No study conducted for keeping previous PP admission age at six 

Yangchen C Rinzin 

All children who turn five years on or before February 5 will be eligible for admission this academic session.

Children who were refused admission for this academic session last year but meet the age criteria can approach schools for admission on February 4.

The official age for enrolment in grade PP so far was six years and above. However, the Cabinet recently decided that the admission age to be reduced to five years.

The Prime Minister’s Office wrote to the education ministry on January 8 telling the ministry to bring down the age limit for admission beginning this academic session.

The ministry’s notification issued on January 14 has asked both private and public primary schools to adjust and accommodate all the incoming eligible children. 

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

Despite hiccups and many raised eyebrows on the government’s decision, which many criticise as rushed and irrational, the ministry had to go ahead and change the admission age.

The ministry had once revoked admission of 890 underage PP students (below 5.5 years) last year. Prime minister had asked the ministry to reconsider the decision but the ministry stood by its decision. However, it was later reconsidered as one-time adjustment following the directives from the Prime Minister.

The ministry strictly maintained the admission age limit at six years based on the documents issued on November 13, 1985. But yet again it had to give in following the recent directives from the government.

In the past, the ministry had turned down hundreds of parents requesting schools to admit their children, who fell short by a few days to reach the official age. The ministry had always argued that age six was as per the international calculation to support a child’s physical, intellectual, language, emotional and social developments.

The ministry derived its reasoning taking into account children’s development stages and wellbeing based on the wealth of global research findings and practices. The ministry also did not heed to the National Assembly’s recommendation to review and determine the PP admission.

Such arguments, Education Minister Jai Bir Rai said were never backed by a literature study conducted independently by the ministry and were depended on international studies and 1985 document.

“There have been arguments and pressure whether to bring down the admission age but many parents have shown willingness that their children are ready for school by 5 years,” Lyonpo said.

“We were stuck on such arguments, however, coincidentally Gyalsung happened. We must ensure that our children are ready for Gyalsung by the time they turn 18 years.”

Lyonpo said the parents should not expect the ministry to make any adjustments and admit four and a half years old students. Before, when the admission age was six years, the ministry allowed schools to take in 5.5-year olds if seats were available.

Lowering the age means the ministry will have to forgo and relook into its education policy guidelines and instructions.

Lyonpo said, however, this would not require a change to the entire guidelines except the age component. “This we can review and change. We’re confident the change would be implemented efficiently despite some glitches.”

With more than 6,000 additional students on top of the already admitted 13,000 PP students, the ministry has asked the schools to send in the details of additional students and teachers required including the infrastructure.

Lyonpo told Kuensel that although it was not sure how many additional students would be enrolled, it was certain that half of the already admitted students would be enrolled, which means the ministry should ensure enough space was created.

“The burden of additional students is likely to be felt in the urban schools, but some schools in rural areas do not have enough students in class PP,” Lyonpo said.

“However, we’re working on the estimation and that a team would come up with an eco-smart building that would be fast and efficient to construct.”

Lyonpo said that additional budget would be worked out for supplementary budget release and more teachers would be recruited on a contract or as assistant teachers. The teacher-student ratio today is 1:24 in lower schools. The additional enrollment would contradict the education policy.

Lyonpo explained that is only an ideal ratio and that it is not compulsory to stick to 1:24. “We might have to change the ratio once we change from summative to formative assessment, which is in the plan. This is just a beginning and everything will become smooth gradually.”

The ministry another argument to not enrol children below six years earlier was that all the curriculum for class PP were designed for a six-year-old child. This would be taken care of once the assessment is transformed into formative, the minister said. “The government has already done away with the examination for class PP-III.”

Following the lowering of the admission age, the ministry will also have to relook into the ambitious target to increase enrollment rate by 32 percent in the ECCD (3-5 years) this financial year in the annual performance agreement and 65 percent by five years.

“We’ll anyway enrol students from 3-4 years in the ECCD because whether 3 or 5 years, we have to have ECCD centres. It won’t impact the target and instead would have better facilities with fewer children.”

Lyonpo Jai Bir Rai said that there will be no issue with the additional PP students except increasing classrooms and budget, which the government is confident it can provide.

Lyonchhen earlier told Kuensel that admission age at six years old was subjective and it depended on the child’s mentation process because what a six-year-old child could do in the 1980s or 1990s a three-year-old can do today.

“The cognitive [development] depends on the curriculum designed, not on the age of a child going to school. We’ve to implement by next academic session itself to ensure no child misses the Gyalsung programme.”

As of 2019, there are 11,852 students enrolled in PP education according to the annual education statistics 2019. This is a decrease of 1,829 students as compared to 2018 enrolment, which the report claimed it was due to the ministry’s initiative to encourage right children age enrolment in PP where children of 6 years and above are enrolled in PP.