… more than 12,000 poor students identified for support will suffer

Yangchen C Rinzin

With a huge cut in the budget, 156,108 students across the country will not get the regular free stationery items this year. The students have to buy their own.

The education ministry provides free stationery items to each student two times a year worth Nu 2,000.

The ministry spends around Nu 312 million (M) every year on stationery that includes nine items like books, pencils, and geometry box, etc.

However, the finance ministry decided not to keep the budget provision for procurement of uniform, beddings, and stationery items this fiscal year.

The ministry issued a notification to all agencies, including the education ministry, informing about the changes and asking schools to refrain from procuring these items for the fiscal year 2020-2021.

The finance ministry’s decision comes after government rationalised the budget considering the Covid-19 pandemic situation.

The decision to do away with the procurement of uniform is also affecting free uniform for 12,050 identified needy rural students. Doing away with these provisions will save the government Nu 30.125M.

The schools identified the disadvantaged students following the Cabinet’s approval to provide freebies to only the “poor and needy” students studying in central schools in June 2019. The uniform includes a dress set for girls and boys, shoes, socks, and slippers.

The freebies otherwise were provided to all students in the central school since 2015 irrespective of students’ socio-economic background.   

The finance ministry’s notification issued to all public agencies, local governments and ministers of all ministries on June 29 last year also states that the government decided to discontinue the practice of transferring funds to the central and autonomous schools in the form of grants.

The practice otherwise was to transfer the budget directly to the schools’ Current Deposit (CD) account.

The ministry decided to allocate budget for both central and autonomous schools in the Annual Grants of local government through Multi-Year Rolling Budget (MYRB and electronic public expenditure management system (e-PEMS). The CD account has now been nullified.

Unaware of the finance ministry’s notification, the Department of School Education sent a notification to schools asking them to prepare to procure the items on January 29.

In order to avoid mass crowding in the market, the education ministry identified a supplier and fixed the rates for stationery. The department instructed dzongkhag or thromde education officers to immediately start placing the supply order and to allocate the budget.

The schools were preparing to procure the materials when they found there was no budget. An official from the school education department said that it was only then the ministry knew about the notification the finance ministry had sent in June last year.

“We had notified schools to buy thinking the approval of the Cabinet was still valid. Now we decided to discontinue as per the notification of the finance ministry.”

Sherig Lyonpo (education minister) Jai Bir Rai said that free stationery should have been kept, as it is a part of free education even if the finance ministry wanted to do away with the budget for uniforms. “However, we still feel that 12,000 needy students must get freebies. These students belong to poor families who really require our help.”

Sherig lyonpo said that this could force students to drop out of school. There were cases before where students who could not afford to buy basic stationery and uniforms left school.

Meanwhile, calling it a disappointing and ad-hoc decision by the government, the Opposition Leader has urged the government to continue to provide free stationery and uniforms to identified disadvantaged students.

Opposition Leader Dorji Wangdi said that the pandemic has affected many people and their lives so, the government must consider the decision.

“Many parents have lost income so students would have become more disadvantaged this time. Children in rural could not even get temporary jobs to earn and use the money for school expenditure this time,” he said.