Commissions a review of teacher recruitment system in private schools

Following the arrest of  the 39-year-old vice principal of a private charity school in Bjemina, Thimphu on April 6 for allegedly molesting and sexually assaulting nine girl students, the education ministry has arranged counselling sessions for the affected students.

According to a press release, education minister Norbu Wangchuk said the counselling is also for all the students.

“We hope that they [student] will make their journey of recovery positively and fast,” the minister said. “RENEW has also sent counsellors and students are attending their regular classes.”

The case came to light after a medical staff from Gidagom hospital informed the school’s principal about the incident. The vice principal had been molesting the girls who were aged between 11-15 years. He had allegedly attempted to rape a girl student last year.

According to the complaint that a parent lodged to the police, the accused caressed the girls by hugging them from behind, holding and massaging their thighs, rubbing his chin on them, kissed them at times, and also fondled their breasts. The suspect was with the school for more than seven years.

Condemning the incident and calling it a serious betrayal of ethical and moral conduct, the education minister said that the ministry would extend full support to redress the trauma that the students maybe going through.

The minister said that although there were counsellors in all the secondary schools, there were no counsellors in primary schools because there were not enough counsellors. The ministry has realised there is a need depute. 

According to a record maintained with the career education and counselling division of the department of youth and sports, there are currently 103 school guidance counsellors in 103 secondary and central schools across the country providing one-one counselling services.

The minister visited the private charity school yesterday and met with the wife and the three children of the accused. He has directed the counsellors to also provide counselling to the children of the accused.

The minister added that while the ministry had good teacher recruitment system in the public schools, this incident has indicated a gap in recruitment process of teachers in private schools.

According to police records, the accused was convicted of illicit relationship with a minor in 2004 in Trashigang and has served a five-year term in prison.

“Realising the gap, the ministry has directed the human resource division to review the teacher recruitment system in private schools,” the minister said. “We need to review so that it strengthens  teacher recruitment in private schools. In this case, if there were no loopholes, the school would have known about the vice principal’s past record.”

Today, according to the private school guidelines, although the ministry monitors the recruitment of expatriate teachers in private schools, recruitment of Bhutanese teachers are usually carried out as per the school management based on the minimum qualification.

The guideline does not state whether the school should also look into the pass records of a teacher during the recruitment process. An education official said that the ministry’s private school division and education-monitoring division collect data of teachers every year to see if they have met the basic requirement. “But the data doesn’t include the teachers’ pass record, which is why in the recent case, the vice principal met the criteria. He was a trained and qualified teacher.”

The minister said Bhutanese schools are safe and secure learning places. “Principals and teachers around the country are committed to making schools truly sacred temples of learning.” 

Yangchen C Rinzin