Central School: The government shot down the opposition’s recommendations on Central Schools with the majority of parliamentarians voting against the proposals presented in the National Assembly yesterday.

The opposition made three recommendations. The first was to give open admission in the Central Schools to every student from class seven onwards. The second was to retain the schools in the villages. The third was to do away with the 5km radius to be eligible for admission in the Central Schools.

Panbang Member of Parliament (MP) Dorji Wangdi, moving the motion, said that while Central Schools have benefited underprivileged children in giving equitable quality education there are concerns surrounding the policy. “Our concerns are on equity of educational facilities, sustainability and promotion of conditions conducive to cooperation and community of the integrated extended family,” he said.

The problem with the Central School and the other schools, he said, is the huge gap in opportunities. “There has been great difference in the facilities between the 51 Central Schools and 659 non-Central Schools,” he added. “There has been difference in the benefits given to boarders and day scholars.”

According to the opposition, most of the Central Schools are in the periphery of towns. “Therefore people are saying that because the Central Schools are located in the periphery of the towns, the policy has been questioned on whether it is benefiting the children from remoter areas,” Dorji Wangdi said, adding that this has also created a rift between the facilities for children in towns and the remote areas.

The opposition also expressed concern on the Nu 3 billion (B) expenditure incurred on Central Schools in the last two years. “In just three years, Nu 6B has been spent,” Dorji Wangdi said.

More will be spent in opening the 60 Central Schools in the current Plan and another 60 during the 12th Plan. The opposition expressed concern on how the country will be able to meet such huge expenses against the backdrop of dropping domestic revenue.

The opposition also raised concerns on the implications of separating children from their parents at tender ages. “Since some schools in the villages have been closed or downgraded, our proposal is to retain these schools as it is,” Dorji Wangdi said.

On the 5km radius issue, the opposition also pointed out that the education blueprint does not set such distances to be eligible for admission in the Central Schools.

“It is unfair to reject children from the villages where Central Schools are constructed when admissions are given to those children from outside,” Khar-Yurung MP Zangley Dukpa said.

Responding to the recommendations, education minister Norbu Wangchuk said most of the 51 Central Schools are established in the remoter dzongkhags. However, the minister acknowledged prevalence of inequity of facilities between boarders and day scholars in the Central Schools. But he said there are plans to provide the same benefits for the day scholars.

“From next year the government is planning to give uniforms, shoes and stationery, to even the day scholars. The only thing the day scholars will not get will be bedding,” he said.

Sustainability of the Central Schools is a priority, the minister said. “Capital outlay in the 11th Plan for Central Schools is 0.5 percent and it is not something to be concerned about,” he said, adding this year’s budget allocation on education is the least since the 7th Plan.

Lyonpo also said that the Nu 4.3 billion (B) spent on the Central Schools would have to be used even if the Central Schools weren’t started. “Nu 4.3B would be required to construct multi-purpose halls, laboratories, new infrastructures in the old schools, and additional facilities,” he said. He added that opening of Central Schools didn’t require the taking of loans since the recurrent expenditure was met from domestic revenue and capital expenditure was a grant from India.

On compulsorily admission for children from classes seven, the minister said the decision would be better left for the parents to decide. “If children were to be given admission in Central Schools compulsorily, the existing 77 lower secondary schools would have to be closed down,” he said, also pointing out that it would deprive parents from making decisions on their children’s education.

On the second recommendation to retain existing schools in the villages, the minister said that there is no policy to close down existing schools because of the Central Schools. “Even now there is no school which has closed down because of the Central Schools,” he said. The ministry’s hope is that if the Central School is able to provide quality education, then the existing schools might close down naturally, he added.

On the 5km radius issue, the minister said that it was introduced to give priority to the children coming from far-flung areas. “But the principals have been considerate to take in underprivileged children even from within the 5km radius despite having such criteria,” he said. He added that the 5km radius is an interim measure.

“Once the Central Schools have adequate boarding facilities and classrooms the children even within the 5km radius should naturally be eligible for boarding facilities,” the minister said.

Tempa Wangdi