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Private schools cry foul

Yangchen C Rinzin  

Higher secondary private schools in the country will have to reinvent, remodel or set higher standards, better than public schools if they are to stay in business.

The government, starting next year, will take in all students who are awarded the “pass certificate” in government schools. This means there will be no students on government scholarship enrolled in private schools. The only means for private schools is providing a better option to government schools by setting higher standards or providing a better quality of education.

After the education ministry did away with the Class X cut-off points in  2019, most students were absorbed in the public schools based on merit. The remaining were provided full scholarships and enrolled in private schools. The scholarship was Nu 40,000 for day scholars and Nu 70,000 for boarders.

About 7,808 students were absorbed in public schools in 2019. The 21 private schools received only 4,003 students on government scholarships. Last year, private schools saw 2,068 students on scholarship after negotiating with the government that they would have to close schools if the government absorbed most of the students in public schools.

The policy is not new. The government had earlier said that all students would be absorbed in public schools by 2022 and the number of students’ intake in private schools would decrease.

The ministry of education has tentatively targeted to distribute about 1,500 students to the private schools on a government scholarship for the 2021 academic session. The 20 schools would have to divide the 1,500 students. One private higher secondary school decided to close their business.

Education Minister JB Rai told Kuensel that the decision to absorb all students in public schools is not new. It was, he said, decided when the ministry decided to do away with the Class X cut-off points.  “The 1,500 students that would be enrolled in private school on government scholarship this year would be the last batch,” Lyonpo said.

No business for private schools?

After the cut-off point was done away, private school proprietors had claimed that schools have been running on loss. With the government’s plan to deploy only 1,500 students in 2021 would mean each school would receive about 70 students, according to proprietors.

Many said they were not aware of the government’s decision on the number (1,500) and there was no clear direction from the ministry how many students they would be receiving. Proprietors said that they would not be able to make up for their investment in the school if the number of students decreases every year.

“How do we run school to meet the cost and pay staff if we’re supposed to get only about 70 students,” Kuendrup Higher Secondary School’s proprietor, Lobzang Tshering, said. “If this continues, the only option would be to surrender the school to the government.”

The school, he claims, desperate measures retrenched three staff this year.

Lobzang Tshering said that even if repeaters are enrolled, they would not meet the school expenditure. Kelki High School in Kanglung has approached the education minister to take the school, claiming that they cannot sustain the school. The management decided to close the school from next year. The school had retrenched seven teachers in 2019.

Private school proprietors are also questioning the capacity of public schools to absorb all students given the public schools are faced with problems of a class size where at least one class has more than 30 students.

“The sole reason for letting private schools was because public schools could not absorb the entire students in Class XI. But now the government is not even following the student-teacher ratio,” said a proprietor.

Another proprietor said that he has decided to turn his school into a primary school and has not accepted students from the government last year. Many are also exploring to turn their school into primary schools as it is more profitable with parents finding primary private schools better than government schools in terms of quality of education.

Private School Association of Bhutan’s general secretary Tshering Dorji said that they have not yet approached the government for consideration, as the government was busy with the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We were supposed to meet the education ministry last December, but we could not because of the lockdown. But there is no information yet on how many students would be distributed to private schools this time.”

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