Education: Free uniforms, meals, boarding facilities and stationery were the main reasons why parents enrolled their children in Gomdar central school in Gomdar, Samdrupjongkhar, which officially opened this year.

For 48-year old Chimmi Dema from Richanglu, it was a blessing when she learnt that the school would be providing free uniforms and stationery, and even utensils, to students.  It meant she would no longer have to look for money to shop for her three school-going children. “I’m not sure what the whole policy or the new school is about, but I’m happy that it’s providing everything for free,” she said.

Many parents said that, while it was hard to leave their children behind, the facilities that the school provided were better than what they would provide at home.  This year was also the first time that the parents didn’t travel to Samdrupjongkhar for school shopping.  Gomdar is 72km from Samdrupjongkhar.

“My youngest son had to walk for an hour to school, but this kind of school will now allow children to concentrate on their studies,” Cheki Wangmo, 31 said. “My only concern is that as promised, the students will be provided with all the facilities.”

The central school took in a total of 541 students.  But the school is still operating from its old structures, and is yet to build additional infrastructure.

Principal Kuenga Tenzin said they couldn’t take in more students because of lack of infrastructure and boarding facilities.  It’s also for this reason that schools in other villages are still operational.

With its current infrastructure of 16 classrooms, two 50-bed hostels each for girls and boys and two temporary hostels with 64 beds, the school has accommodated a total of 400 students as borders.

While the school is yet to receive the uniforms that will be distributed for free, it has already distributed stationery and utensils.  All day scholar students are provided free stationery. “We’ve already ordered the uniforms, two washing machines and we’ll be getting them soon, including a washerman for pre-primary to class three students,” he said.

The principal said, since the classrooms were not enough, the school had to reopen old structures that had remained closed for years.  The school was a lower secondary earlier and, as per the education policy, it should have at least 800 students to be become a central school.  With nine additional teachers, the school today has 22 teachers.

The students were admitted from an extended classroom and four remote schools, including economically disadvantaged students in the gewog.  Two students today share a bed, because the hostels don’t have space for additional beds.

“This is the only challenge students are facing and we’re worried how we’ll be able to accommodate more students next year,” the principal said. “Teachers are also facing an acute shortage of staff quarters.”

However, with the salang (groundbreaking) ceremony held on March 24, the education minister, who visited the school, assured them that work on constructing additional structures would begin soon, so that the school can admit as many as 5,000 students in future.

Lyonpo Mingbo Dukpa said Nu 102.8 million has already been allocated to build 180-bed hostels, laboratories, staff quarters, 12 classrooms, a football ground and an approachable road.  He said Gomdar is the largest gewog and has a large catchment area, which means the gewog alone would have more than 1,000 students.

Meanwhile, between complaints of having to share their beds and congested rooms, students said such facilities have encouraged more rural children to continue their studies.

“I came back to join this school from Orong, because it’s always good to study in your own village,” Chimmi Dema, 19, said. “We don’t feel inferior since we all have the same utensils.”

By Yangchen C Rinzin, Gomdar