After overseas employment agencies, there are now reports of education consultancy firms exploiting students who wish to pursue higher studies abroad.

For a society that takes pride in empowering its children with education, this is a sad development.

The plight of 23 students who were duped to study in Malaysia came to light only after some students decided to return home and shared their story. The education ministry has now requested the foreign ministry’s assistance to repatriate the 18 students who are in Malaysia on expired visa.

It is not that the ministry was unaware of this case.  It was. The issue has been going on for a year and the ministry’s complacency to respond to the risks the 23 students were facing is disturbing. In such a case, we can hardly blame the students and parents for being naïve and trusting.

As education gets commercialised and people literate, we appear to have become a society that sees business opportunities in the desperation of the unemployed and high school students wanting to complete graduation. We have no qualms about exploiting children whose parents have sought loans to educate or send them overseas to work.  The rising cases of drug abuse among our youth are not enough to get our law enforcers crack down on access and trafficking of controlled substances.

We must ask why we have become so indifferent to these issues. We have a problem when we laud the rescue efforts of the government when one of its ministry’s lapses allowed such instances to occur in the first place.

The problem doesn’t end with the firm owner absconding and the ministry suspending licences. It instead calls for stern actions because it concerns the lives of the youth and their education, our future. The government must act and fix accountability. It should review and strengthen its monitoring services, create awareness and fix the lapses that led to such situations.

There are more than 30 education consultancy firms registered with the department of adult and higher education today. They must be consulted as well in addressing the challenges of sending students abroad. Records show that there are more than 2,000 tertiary students abroad on self-funding. An additional 936 are on scholarships.

Bhutan has always valued education and the sector continues to receive a large share of the annual budget. Our leaders, teachers and parents work hard to ensure that our children in schools get the best education. Why do we then falter and become complacent with their education when these children are on the threshold of their academic lives?

For a small and dependent country like ours, education is the most important thing we could give our children. We must not tolerate firms that chose to exploit the country of its future.