Education: After working as an instructor for the Non-Formal Education (NFE) programme for about 12 years, 32-year old Lhakpa Dema had to resign last month for not having enough required learners.

The Bajo based NFE centre she used to teach in was left with only seven learners requiring it to be closed down this year. An NFE centre must have at least 10 learners to remain open.

The centre used to have 21 learners in 2011 but since most of them were either wives of army or police personnel, they had to leave when their husbands were transferred, she said.

“I was happy with the job, which was my only source of income,” Lhakpa, who is a mother of three said. “If I get required learners I wish to request the ministry to let me continue.” But Lhakpa is worried if the ministry will allow her to continue after resigning.

She said not having a separate centre or even basic furniture for learners, and having to depend on the school for teaching space, discouraged learners and prompted them to drop out.

Yeshey, another NFE instructor, resigned to contest in the upcoming local government election. However, he said he felt discouraged as an NFE instructor as he was never treated like a regular employee. Yeshey worked as an NFE instructor for 15 years

Even after serving for almost two decades at minimal salary, NFE instructors were not entitled to take home even one-month’s extra salary after resigning before the month’s end, he said. As an instructor they had to find learners, and if they failed to do so, they were asked to resign, he added.

The declining number of learners left many instructors concerned said another instructor who also resigned last month.

Wangdue’s dzongkhag education officer (DEO), Kencho Wangdi said at least eight NFE instructors have resigned this year. The instructors have to show interest and encourage new learners, he said.

The declining rate is also attributed to older learners having already passed the NFE programme. However, the dzongkhag has received two new proposals from the gewogs of Thedtsho and Phangyul to open NFE centres.

Punakha DEO Lemo also said the declining rate is a result of the younger generations  already being educated and most rural folk already having completed their one-year basic literacy and post literacy courses.

As per the education ministry’s annual statistics, from 57 NFE centres in 2013 there are only 35 today. The same is happening in Punakha, which saw a sharp decline from 20 centres in 2013 to 13, this year.

Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay during the mid-term review of Punakha said the declining rate of NFE learners is worrying and directed the education ministry to review the programme and submit a report to the government.

The NFE programme was started in 1992 with just 300 learners in six centres. The number increased to 12,968 learners and 834 instructors in 2011.

The programme went on to win the UNESCO Confucious prize for literacy for empowering more than 160,000 people.

In 2013 there were 9,628 learners in 855 centres with 875 instructors. By 2014 the number of learners decreased to 8,079 and 774 centres, which led to the resignation of 71 instructors. The number of learners further decreased to 7,618 in 2015 and more instructors lost jobs.

The number of learners is expected to further decline in coming years, according to education officials.

Dawa Gyelmo | Wangdue