school in Punakha’s Goenshari Gewog faces an uncertain future as student numbers decline year after year due to transportation issues and a lack of boarding facilities. Concerns are developing among parents, gup, and the school’s principal that the school may be forced to close its doors.

Sonam Peljor, the school’s principal since 2014, voiced great concern, saying, “Back in 2014, when I assumed my role, we had a healthy enrollment of 75 students. Today, though, we are down to just 24 students.”

The decline in student enrollment is caused by a number of interconnected concerns. Because of the school’s remote location, which involves one to two hours of journey, some parents have chosen other schools in surrounding dzongkhags such as Thimphu, Gasa, and Paro, which have boarding facilities. Poverty and a lack of parental support are also factors that cause some students to seek membership in monastic entities.

Recognising the gravity of the situation, Sonam Peljor stressed the dedication of parents and the local community to keep the school open and viable. To address the issues of distance and a lack of boarding facilities, the community has banded together in support of building a boarding school. Residents from the five chiwogs highlighted this serious demand during recent meetings with Thrizin of the Dzongkhag Tshogdu Sonam Dorji and the gewog administration.

Highlighting the feasibility of constructing a boarding school, Sonam Peljor pointed out available space during the meeting. However, Goenshari Gup Wangchuk expressed his frustration, stating, “While we have allocated a separate budget for construction, we lack the necessary approval from the ministry. We have been informed that no new construction projects are allowed.”

The current situation has imposed a significant load on the pupils, who must walk for hours to go to school, especially during the difficult rainy season with leeches and muddy roads. Some parents have built temporary residences near the school, while others have enrolled their children in neighbouring gewogs with boarding facilities.

Wangchuk shed light on the problems that parents experience, noting how managing household obligations and farm works becomes tough when one parent is forced to stay with the children. As a result, some parents decide to enroll their children in monastic institutions. Despite these challenges, Principal Sonam Peljor expressed thankfulness, saying, “Remarkably, not a single student has abandoned the school.”

A concerned parent underlined the importance of building a boarding school for the school to thrive, noting, “Parents will gladly bring their children back to the school, and students from the surrounding areas would also enroll.” This attitude emphasises the school’s potential for enrollment growth.

The school was founded in 1990 in Shari before shifting to its current location in 1991, with two instructors assisting the endeavour. The school serves about 100 households in Goenshari Gewog and caters to five chiwogs. It now has four teachers, including the principal, and a student body of 24.

Sonam Peljor acknowledged the fragile nature of his job, noting that his right to serve as principal is contingent on the school retaining an enrollment of more than 100 students.