Upholding the existing policy on the admission age to enroll in grade pre-primary, the education ministry has decided to stand by its earlier decision to keep the admission age at six years.

The ministry informed of its decision to the cabinet secretary on July 2.

Representatives of parents, proprietors and principals of private schools had submitted a petition to the Prime Minister on June 13 appealing the government to regularise the admission of underage pre-primary (PP) students for the 2019 academic session.

The appeal was made after the education ministry in May revoked the admission of 890 PP students (below 5.5 years old) in public and private schools across the country. The representatives had also appealed the government to set five years (as of March 2019) as entry age for PP.

Even if the policy could not be changed, they had requested the government to reconsider this year’s enrollment and assured that from next year, the schools would abide by the rule.

The Prime Minister, through the Cabinet Secretary sent a letter to the ministry in the third week of June asking the ministry to extend and explore the possibility of reconsidering its decision.  “This was to ensure minimal disruption to the students who have not fulfilled the age requirement,” the letter states.

Director general with the Department of School Education, Karma Tshering in an email interview said that the ministry, taking into account children’s development stages and well being based on wealth of global research findings and practices has decided to stand by its earlier decision.

Underage students are those who have not attained six years, the criteria the ministry prescribes for PP enrollment. The ministry’s decision means that the children would have to repeat class PP next year.

The admission was revoked following a circular the ministry issued on November 23 last year, which stated that the age criteria admission of children in class PP in both public and private should have attained age six or are children born on or before February 13, 2013.

The circular had also notified that if there is still space after the admission period, the schools have the discretion to admit children who are five and half years old or older meaning those born on or before August 13, 2013. If the criteria were not followed, the student code wouldn’t be issued.

However, despite the circular and serving three reminders, the director general in an earlier interview said that schools had enrolled children who were below five and half years old.

“We’re only implementing the education policy guidelines and instructions and not to show our authority to the private schools,” he said. “We’ve removed the student code of only those children below five and half years old even if it’s a difference of just a day.”

Lyonchhen had earlier told parents that he would inform the education ministry of their request to reconsider the decision for this academic session. He said that the decisions they take also impacts rural children and that there are other factors to consider before considering their appeal.

“If the ministry is insisting on the rule, then there might be a reason and I was told that the ministry has repeatedly informed all schools not to admit underage children,” Lyonchhen said. “If it’s only one-time consideration for this batch then we can look into it but if the request is to change the policy then the case is different.”

Some of these students are four or five years old while many had turned 5 years and four months as of February 2019.

In the recent Parliament session, the National Assembly recommended the ministry to review and determine the pre-primary age limit highlighting the underage school admission issue. The House also recommended the ministry to maintain the class size as per education policy guidelines, 24 in lower classes and 30 in higher schools.


Yangchen C Rinzin