Research conducted by a group of lecturers from Samtse College of Education last year found that promoting students who completed class X to class XI without a cut-off point will not be sustainable.

Titled ‘Implications of Promoting Class X Student to Class XI Without a Cut-off Point in Bhutanese Schools’, the research recommended that the government ensure the sustainability of the initiative through proper planning. “In the absence of such a measure, the sustainability of the initiative is at stake.”

This comes after debates on the initiative’s sustainability when the government decided to do away with cut-off point and sent students on scholarship to private schools.

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

The research was conducted last year but could not be published owing to various reasons, including disruption from the Covid-19 pandemic.

More than 5,000 participants, including school principals, teachers, parents, students, and officials from the education ministry and Bhutan Council for School Examinations and Assessment (BCSEA) were interviewed for the research.

One of the researchers said that the research was conducted because it was essential to do something through research to validate the concerns raised by many people.

“It was a concern that the decision to do away with the cut-off point was made without any empirical basis or study,” the researcher said. “So, we took a bold step to research and shared the findings.”

The research was completed in May last year and submitted to the Royal University of Bhutan.

The researcher said it was important to investigate perspectives of students, parents, teachers, principals, and educationists, including planners and policymakers, to gather an in-depth understanding of this initiative.

Although the ministry was supposed to provide scholarships to 1,800 students to study in private schools this year, the last batch, the ministry later provided scholarships to about 2,400 students.

This was because many students could not meet the Science and Commerce stream criteria, and many had to be absorbed in the Arts stream. Another reason for increased intake was attributed to fewer school dropouts of 70 students this year compared to 400 last year.

Going by the findings and participants’ interview, it was revealed that both principals and officials from the education ministry also agreed there would be a sustainability issue in the long run.

A principal had shared that only about 40 percent of high performing students were given the opportunity to study in Class XI without any cost earlier. “In the present situation, about 90 percent of the students have to be financially supported either in government or private schools.”

The findings also showed that other reasons cited for the unsustainability of this initiative were fee payment to private schools, limited space and infrastructure in government schools, expansion of government schools, provision of facilities and teachers’ salary.

With Bhutan graduating from least developed countries starting 2023, some also voiced that foreign aid would decrease and the initiative would burden the country’s finances.

There are also issues concerning the sustainability issue of private schools.

With the government trying to accommodate more students in government schools, it reduced the number of students in private schools.

Several private school proprietors and principals raised issues on the sustainability of their schools.

A principal had also shared that the government’s plan to upgrade most middle secondary schools to higher secondary schools to increase the intake of Class XI students will negatively impact private schools.

“The initiative is politically intelligent. However, its sustainability remains the biggest question,” a parent had expressed in the interview.

The research findings showed that it is a concern, as there is no planned budget for supporting scholarship expenses going by the literature review.

The decision is also feared to increase the unemployment rate, as many private school employees would be laid off.

The research also stated that accommodating more students in government schools put pressure on the limited infrastructure and resources while leaving the resources and facilities in private schools unused.

“This kind of initiative will contradict UNESCO’s (2002) statement that sustainable development activities should not have a negative impact on other areas of development,” the findings stated.

The research recommended a policy to be in place and strategies to ensure the sustainability of the initiative.

“If a policy is not taken into consideration, there may be tension between aim and outcome of the initiative. Else, the aims of the initiative may never materialise, and the gap between intention and reality may continue to exist.”

By Yangchen C Rinzin

Edited by Tashi Dema