The government’s decision to provide free education for all up to Class XII may not be in conformity with the Constitution, the Opposition has said.

Speaking at a press conference in Thimphu yesterday, opposition MP Ugyen Wangdi said the Constitution prescribes that the state shall provide free education to all up to class X since Bhutan was a developing country.

“Otherwise, drafters of the Constitution would have specifically mentioned that free education could be provided for up to Class 12 or even up to the degree level,” he said.

Article 9(16) of the Constitution states, “The State shall provide free education to all children of school going age up to tenth standard and ensure that technical and professional education is made generally available and that higher education is equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.” 

Ugyen Wangdi said the Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa’s election pledge to do away with the cut off point and examinations was aimed at garnering votes. The opposition, he said, could not be mere spectators when the Constitutional provision was being violated.

The education ministry has said the government would place all 12,033 students who have passed the examination in class XI based on merit. The government would provide full scholarship to those students who would be enrolled in private schools.

According to the ministry, students securing 59.4 percent and above would be placed in government schools and the rest in private schools.

The Opposition was also of view that the government’s decision contradicted its own slogan of narrowing the gap. Ugyen Wangdi said that parents of many of those to be admitted in private schools are financially sound.

Opposition leader Dr Pema Gyamtsho (PhD) said the government’s decision would invite issues related to management of admission.

“A mess and chaos will happen. Some of the good performers may want to go to good private schools where the facilities are good,” he said.

Pema Gyamtsho said the government’s responsibility to provide free education up to class X as mentioned in the Constitution was not a minimum level. However, the opposition leader added that it was not the opposition’s duty to take government to the court.

He said that it was up to the Constitutional bodies like the National Council to review the government’s decision and to come up with a resolution on whether the government had violated the Constitution.

Maenbi Tsaenkhar MP Choki Gyeltshen expressed concerns on the sustainability and impact on the quality of education.

He said there are already concerns on the quality of education. However, he said that lack of examinations and the cut off point could make students less complacent in their studies.

“We are concerned about the impact of the government’s decision to do away with the cut off point and examinations on the quality of education,” he said.

MP Choki Gyeltshen said that sustainability would also be a challenge since the country does not have enough money. “As a developing country, we have many expenditures to make,” he said.

Sponsoring about 4,000 students in private schools, he said, would cost the government exchequer about Nu 1.3 billion annually. “We have a lot of expenditures to make as a developing country,” he said.

He also raised concerns on whether some of the private schools would be ready to take low performing students since they have a minimum criteria for absorbing students in class XI. 

In his book “Constitution of Bhutan, Principles and Philosophies”, which explains Articles of the apex law, chairman of the Constitution drafting committee, Lyonpo Sonam Tobgye, states, “Bhutan has attached the highest priority to education and made a special effort to provide free education till the tenth standard and, for those who qualify, even up to the university level.”

The Chairman of the drafting committee who is also the former chief justice states that the submission of raising the level of free education up to the 12th standard in the first parliament was not considered for the reason that education is very expensive.

“Moreover, there will be legal and economic ramifications,” he writes, adding that the 12th standard is categorised as pursuit of higher education.

Panbang MP Dorji Wangdi said that there was no harm in providing free education for all up to any level. However, he added that if they government provides free education up to class XII, then those studying in private primary schools and nurseries needed to be given the same treatment. 

MB Subba