Last resort: private schools approach JPC

Yangchen C Rinzin

The Private School Association of Bhutan (PSAB) is requesting the government to clarify its stand on tuition fee collection based on the Education in Emergency (EIE) implementation report.

The government had earlier decided to not meddle in private schools’ tuition fees, which meant that it would leave entirely on the private schools whether or not to collect school fees.

The education ministry advised PSAB to sit together with the school management boards to discuss the issue of school fees and to refrain from intervening in their affairs.

However, this decision has left private schools more confused.

The ministry was supposed to assess the schools’ EIE implementation, as schools remain closed and the engagement of students is done through online education. The ministry will then decide whether the school fees should be paid.

Assessment showed that the private schools have implemented the EIE.

Without any option, PSAB’s secretary general and representatives met members of the Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) yesterday. They expressed the government should come up with a decision or stand by the reason why tuition fees should be paid if EIE was implemented.

Secretary general Tshering Dorji said that this decision left the private schools in dilemma and that if the government had come up with a clear directive, it would have been easier for school management to come up with their own decision.

“They could have at least mentioned the details of the report to help justify the decision to parents,” he said. “Even after submitting our report, we were never called on or informed, we learnt their decision through a media report.”

Another representative said it was earlier clear that the decision would be based on the assessment of implementation of EIE and that the education ministry changed its stand later. “Every decision otherwise needs approval from the education ministry with the memorandum of understanding signed. However, in this situation, the MoU stayed almost like nullified.”

Yoezerling High School’s principal, Chencho Tshering, presented a report called “Covid-19: A case of private schools in Bhutan”.

He said that based on situation analysis, there was also a requirement for clarity on the content of the prioritised curriculum and format for assessment and any financial/technical support for Covid-19 protocols readiness.

“Learning procedure is not clear, meaning if the students would be assessed and promoted based on the EIE,” Chencho Tshering said. “All the safety protocols are focused on public schools. There is no clear instruction that these protocols are also for private schools.”

Clarifying that private schools are not insisting to reopen the schools, members also shared that it was time the government came up with a decision on reopening of schools.

This would help private schools take decisions on how to keep schools running, members said.

A principal shared that if there was a standard decision that students would be assessed and promoted, it would be easier to convince parents, as parents’ concern is that the fees would be waste if their child has to repeat the class.

While reopening of school is still uncertain and subject to health ministry’s protocols, the PSAB has come up with three approaches such as reopening schools in a staggered manner, shift system and confinement method for class X and XII.

Private schools have also decided on the safety protocols as per the health and education ministry’s requirement, procured additional thermal scanners, safety kits resource pooling and professional resource sharing by scheduling.

Chencho Tshering said that after several discussions among the schools, the PSAB committed to continuing with remote learning in case the closure continued beyond June.

“The schools have also committed to retaining teachers and staff,” he said, adding the schools would also consider 10-15 percent tuition fee concession for the second term.

The PSAB has also sought support from the government on some forms of assessment and grade progression and loan deferment for a year.

“Because the campuses are closed do not mean that the schools have no other expenditure and all the schools have to still pay the non-teaching staff including cooks in the boarding schools,” Chencho Tshering said. “If there is no support then this could pose a serious challenge to schools’ intention to pay and retain all staff.”

Many shared that schools might be able to pay the staff until June with the fees collected from the first term, which is from January to June.

Another representative said that should the school closure continue, they would approach the government to allow tutorials in schools with a lesser number of students to continue the service.

There are 21 privates higher secondary schools, 17 primary and middle secondary schools with total students of 10,480, 718 teachers, and about 272 non-teaching staff.

Meanwhile, the committee’s chairman, Dorji Wangdi, said that having listened to the PSAB and the current situation, the committee would review and crystalise the issues and discuss among the members for a way forward.

The committee is expected to get back to PSAB soon.

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