Nu 637.51M spent on 13,583 students 

Yangchen C Rinzin 

The government will not provide scholarships for Class XI students to study in Private schools from next year, but this does not mean the government will stop students from opting for private schools, according to the Sherig Lyonpo (education minister) Jai Bir Rai.

The ministry will provide scholarships to 1,800 students to study in private schools this year, which will be the last batch.

“Since there is no cut-off point, the decision will be left entirely to the student to either opt for public or private schools,” Lyonpo said. “We never said we’ll take all students in government schools and stop them from opting for private schools. There is  no cut-off point and the issue is not about private schools not getting students to study in their schools.”

Despite criticism on the decisions to do away with the cut-off point and sending students on scholarship to private schools, it is unlikely the government would change the decision. The education minister instead said that private schools must change their business modalities to attract students instead of riding on the cut-off points, which was the case so far.

“It’s true that many private schools were dependent on cut-off points, as students had to opt for private schools if they failed to meet the cut-off point,” Lyonpo said. “Unfortunately, most of the time it was students from poor families who couldn’t meet the cut-off point.  Our intention is to help these students to at least complete class XII.”

With many questioning the capacity of the public schools to absorb all students where about 12,000 students appear in the Class X exam every year, the minister said that the ministry is creating space in public schools with the construction of additional infrastructure in few schools.

However, many officials from different agencies shared concern on the capacity of schools and additional expenditure it would incur during the education ministry’s midterm review last Sunday.

Gross National Happiness Commission Secretary, Thinley Namgyel said that it is important to see if schools have the capacity to take in all students because this would mean extra classrooms and hostels.

“When all facilities are already available with private schools, it’s not required to spend extra to come up with additional infrastructures in public schools,” he said. “Maybe, the ministry should review the decision because it looks like we’re sending out the message that public schools are good and private schools are not.”

He added that some schools were already struggling with a lack of infrastructures including hostel facilities and it could get worse with additional students. “On one hand, we’re trying to reduce expenditure and on the other hand, there is a plan for additional infrastructures.”

Finance Secretary Nim Dorji said that 16 percent of the total annual 12th Plan budget is for education and the expansion of infrastructures means additional cost. “We must consider the recurring cost too where additional infrastructures also mean maintenance cost too. With the pandemic, we must be careful with the recurring cost.”

The education ministry spent Nu 637.52 million in supporting 13,583 students with the scholarship scheme since 2019.

Commissioner of the Royal Civil Service Commission, Dhanapati Mishra, said that such changes will only lead to an increase in the human resources need, thereby translating to increased recurring expenditure. “When there are additional students and infrastructures, it would mean additional teachers. We understand it is important but we must look into what is feasible and practical.”

He added it was time for some of the activities under the education ministry to be privatised and take activities only that really require the government’s intention. “We must provide opportunities with different strategies for the private sector.”

Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said that public schools can take students if only they do not compromise the student and teacher ratio, which is 1:34 right now.

However, Lyonchhen said that the Cabinet would discuss further on this issue.

Sherig Lyonpo said that class size would not be compromised, which is why there are additional constructions going on that would be completed by next year. “To help private schools, we’re reviewing the guidelines and have decided that there will be no cap on the school fees. Earlier schools were allowed to increase fees every three years.”