MAIN STORY: It is that time of the year, again, when children return to their schools and academic sessions begin in a full swing.
The smell of new uniform, school bags and shoes hang in the air as students prepare to get back to school. Stationary shops are packed with students and parents preparing for the year ahead. One can feel the excitement in the air when a student is about to enroll in a new school.
A whole new chapter begins.
It is also that time of the year when parents are gripped by the reality of having to choose between government and private school. The latest trend is, at least in Thimphu, parents seem to opt for private schools.
There has been an increase in the number of admission in the different private schools over the years. Some private schools in Thimphu have also increased their admission capacity due to increased admission requests from parents this year.
A corporate employee, Tenzin, 39, had a tough time getting an admission for his two sons in one of the private schools in Thimphu. Tenzin is paying a hefty Nu 84,000 tuition fee annually.
It is a heavy expenditure for someone like Tenzin, who not only has to pay tuition fee, but also pay rent and soaring utility bills. Tenzin doesn’t have a choice but to enroll them in a private school.
A child has to reach six years of age to be able to enroll in a government school. “It won’t be fair to my sons to wait till they are six when other children are being admitted in a day care or a private school from the age of three,” Tenzin said.
“If they start their education only at the age of six, by the time they graduate they will be 26 years, which is too late. There’s also no guarantee that they will get a job. They will lose a lot of time,” Tenzin said. “Enrolling a child at an older age was feasible during our time because jobs were available. This is not the case anymore.”
In such a scenario, private schools are booming in the country, which is not a positive sign for middle-class parents who have to sacrifice so much so that their child can get a decent education,. “Living in Thimphu is too expensive and, to top it all, we have pay a hefty fees so that our children can get a decent education,” said Tenzin.
Succumbing to such social demands and improper policies in place, we have no choice but face urban poverty, added Tenzin. “Due to the lack of consultation and monitoring of such policies, parents like us are facing the consequences. I hope the education ministry looks into such matters.”
Another parent, Pema Lhamo, 37, a government employee, has also enrolled her daughter in a private school in Thimphu. Pema Lhamo, too, makes sacrifices so that her daughter can get a decent education at her age.
“Many parents enroll their young children in private schools because of the entry-age bar set for the government schools,” she said. “There are also others like me, who feel that the quality of education is far better in private schools.”
The teacher-student ratio in private school is small compared with government schools’. Child gets the required attention they need, Pema Lhamo said. “This contributes to the child’s overall academic development and parents are willing to pay if their child receives the right education.”
Owing to such differences between a government and private school, Laxmi Rai, a teacher at Druk School, said many parents opt for private school.
“In a private school, a teacher can give individual attention to students due to the small class size. The infrastructure and facilities are far better and there is diversity of curriculum, which drives many parents to private school,” she said. “By the look of it, the numbers of admission will only increase provided the private school lives up to their reputation.”
There is also the status symbol attached to a private school. Most parents, however, do not make it overtly clear.
Yeshey Choden, 35, has enrolled her son in a government school this year. She is facing less stress when it comes to the school fees and other expenditure that goes once the school session begins.
“A sense of elitism is there to have one’s child enrolled in a private school, which is not going to be good for a child’s upbringing. He will only know the value of social status and materialism,” Yeshey Choden said. “To only be aware of the size of how big their parent’s car is and what kind of gadgets they own is not what I want my son to learn.”
Plus, there are more trained teachers in the government schools compared to private schools, Yeshey added. “At the end of the day, it depends on each parent and the environment the child is brought up. Giving the right education is important but enrolling in a private school is not a priority for me.”
There are demerits of increasing private schools to other sectors of the community – a social fragmentation between haves and have-nots, Yeshey said.
“There’s the inequality gap created when many parents attach a sense of social status to these private schools. It clearly says that for those who can afford, one can get quality education and for those that cannot, one can get government school education,” she said.
It is high time that right policies are framed when the country is talking about poverty reduction and reducing social inequality.
“Parents don’t have to choose the quality of education for their children in a Gross National Happiness country where the Constitution guarantees free education for full development of a human personality,” said Yeshey.