Yangchen C Rinzin

A nine-year-old boy and his sister, studying in a remote village in the eastern part of the country, were identified as needy students in 2019. They live with their grandparents, who have no dependable source of income. Neighbours and teachers help them with basic necessities, stationery, uniform and such requirements.

Both siblings were happy when the principal informed them that they were identified as needy rural students. The principal said that they [the siblings] were abandoned by their parents and do not support their educational expenses.

“We’ve many such students who are identified as needy students. We, teachers, try to help them by adopting each child,” the principal said.

The siblings are among 12,050 students identified across dzongkhags as needy students. Schools across the country were directed to identify needy students. These students were supposed to get freebies like stationery and uniforms. But students could not make use of freebies last year since the schools remained closed owing to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The needy students are usually identified based on parents’ economic status. Some are a single parent; many live on the income that cannot support their children’s education.

Many principals and dzongkhag/thromde education officers (DEO/TEO) are left in a dilemma.

Just as they were preparing for supply order to procure uniform and stationery, it was learnt that the finance ministry did not keep the budget provision for procurement of uniform, beddings, and stationery in the fiscal year.

This means a total of 156,108 students across the country will not get free stationery items this year, and 120,50 needy students would not get free uniforms.

Providing free uniform will save the government Nu 30.125M.

Despite the notification on the budget call for fiscal year 2020-2021, was issued in June last year, many expressed that they were not aware of the decision. Some principals had already ordered the supply of uniform, beddings, and stationery. They had to cancel the orders.

While some principals have informed parents that students would not get free stationery and uniform, others said they were yet to inform the parents about the changes.

“The sole reason for identifying students as needy was because some parents cannot afford,” a DEO said. “How can we inform that they will not get because we don’t have a budget when we’ve already told them in 2019 that the government would be helping them?”

Many schools also have a concept of adoption one teacher adopting a needy student. Teachers help these students with their educational needs.

Kuensel learnt that shops had bought stationery and uniform to sell after learning that students will have to buy on their own.

However, when they received a notification, dated January 29, from the department of school education to prepare a budget to procure stationery, many assumed that the finance ministry had changed their decision.

“This is why we again asked schools to place the order,” a DEO said. “Then we learnt through the media this has been withdrawn.”

But many principals and DEOs shared that the finance ministry should have at least considered for needy students.

A principal said that having worked in the field with needy students, free uniform or stationery were required.  “When we talk about needy students, we know what and who we are talking about. They really need help and it is doable by adjusting the budget.”

Many in the education sector questioned the government’s decision to revert to providing normal TADA and LTC for civil servants and said that the cost of providing free uniforms to students should not be compromised.

“Our children need support,” a DEO said. “How and why the education ministry failed to set aside a separate budget for this is difficult to understand.”

According to the Budget Report 2020-2021, Nu 87.932 million (M) has been earmarked for uniforms, extension kits and linens under economic classification of expenditure; Nu 8.168M for textbooks, library, stationery and sports Items.

Kuensel learnt that the uniform, as mentioned in the report, is not for the students, but for support staff; the budget for stationery is for office stationery.

Names of children, schools and officials were removed on the request of anonymity.