School reform programme under NC scanner

Education: The government’s major initiative of improving the quality of education could be reviewed if a recently formed committee by the National Council sees fit.

The temporary committee will report at the end of this session whether a thorough review of the reform is needed.

NC members from Punakha, Gasa, Bumthang, Lhuentse, Thimphu, and Trongsa have been assigned the task after members said that there were issues with the central school policy, which is one of the main components of the school reform programme.

The main objective of the school reform programme is to improve the quality of education and address youth issues.

However establishing central schools in populated and urban areas could result in more youth related issues, members said.

Members questioned the sustainability of the programme and pointed out numerous issues such as burden on teachers, and students of other schools losing out on opportunities and benefits.

“It is good to provide such free services to our children but its sustainability remains a huge concern,” Thimphu Councillor Nima Gyaltshen said. The government spends Nu 26,000 a student in the central schools per  year.

The intention of the policy is good but there are teething problems with the implementation, he added.

Teachers are overburdened having to teach and provide care to students after school, it was also pointed out.

He said 12 teachers from one school applied for transfers citing increasing work pressure.

Teachers work from dawn to dusk but the entitlements and benefits have not changed, he added.

“The government needs to consider benefits at par with their responsibilities,” he said.

Dagana NC member Sonam Dorji said the central schools were intended to take the opportunities to rural areas for equity and balanced development. The education ministry in its recent report to the National Council said that central schools would be established in populated areas.

He said students within a five kilometre radius of the school do not have the opportunity to board at the school. “Within that distance there are students from humble families,” he said.

The committee will also dwell on three other issues related to central schools including employing Royal Academy of Performing Arts graduates to teach driglam namzha, and traditional dances in schools.

“This could relieve the teachers of so much burden and they could concentrate on their lessons,” Trongsa Councillor Tharchin said.

After the Thrimshing middle secondary school in Thrimshing gewog, Trashigang became a central school the mid-day meal for the nearby Thungkar lower secondary school was discontinued.

“This has created a sense of step-motherly treatment to the students of Thungkar school though both are in the same gewog,” NC Chairperson Dasho Sonam Kinga said.

The school reform programme is the initiative of the government to address concerns on quality of education and respond to emerging youth issues, besides other national concerns.

The school reform programme began with the establishment of 24 pilot schools in 2015. Another 27 schools were established in this academic year.

NC members also raised issues with the need for consultation when identifying central schools.

The ministry said the schools are identified through a consultative process involving the dzongkhags. Three criteria used to convert a school into a central school includes having adequate land for expansion, to accommodate at least 80 percent of boarders and to provide 20 percent of day-students with mid-day meals.

The ministry wrote to the National Council that it gives consideration on the existing infrastructure to avoid the need for major investment, regional balance, student population in the dzongkhag and economic background of the communities.

NC chairperson Dasho Sonam Kinga said focusing on the central school policy alone might not address the main cause of the issue that cropped up after the launch of the school reform programme.

Tshering Palden

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