Choki Wangmo, 34, has been working as a non-formal education (NFE) instructor in Pelrithang, Gelephu, for more than a decade. This is her 12th year in the profession.

While she enjoys teaching to people who have never been to school at school-going age, she has always been worried what she would be doing if the government decides to do away with NFE. “I also worry when learners don’t come to class, as if there is no student, the centre will have to close.”

Although there are 12 learners enrolled in the centre, there were only five who have come to attend the class on December 8. A makeshift hut serves as the Pelrithang NFE centre.

Choki Wangmo said that since most of the learners are housewives and farmers, who have families to look after, they couldn’t make it to the class regularly.

NFE instructors receive a monthly salary of Nu 8,300 without any additional allowances. That’s fixed for all despite a number of years served, no increment or promotion.

In last 15 years, there was three salary raises from Nu 3,500 to Nu 8,300 now. NFE instructors are neither regular  employees nor on contract. Instructors are entitled to 30 days leave annually.

NFE instructors function under the nearest school as parent reporting centre. They also do not avail transfer.

Instructors get holiday during peak farming season such as harvesting and plantation when all learners are busy on their farms.

Another NFE instructor in Gelephu, Sonam Cheki, gave birth to two children while serving as an instructor. She availed a month-long leave during each delivery.

She said that she wishes her job is secured or they be entitled to some retirement benefits.

Choki Wangmo said she has been raising and educating her children with the salary she receives as NFE instructor. “I am worried about my children if I lose this job.”

Besides retirement benefits and job insecurities, NFE instructors are often burdened with the workload.

One of the NFE instructors in Dagana’s remotest gewog Dorona, Pampha had to give up her job because of too much workload.

She taught NFE learners in the evening and had to teach at a neighbouring primary school without any additional salary.

She said Nimtola Primary School was almost two hours walk away from the NFE centre at Banglachu chiwog through the dense forest. “It is difficult to manage,” she said. “Giving up was my only choice.”

In the recent National Assembly (NA) session, Drujeygang-Tseza MP Karma Dorji raised concerns about the benefits and wages of the NFE instructors. Earlier this year, Lhuentse education officials also wrote to the education ministry if the NFE instructors’ service could be regularised.

Education Minister Norbu Wangchuk, while responding to the Drujeygang-Tseza MP, said that while meeting with the NFE instructors, concerns regarding minimum monthly wage and lack of retirement benefits were shared. “If these concerns are to be solved, the solution is to make the instructors a part of civil service.”

The education ministry has proposed to the Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC) to include non-formal education (NFE) and Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) centre instructors as part of the civil service and to place them at grade S5A.

There are about 565 NFE and 672 ECCD instructors in the country.

Meanwhile, the instructors are hopeful that the RCSC considers the ministry’s proposal and secure their job with retirement benefits.

Nirmala Pokhrel | Gelephu