Welcome back check-in session initiated to ensure students adapt to new normal  

Yangchen C Rinzin

Students across the country returned to school beginning February, especially students of Classes PP-VIII.

Schools had remained closed since March 2020 owing to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Many students were forced to learn through online education after Bhutan saw an increasing number of Covid-19 positive cases and two nationwide lockdowns.  Many students said that they were happy to be back in school after almost a year.

Students said it was easier to learn through contact teaching with teachers around to clear their doubts, which was not possible with online education.  Students complained about not being able to adapt to online education.

Tshering, a class VIII student of Lungtenzampa middle secondary school (MSS), said she could not study because she had to babysit when her parents were away for work. “By the time my parents are back, I’d be tired. I really wanted to go to school,” she said.

Students of classes IX-XII will start returning to schools in April since classes X and XII had their board examinations in March.

Ganasham Ghimirai, a class VIII student of Gelephu lower secondary school (LSS), said that it was a whole new experience when he returned to school. “But I felt like I was promoted to class VIII without learning anything,” he said.

Students of lower grades were first to go back to school after schools reopened.  Students of schools like Thinleygang and Wangdue primary school (PS), Shengana and Dorokha LSS, and Khuruthang MSS will return to school only in April.

These schools were used to host students from Phuentsholing thromde after lockdown.

Tshering Dema, a class VI student of Sherubling PS in Trongsa, said that she really wanted to return to school last year. “I missed my friends and online education was very difficult. I had a hard time because my parents are illiterate and they couldn’t guide me with my studies.”

As much as students are happy, they are also worried they could contract the virus.  However, many shared they are also aware of the safety protocols.

A parent in Phuentsholing, Rajesh, said that his son attended the school only for a week and, after the school closure, it became difficult for him and his wife to adjust. “We’re not teachers, and we didn’t know how to help our child with school work.”

During the school closure, the education ministry’s career education and counselling division saw more than 3,000 cases that approached for counselling through Sherig Counselling Service last year.

More than half were students and the majority wanted schools to reopen and wished to return to school.

Although there is no data to compare, many counsellors agreed that students were happy to be back to school.

“Calls for counselling about school-related issues have reduced,” a counsellor in Paro said.

However, the excitement to be back to school might not be the same for every child, according to counsellors.  This is why, funded by the UNICEF, the career and education counselling division has come up with a “welcome back check-in session”.

Chief counsellor of career education and counselling division, Reena Thapa, said that session helped students affected by the pandemic and prepared them to go to school mentally prepared.

Reena Thapa said that different students would have had different experience during the school closure.  Such a session, therefore, is essential for students, who had gone through difficulties at home and are still stressed.

“Many students, especially those transferred to other schools, mayn’t find it easy to bond. So the sessions help them bond with other students,” she said. “It’ll also help students adapt to new normal and help them move on.”

The session is conducted as and when the schools reopen, but only in 146 schools of the 609 schools in the country that has certified school counsellors.

There are 147 counsellors in the country today, including two on contract.

Reena Thapa said that the session focused more on students, who could leave the school again because of many reasons like not being able to cope with the new school, and on students, who are the victims of domestic violence and whose parents lost jobs due to pandemic.

“Having gone through problems, it’ll not be easy for a child to forget the issue affecting their studies,” she said. “The session will create a safe space for students to express the issues.”