COVER STORY: It’s 5:15 am. Wangbama Central School in Genekha, Thimphu is under a thick shroud of fog. And it is raining. But the students are already up and readying for the day.
Eighteen-year-old Tshering Yangzom Sherpa is tidying her bed. Quite and soft-spoken, Tshering is a Science student. She is careful and doesn’t want to disturb her friends in the room. She gets down from her bunk with stealth of a cat.
After cleaning and washing up, Tshering heads off for morning studies. She has to go through her biology notes. Tshering, who is also the cultural custodian of the schools, wants to become a doctor. “It’s a profession that give more to others than oneself. This is what I like the most about this profession,” says Tshering.
Wangbama Central School is one of the 24 central schools that the education ministry opened this year as a part of the School Reform Programme. The school has classes starting IX to XI. There are 235 students and 17 teachers.
The idea of central school is a strategic intervention to fast track improvement in the overall quality of education by restructuring school system and establishing large centres with proper boarding and adequate educational resources. The students get free stationery, two sets of school and sports uniforms, three meals a day and bedding, among others.
Like many students, this is Tshering’s first time in a boarding school. “I love to try new things in life, and coming here was also by decision. It was difficult in the beginning, of course. But I like it now”
Everything is organised – time for study, meals and recreational activities. There is time for everything. Tshering like it so.
While the students are provided all the basic necessities by the government, Tshering feels it’s a little too much. “We’re given too much by the government that some of the students don’t value the resources. Food is wasted. Shoes and slippers are often not taken proper care. We need to be more responsible with the resources given to us,” says Tshering.
As the students gather in the dinning hall for the morning studies, in the kitchen breakfast is been prepared. Today students will get fried rice with cabbage pickle. Tashi Dorji cannot resist the smell that comes from the kitchen. He is hungry and distracted from his books.
Tashi Dorji, 20, is a Class-XI student pursuing Commerce. Like Tshering, this is Tashi’s first time in a boarding school. Tashi is school’s vice counsellor and it is his responsibility that everything is alright with students. There is a new boy in his class. Tashi befriends him and makes him feel at home.
Now the bell rings. Morning study is over and students rush to grab their plates and mugs for the breakfast. Tashi gets a plate for his new friend and sends him first in the line. “I hope he likes the food here,” whispers Tashi to his other friend.
After saying grace, students eat quickly and move out to wash their plates and mugs. All these happen in less than 20 minutes.
“Happy tummy, happy me,” says one student as he walks out of the hall. If the school continues to give this type of food, he thinks he might have to stay in the campus even during the vacations.
Breakfast done, now it’s time for SUPW. After 20 minutes, students gather in the assembly hall for the prayer and announcements for the day.
The school is busy preparing for the result day and parent-teacher meeting. Parents are invited and the students are excited. Preparation for cultural programme is also in full swing. Tshering Yangzom Sherpa and her cultural group are working hard to give parents a good show. The practice will begin after the night studies.
Meanwhile, in the class, there are no teachers as they are busy preparing results. Students are inside the classroom, going through lessons quietly. Some of them busy correcting the answer sheets. Majority of the students have passed and they hope for a better result in the final exam.
The classes get over by 3:40 pm which is followed by evening prayer. And there is games and sports time after that. Selection for the intra-sports meet is going on. In their sky-blue tracksuits and white converse, students’ swarms the assembly ground for the selection.
After the games hour, the students go back to their hostels and get ready for the evening study. And after dinner, students gather for their night study that goes on until 9pm. There is silence in the dinning room as the clock hits 7:30. Everyone is busy with books. The warden and the teacher on duty watch, walking up and down the hall.
There is a group of students discussing something. It is the road condition that they are about. “If it continues to rain like this, it will be difficult for our parents to get here for the meeting,” says one of them. “It will very convenient for all of us if the road is black-topped.”
Damber Tamang, the staff secretary of the school, said that the road has always been a problem. He said the road could not be black-toped because construction of new academic building and two hostels is yet to begin.
“In winter, because of the strong wind, the school area is dusty. And, in summer, rain makes the place very muddy and difficult, especially for vehicles,” said Damber Tamang. The school also doesn’t have enough staff quarters. Only 12 teachers live on campus. The rest drive from Thimphu and Khasadrapchu.
The school is in urgent need of administrative and support staff like librarians and administrative.
Student said that hostel rules and regulations are very strict. For almost 90 percent of students, it is their first time in a boarding school. However, the bigger concern for them is the lack of experienced teachers, especially for class XI. One of the science students said that the teacher and the student learn together in the class. “It’s like we teach our self more than what they are suppose to teach us,” he said.
Food is another problem. The students said that there is a need to improve the quality of food. Half the food is wasted everyday. “Compared to my previous school, I like the food here,” said Dorji Sangay. “But many students don’t like what is given to us here.”
Tashi Dorji’s new friend is already feeling home sick. He calls his parents and asks them to bring him packed lunch when they come for parent-teacher meeting. Tshering Yangzom Sherpa has asked the same to her parents.
Straddling the mountain facing the majestic Dagala peak, Wangbama Central School’s teachers and students have a dream that one day the school will become an exemplary educational institute in the country.
Students from diverse background have come together in this serene abode of learning with a goal, to receive education and gather knowledge in all fields and to become someone important in the future.
By Younten Tshedup