Education minister, Mingbo Dukpa, recently visited the 24 pilot central schools across the country. Establishing central schools is part of the school reforms programme of the Bhutan Education Blueprint. But since it was piloted, it has received a lot of criticism. Kuensel’s Nirmala Pokhrel caught up with the minister after his month long cross-country tour.
Q&A: Q. How was your cross-country tour and central school visits?
The purpose of the my recent tour was mainly to assess the ground situation of the 24 pilot central schools and jointly come up with strategic interventions in close consultations with the school, dzongkhag and local authorities. It was also to monitor the implementation of Bhutan Education Blueprint ‘Implementation Plans 2015’ endorsed by the last annual education conference and to identify appropriate locations for central school expansion in 2016.
I visited 18 dzongkhags and 22 pilot central schools. It is heartening to see that our schools are in full swing and that our educators remain fully committed to render their services with loyalty and renewed dedication. I and my colleagues from the education ministry were also able to sit and discuss on any emerging challenges facing our schools today and shared the need to collectively address them by all concerned.
Q. Initially when the central school concept was announced, it was said everything would be free but now communities do not seem to be happy?
The central school concept is a strategic intervention to fast track improvement in the overall quality of education through restructuring of the school system by establishing large centres with proper boarding and adequate educational resources preferably located in rural settings with major and permanent catchment areas. It also hopes to encourage our youth studying outside their communities due to various constraints to migrate back to their own dzongkhags where they will receive better care and attention as well as enhance their global competencies and skills to face the challenges of the 21st century while remaining deeply rooted to our national identity and values.
During my recent tour of the pilot central schools, where I had the opportunity to interact with thousands of our school children, teachers, teacher leaders and local government officials, I found that everyone is very optimistic on the outcome of this reform initiative, and hardly had any complaints.
Seventeen more central schools are earmarked for the 2016 academic session under GoI funding. While the full boarding students receive almost all the required items free including school uniform and sportswear, day students get free mid day meals.
Q. When can the impact of central school in terms of quality of education be visible?
Education is a continuous process and a journey through life. Though we can see some concrete impacts like infrastructural development and landscape facelift in the campuses, character building is a lifelong process. Besides marked improvement in the overall academic performances of the students, we hope the schools will also be able to improve their feeding programme, school discipline, drug uses, and reduction in repetition and dropout rates. We also noticed that some of the students from urban schools have returned to their community central schools to avail the facilities.
Q. The idea behind establishing central schools was to do away with informal boarding and ECRs. Have any been closed?
Establishing central schools were to have large centrally located boarding schools in rural areas so that many students coming from nearby villages would receive quality education. I wish to clarify that central school is really not about closing down of small schools or to uproot and separate small children from their parents and homes to stay in central schools. Central school is simply about improving the quality of education services by providing proper student care to enhance their learning outcome.
Q. There are central schools functioning from two locations. How long will it take to have full-fledged central schools?
Larger the central schools the more sustainable they will become as there will be optimum utilisation of educational resources by maximum number of students. As a small country with limited resources, we cannot afford to provide all the required facilities in all the schools across the country. There is a need for prudence for economic reasons but maximize the available resources for the optimum utilisation and returns on investments. The government has made huge investments by way of expanding access to education, and the central school programmes are aimed at using the available resources to strategically fit into the modalities of central school concept. Most of the existing schools functioning from two locations are either only divided by barbed wire fencing or located a (short) distance from each other.
Q. How much is spent per child in a central school?
The estimated costing per child per year for boarders roughly works out to around Nu 27,000 (stationery items/stipend/uniform/shoes/socks/bedding/sportswear/plate/mug, etc) and for day scholars around Nu 5,350 (stipend for day meal/stationery items)
Q. If all 49 planned central schools are fully functional, how many additional teachers do we require or will trained teachers remain jobless?
Our assessment during the tour indicates that almost all our schools are adequately staffed. However, as part of the reform initiative, there is definitely the real need to have a closer look at the deployment system and ensure that right staff is placed for the right tasks. However, the nature of a teacher’s job is such that no amount of money would compensate for what a teacher does. Therefore, teachers need to reorganise themselves and feel, think, talk and behave as role models.