Villagers felt cheated, while officials say it was a case of miscommunication 

Education: Orong lower secondary school (OLSS) is about a four-hour walk from Philuma village.  When a plan to upgrade the school to a central school was sounded off to parents, they readily agreed with authorities to close down the extended classroom (ECR) in the village.

A central school meant free meals, free uniform and no fees.  Parents were told so, in convincing them to walk their children to Orong.  The 22 students of the ECR were transferred to the lower secondary school.

Recently parents are asking the school authority to reopen the ECR, claiming that gewog and school officials cheated them.  This started when the school started asking fees from the students.

“The officials told us that students would be provided with free uniforms, stationaries and exempted from fees,” a parent said. “We thought that the ECR would be anyway closed in the future and such facilities were good for students.”

The parents refused to pay the fees and demanded the ECR be reopened.  Parents said they had contributed labour to construct the ECR’s four classrooms and the office.  The villagers also constructed a proper water supply with a water tank.

“This established ECR would go to waste if not used,” Dechen, 42 said.

Tshogpa Rinzin said the parents, during a meeting with officials, were informed that the education ministry would be opening a central school that would provide free facilities and that Orong gewog was identified to have one. “There’s no central school and they’re not letting us take back the students,” he said.

However, the education ministry had asked to reopen the ECR through a letter on April 1. OLSS, the parent school, is looking for a teacher so that it can reopen the ECR with students from preprimary to class II.

The Orong school principal, Pema Rinchen, said that they received a letter to reopen but the school was already short of three teachers.

“Reopening the ECR would mean having separate teachers, but none of the teachers are willing to volunteer to go to ECR,” the principal said.

The principal said the parents were already forcing the school to send their children after they knew about the letter the school received from the dzongkhag.

“We’re trying to adjust a teacher. If no one volunteers, we might have to send teachers on a rotation basis.”

The vice-principal Sonam Dendup refuted the allegation and said they had informed the parents that the ECR would be closed as per instructions from the dzongkhag education office. “We informed them about the possibilities of opening central school in future just like the education minister had informed villagers but never said that OLSS would provide free facilities.”

He said they were just following the dzongkhag’s instruction to close down ECR in 2015.

Dzongkhag education officer (DEO), Rinchen Gyeltshen said they had asked the school to inform parents the ECR was closing to improve education quality since the students had to attend multi grade classes.

The DEO said it was a miscommunication because when the parents were informed about central schools they thought OLSS would be upgraded, which was not the only reason for closing the ECR.  “We got information that the ECR was not doing well since one teacher had to teach 16 subjects and we couldn’t have extra teacher.”

He said villagers had reported to the education minister who was in Orong recently about the issue.

“We’ve already requested the ministry for additional teachers,” he said. “Otherwise, it would be difficult to reopen.”

By Yangchen C Rinzin,  Samdrupjongkhar