The final lessons remain inscribed on the doors of empty classrooms of Tongling Primary School in Tonglingpam village in Radhi, Trashigang.
The once bustling classrooms remain buried in overgrowth today. The colourful walls are now encrusted with cobwebs and falling plasters. The smell of wet dirt overpowers as you peep through the broken window of the structure.
The small playground adjacent to the school now serves as a grazing meadow for the cattle. The lone toilet facility below the ground remains buried.
The school has been abandoned since early 2015 after it was found short of two students to meet the extended classroom (ECR) criterion of 10 students.
Started as a community school in 2002, residents of the village volunteered to construct two structures, a classroom and a principal quarter. The school started with about 60 students until 2012. The enrolment started declining. There were about 70 households in the village then.
With support from the UNICEF, three more structures (two classrooms and a principal quarter) were constructed in 2011. The school then served as an ECR.
However, the number of students kept declining until 2014 after which the school had to be closed.
A resident of the village, Jamtsho, saw two of his children complete their primary education from the school.
His youngest son, however, could study only a year at the school. “It’s painful to see the school in this condition,” he said.
Today his youngest son goes to Radhi Middle Secondary School, which is located some 90 minutes walk from their house in Tonglingpam. “Without a school nearby, children have to walk all the way to Radhi and this worries us especially during summer.”
Jamtsho said that the Chongdiri stream unexpectedly swells during summer making it difficult to cross. “We worry, as the students are small.”
When the school first opened, people from Drungon village and some even from Shongphu gewog admitted their children at the school. However, given the distance, people started moving their children to other nearby schools.
Another resident, Pema Yangki, said that without a school nearby, the only option is to send the children to a central school located in Rangjung. “But enrolling a child at the central school is not easy. If they do not have the required marks, they don’t get the admission.”
The 40-year-old farmer said that when the school in Tonglingpam closed down, she had to send her children to Bartsham, which is three hours drive from the nearest road point. “It would have been much easier if the school had remained open but we were told that there are not enough students to keep the school functioning.”
Radhi gup, Kulung, said that he doesn’t think that the school would be reinstated given the fewer number of students in the village.
He said that the gewog administration is exploring measures to reuse the structures at the school.
During the recent visit of the education minister Norbu Wangchuk, residents of the village requested of the school structures could be used as a basic health unit (BHU).
However, the gup said statistics maintained by the health workers at the existing BHU indicate that the number of people availing the services was not high enough to have an additional BHU in the gewog.
Given the priority of the government is on reducing poverty in the rural areas, gup Kulung said that the gewog is focussing on promoting poultry and other livestock activities.
“Now we are thinking that we will use the two old structures at the school for poultry and mushroom cultivation,” he said. “The three new structures could be used by dairy groups to store milk and other products.”
Younten Tshedup | Radhi