Yangchen C Rinzin

Despite meeting the admission age criteria, Kezang Dechen who resides in Phuentsholing was compelled to enrol her son in a private school as the public school ran out of seats for pre-primary (PP).

Her son is five years and seven months old.

Like Kezang Dechen, many parents have children who missed enrollment because of lack of seats in public schools. Many had to opt for private schools.

They questioned the admission age policy and the education ministry’s capacity to admit additional students.

However, Education Minister Jai Bir Rai said that the ministry has tried to enrol as many of the additional students as possible by increasing the sections in schools.

The minister during the Meet the Press yesterday said that although the schools tried yet, there was no option since there was no adequate space to accommodate all the additional students.

The pressure was reported mostly in the urban schools in Thimphu, Gelephu, Phuentsholing, and Samdrupjongkhar while schools in most rural areas can still admit additional students.

From the estimated additional students of almost 7,000 and despite increasing almost 3-5 additional sections in schools, the schools have been able to absorb only about more than 3,500 students, according to the minister.

This is an addition to about 13,000 class PP students admitted for 2020 academic session.

“When the government changed the admission age, I think there was a miscommunication that a child who attains five years should be in school compulsorily,” Lyonpo said. “When we reduced the age, if there is not enough space or facilities, it is not compulsory to take in all the additional students.”

He said that these students could join school next year.

Lyonpo said that reducing the admission age was to legalise the age since parents were manipulating children’s date of birth.

However, there were also parents who complained of missing the enrollment because of the ministry’s criteria which required a student to turn five on or before February 5.

Lyonpo said that February 5 was kept coinciding with His Royal Highness the Gyalsey’s birthday. “Also a fixed date was necessary to avoid parents from manipulating the birth date”.

Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said that the education ministry had submitted details on the requirement for additional infrastructures of 153 units and 213 extra teachers at the cost of about Nu 560 Million.

“However, we must realise that the pressure of additional students is just one time and the enrollment would reduce from next year,” Lyonchhen said. “So, it would not be a wise decision to invest millions for one time need.”

Lyonchhen said that although some parents would be sad for missing out on admission, they can admit next year where the pressure would have dropped.

“However, where there is really a need to construct additional classrooms that could be used for future too then we can strategise. We’re also working holistically when it comes to the requirement for teachers and discussing with RCSC, as we don’t want to rush.”

Lyonchhen also said many had criticised the government had lowered the age without any proper research or study.

“While I understand and agree many have questioned how a 5-year old could study the syllabus designed for a 6-year old child, the decision was solely based on common sense,” Lyonchhen said.

“There is no written document that says these syllabi is best for a 6-year old and that the education ministry and Royal Education Council (REC) had assumed it is as learning for a child for the first time.”

Lyonchhen said that what is supposed to be learnt in class PP is actually taught in Early Childhood Care and Development. “Yet, the education ministry and REC were asked to study if the present syllabus would be difficult for 5-year-old with evidence.”

“REC officials told me that it is okay to teach the same. So, there was no need for a change in the syllabus.”

The government decided to bring down the admission age criteria to ensure that the age aligned with the National Service (Gyalsung) programme that would be instituted in 2022.