Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said that the government’s decision to provide free education for all up to class XII did not breach the Constitution.

At Friday Meet yesterday, he said that there was no question of Constitutionality when the government was working towards enhancing free education opportunity beyond class X based on merit.

“When the youth do not qualify, the parents have to arrange money to send them to private school, which not everyone can afford,” he said. “We cannot deny these children the right to education and leave them in the streets looking for jobs when they should be in school.”

Prime minister said that according to the Constitution the state should provide free education to all up to tenth standard. “It also mandates the State to ensure technical and professional education is made generally available and that higher education is equally accessible to all on merit basis.”  

The Opposition on January 31 said that the government’s decision could tantamount to breaching the provisions of the constitution.

Opposition MP Ugyen Wangdi said that according to the Constitution the state should provide free education to all up to class X because Bhutan was a developing country. Opposition leader Dr Pema Gyamtsho (PhD) said the government’s decision would invite issues related to management of admission.

Of the 12,033 students who passed Class X, public schools will absorb 7,808 students. The remaining 4,225 students will be enrolled in private schools on full scholarship.

Prime minister said that the government was delighted about this major reform in education system and in being able to fulfill one of the key pledges.

However, he said that the government understood the concerns raised by the people and Opposition on the quality of education, sustainability and affordability.

“This is an investment, not a cost as projected by the Opposition and others. We can’t afford to ruin the lives of over 4,000 students who passed the examination but couldn’t be absorbed in public schools.”

Prime minister said that it was time Bhutan started investing in “human-power” instead of only in the hydropower.

Commenting on the quality of education, prime minister said that the cut-off point existed in the education system depending on the availability of infrastructure and seats in the school it was never about quality screening.

“When we talk about education quality, it also touches the teacher student ratio but we won’t compromise and has instructed the private schools not to absorb students more than prescribed numbers,” he said. “I don’t think the change in the policy would have any impact on the quality.”

Prime minister said that the initiative would incur expenditure and could cost the government at least Nu 130 million annually.

“This is not budgeted in the 12th Plan like other pledges but the government will make sure that the nation doesn’t incur loss because this investment will not go into waste,” he said. “Investing in the continuation of education was a wise investment. That’s why we are not worried about implementation at all.”

About employment opportunities after Class XII, prime minister said it was an opportunity for the government to explore pathways and training opportunities.

“There would be glitches but dropping the idea because of resistance from few interest groups would mean we were insincere in our pursuit and conviction,” prime minister said. “If we have breached the constitution and is proven, we’ll apologise.”

Education Minister JB Rai said that the ministry was mindful of teacher and student ratio and additional seats were created only in those schools where the seats were available.

“We’re realigning the teachers and would put additional teachers if required. A team at the ministry is already working on it,” lyonpo said.

Yangchen C Rinzin