Unlike past winters when she used to herd yaks in the highlands, Dorji Dema, 14, from Laya is in Thimphu and Paro this winter holidays.
Securing 70 percent in class five, she is among 15 students from Laya Lower Secondary School in Gasa, who are on an educational tour to the city. The tour started from Thimphu on January 1.
Called as ‘Highlanders on educational, motivational and cultural (EMC) tour’, the school selects students who achieve at least 60 percent in their annual examinations and commit to complete lower and middle secondary studies, for the tour.
A teacher, Thinley Rabgay, who initiated the tour, said that it is aimed at reducing the number of school dropouts in Laya community. “Students are expected to experience urban settings, which would help them realise the value of education and cultural preservation,” he said.
This is the second time the school is organising such a tour to encourage and motivate students to continue their studies, as most students leave school every year. Enrollment in the school decreased by eight students in 2016. In 2017, the enrollment further decreased by eight students while 10 dropped out of school.
Thinley Rabgay said enrolments in pre-primary and grades one and two have also declined. “Parents take children out of school during cordycep collection season as they have no one at home to look after them.”
He said parents do not avail hostel facilities if they don’t have elder siblings as boarder students.
The school organised a similar tour about 13 years ago to address the school dropout issue. The then principal of the school, Pem Tshering, organised a tour to motivate students to continue education and to give practical experience in teaching learning material in 2003.
Pem Tshering said it has been a struggle since then to keep students in school. “The students only think of picking cordyceps to make a livelihood. They have not seen a life beyond their community.”
Thinley Rabgay said students dropping out of school remain a concern. He said the school tried many co-curricular activities to retain students in school. “I think the tour would bring changes in students.”
He said that it took him almost a year to make the tour possible. The students started the tour with a visit to Dechenphug Lhakhang followed by a driglam namzha session at Yarab Institute.
On the second day of the tour, the students had a session on crime prevention at the Royal Bhutan Police headquarters in Thimphu and a familiarisation tour on traffic rules and regulations followed by a visit to Royal Thimphu College.
Meanwhile, Dorji Dema said she would study until class X and stay home to help her ageing parents.
Another student, Sangay Thinley, 15, said the tour was different from his previous experience in Thimphu. “It encouraged me to work hard to get the opportunity again. I have lots to share about the place, people, food and lifestyle with my parents and friends,” he said. “This would help me be a guide to my parents and friends if they make a visit here.”
The school will organise the event every year.