The 26-year-old female student undergoing medication in Japan has improved according to an official from Bhutan Employment Overseas (BEO).

After she was admitted for Meningitis Tuberculosis at Fukuoka City’s East Medical Centre, BEO’s Managing Director (MD) Jurmey Tshewang along with the patient’s younger brother visited her. “After staying with the patient for a few days, there was improvement in her condition.”

He said that she was moved from Intensive Care Unit to the TB ward on September 27, adding that the recovery time, however, was uncertain.

The two men stayed in Japan for 11 days. The MD said that the next time, her elder brother would be travelling to Japan.

The student had gone to Japan through the “earn and learn programme,” which the labour ministry initiated as a means to engage youth in countries overseas and to improve the employment situation in the country.

Since the inception of the programme last year, speculations started surfacing on it being a scam. The last government had requested an investigation to be carried out following complaints, which alleged that the overseas programme in India and Japan were executed through collusion between labour ministry and agents. A report on invesigation is yet to be compiled.

About 744 youth were placed in Japan through the programme.

A student in Japan who requested anonymity told Kuensel that it was undeniable that staying in Japan was challenging. “However, I like taking up challenges, so I see it as fun. It is exciting here than staying in my hometown counting on stars of luck.”

She said that the language alone wasn’t difficult but that they couldn’t spare time for studies. “As I only have one part time job at the moment, it is difficult to manage money for loan repayment, school fees, house rent and other living expenditures.”

Despite challenges, she said that the positive aspect of the programme was the exposure to Japanese culture and technologies.

She said that she paid off Nu 42, 425 in six months of her loan and will now have to pay about Nu14,000 a month. She has been there since April this year.

According to her, the programme needs to continue but in a different way. “It is best if we have a Japan standard school in Bhutan for NAT exam. I feel that students need to at least study N3 in Bhutan and then continue in Japan so that there are higher chances of getting better or regular jobs.”

In Bhutan, Nu 5,000 was paid monthly for the language, she said, whereas in Japan, it is 55,000 Japanese Yen.

In the programme, students take a loan of about Nu 700, 000 under the overseas education and skill development loan scheme to study and work in Japan. Students are given five years to repay the loan.

After studying Japanese language for about one and a half years in Japanese schools, they have to sit for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT), which is conducted twice a year.  Students need to pass N2 to get work.

The JLPT website defines that N1 and N2 measure the level of understanding of Japanese used in a broad range of scenes in actual everyday life.

Jurmey Tshewang said that the programme’s purpose was mainly to enable knowledge transfer and to imbibe Japan’s work culture. “They have been told right in the beginning that they are going to go through challenging times.”

He said that students before deciding to go to Japan are briefed where every aspect of the programme is spelt out highlighting the challenges of living and working in Japan.

Due to different cultural background, he said that acclimatisation is difficult.

“We will hold the programme for this month to look after the existing students who have already been placed in Japan.”

He said that if the programme goes well, then it was likely to continue. Today, there are about 24 students awaiting their visas to go to Japan through the programme.

Another student in Japan is optimistic of the programme. “I would like to stay here longer to save money. Besides this, I can also have experience in working in different areas.”

Labour ministry officials said that the programme was launched last year to improve the unemployment scenario in the country.

Director General of the Department of Employment and Human Resources, Sherab Tenzin said Bhutanese youth opt to go to countries such as Australia taking huge sums of loans where the college fees are about Nu 1.6 million and more annually.

“These students when in Australia take up odd jobs, which require long hours of driving besides long hours of work. However, the programme in Japan costs only Nu 700,000 with similar working conditions.”

Currently, unemployment among the university graduates is the highest, he said. “We are sending our students there for skills and knowledge transfer.”

Sherab Tenzin said one expected outcome from the programme in Japan is the development of a strong work ethics and work culture from the student’s experience.

Youth from countries such as China, Vietnam, India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka have been placed in Japan through various programmes, he said.

However, there are some students who are having a hard time to adapt.

Currently the programme is under review and if the programme is reinstated the labour ministry plans on strengthening it. Officials acknowledged that there were some issues but that they were looking into placing measures to address the problems.

Labour officials said that a year after the programme’s start, it has shown that the success of the programme was dependent on the selection of youth. “Only those who are serious and committed to learning and working hard should go for the programme.”

Officials said that the basic Japanese language course should be provided for a minimum six months as better fluency of language makes it to get better paying jobs.

Currently, under the overseas education and skill development loan scheme, students have a grace period of six months before they start repaying the loan.

It was learnt that students ran out of money mainly during the settlement period in the beginning.

Sherab Tenzin said that about six students were employed in regular jobs to date. BEO officials said seven students have liquidated their loan so far.

Of the 744 students placed in Japan, about 30 students have returned home to date.

Rinchen Zangmo