Had it not been for the glasses he wears, Kesang, 19, would have discontinued his studies. The 19-year-old student wanted to join the armed forces. He applied and was disqualified. Aware of his poor eyesight, Kesang didn’t apply for his school-leaving certificate unlike his friends.

The exact numbers are not known, but there are reports of many students dropping out or wanting to discontinue schooling. This is happening during the long break forced by the Covid-19 pandemic. Although no studies were done to blame the pandemic, a report and analysis would clear the air.

The education ministry had done all it could in its capacity to keep students engaged during the school closure. On the command of His Majesty The King, the government is spending millions in developing study materials, reprioritising teaching and curriculum and teachers are walking to far-flung villages to distribute the self- instruction materials.  This is besides the online education, the subsidy on internet charges and lessons on television and the radio.

Children have dropped out of school even before the Covid-19 pandemic. Dropping out of school is not new in Bhutan. The annual education statistics, 2018 shows a declining dropout rate, but still, a dropout rate of 8.2 percent at Class VII and 4.7 percent at Class IX level was observed.

During normal times, a decreasing dropout rate indicates the efficiency of the education system. It would be unfair to say the same if we are finding a higher rate of dropout this year.  However, the pandemic could provide the opportunity to see what is happening in the education system.

The pandemic has opened a lot of openings for engagement if not employment. The various programmes of the government to help people affected by the pandemic have lured many young ones. The shortage of both skilled and unskilled workers, the skilling and reskilling programmes and other initiatives like the Build Bhutan Project and focus on agriculture, are too good to not attract students, especially those in the dzongkhags.

Officials, Kuensel learnt, are after school principals for sharing information. It would be more productive if we can channelise that energy and time to find out why students are dropping out of school. On the one hand, we have an unemployment problem, on the other, if students are dropping out to look for jobs, there is something amiss. If university graduates are returning to farms or joining the police as constables, if a Class XII graduate is applying for jobs meant for a Class VI graduate and if graduates from the technical institutes are not finding jobs, there is something wrong.

Many go to school with an aim to find a job and make a living. Finding jobs is getting difficult even with a university degree. Meanwhile, Kesang’s sisters convinced him to finish Class X, the minimum academic qualification needed even to get a driving job.