Dawa Zam from Lopokha in Athang enrolled her youngest son as a monk last month.

She said she would have enrolled her six-year-old son in school if the extended classroom (ECR) in Athang was not closed in 2017.

One of her five children is in Punakha, studying in class II with her elder brother.

Dawa Zam said that her other two children were studying in Gaselo Central School. Another son is a monk in Thimphu.

Dawa Zam said she enrolled the youngest son as a monk to keep him nearby. “If there was a school nearby, I would have sent him to school.”

The ECR in Athang’s remote Lopokha-Phaktakha chiwog wears a deserted look today. Wall paintings are wearing, classrooms are empty, and the wooden balusters are almost falling.

The ECR was closed in 2017. Before the school was downgraded to an ECR in 2014, the school had students from pre-primary to class VI with boarding facilities.

The education ministry’s annual education statistics 2017 report recorded seven students, four in class II and three students in class I before its closure.

Wangdue’s chief dzongkhag education officer, Pema Dorji, said the number of students had later dropped to four. “The education guidelines required at least 10 students for an ECR to be operational.”

A villager, Chador Pem, 27, recalled studying in the then Athang Primary School. “The school once had a boarding facility. Then it was downgraded and it was closed.”

She is a mother of a three-year-old son today. With the nearest schools in Phetakha Primary School in Kamichu and Singye Namgyal Primary School in Rukha, Chador Pem worried for her only child. “I guess I don’t have an option but to enroll him in Phetakha Primary School in Kamichu. Then we will have to keep him with relatives.”

Prior to the closure, Athang ECR served to Lopokha-Phaktakha and Lomtshokha chiwogs, which have over 60 households.

According to Chador Pem, while there were students studying in higher classes, there were only a few who were in the primary grades.

She said there were about 10 to 11 children who would soon go to school. “Many are sending their boys to become monks as we cannot afford to send them off to a far place. There are around five or six girls who go to Gaselo school and others couldn’t continue their studies from X or XII grades as they didn’t qualify for further studies.”

The number of children enrolling for monastic education has increased with the introduction of monastic education in the nearby Morakha Lhakhang in Lomtshokha chiwog. The lhakhang is located around an hour walk away from Lopokha-Phaktakha chiwog.

Despite the need for a few, the villages don’t fulfill the criteria to have at least 10 students for an ECR.

Pema Dorji said that if there were at least 10 students studying between PP and III grades, the dzongkhag would reopen the school.

By Phurpa Lhamo | Wangdue

Edited by Tashi Dema