… to improve the education sector

NC: The National Council (NC) concluded yesterday’s afternoon question hour session with a promise to further deliberate issues raised by the council’s members on education.

Three questions were asked of the education minister, Norbu Wangchuk, during the hour-long session.

Gasa’s NC member, Sangay Khandu, questioned the prolonged absence from work of teachers due to maternity leave.

Gasa dzongkhag has 160 employees out of which 33 are females. At the national level, out of 8,605 teachers, 3,505 are females comprising about 40 percent of the teachers.

Sangay Khandu questioned what strategies the government had put in place to address prolonged and temporary empty staff positions, particularly of teachers, which affects education services.

“A number of staff positions have remained vacant for a considerable amount of time as staff go for further studies, postings and leave, as allowed by applicable rules and regulations,” Sangay Khandu said. “Two female teachers from Sinchula primary school came to teach after taking three months of maternity leave despite six months maternity leave in place.”

Lyonpo Norbu Wangchuk said the two teacher’s acts are commendable and it’s occurring because of a shortage of teachers despite having the six-months maternity leave duration in place.

“Shortage of teachers is one of the biggest challenges faced by the ministry today. Many teachers are either on study, extra-ordinary or maternity leave, and some are retiring mid-session,” he said. “If a teacher is on study or extra-ordinary leave for two years, we provide the school with another teacher. We are working with the Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC) to replace teachers on maternity leave.”

Around 80 female teachers are currently on maternity leave.

Trongsa NC member, Tharchen, pointed out that it is because the education ministry has not been replacing teachers that some have had to return to work without availing the full duration of the maternity leave.

Samtse NC member, Sangay Khandu, questioned the acute shortage of non-teaching staff in rural schools, and pointed out that teachers are taking up other responsibilities, which is taking a toll on their teaching duties.

The NC would like to ask the government the reason for not appointing such non-teaching staff and its plans to address the issue, Sangay Khandu said.

Lyonpo Norbu Wangchuk replied that non-teaching staff like lab assistants, IT assistants, administration assistants, librarians and accountants, are appointed according to the school’s requirements and needs. “The ministry has formed a review committee to address this issue and look into the teachers’ workloads.”

Tsirang’s NC member, Kamal Bahadur Gurung raised the final question on contract teachers. There are 590 teachers with a contract period of two years.

Kamal Bahadur Gurung questioned how the ministry would ensure that these contract teachers deliver the best education to the students and whether there were any plans to renew their contracts or recruit them as regular teachers.

Lyonpo Norbu Wangchuk said one way to address the shortage of teachers is recruiting contract teachers.

“I know many teachers who have been teaching under this scheme for a long time and who are working hard. With a focus on teacher development this year, we are going to train the contract teachers to further improve their teaching skills,” Lyonpo said. “We are also discussing the possibility of extending their contract periods with the RCSC.”

There are still many issues to tackle besides the issues raised, Lyonpo said.

“Out of 308 schools, 204 are in need of major renovation. These schools are more than 20 years old with a lack of proper equipment in place. In 38 schools, a teacher manages everything. If the teacher falls sick, students will suffer and the school might shut down,” Lyonpo said. “About 199 schools are following multi-grade teachings, which results in some students not even knowing the basic alphabets while there are 25 schools run by non-teaching staff.”

In 398 schools, teachers are teaching other subjects apart from their main subject. So far, 186 teachers are on extraordinary leave and left in mid-academic sessions affecting the school’s sessions.

Around 100,000 students are walking one hour to and from school. More than 50 percent of students are abusing drugs in urban schools where most of them are living as dependents. About 33 percent of students are suffering from stunting due to lack of proper diet, Lyonpo added.

“These are grave concerns for the ministry. We are looking at the central school as one of the solutions where a student is given enough attention and proper nutrition. We are planning to achieve 60 new central schools in the 11th Plan and another 60 in the 12th Plan,” Lyonpo said.

There are a total of 51 central schools in the country so far, 24 were established last year and 27 this year.

Gasa NC member, Sangay Khandu, said there was a reduction of recruitment of teachers after the RCSC examination on the one hand and a shortage of 1,500 teachers on the other. The issue is a contradiction in itself, he pointed out.

The House decided to further deliberate on these issues after a unanimous decision by the members.

Thinley Zangmo