Old infrastructure and shortage of classrooms have pushed schools to use laboratories as classrooms 

Education: Almost all classrooms of Thimphu thromde public schools are overcrowded with some schools using laboratories as classrooms.

Thromde and school officials said this is a result of intense admission pressure they faced this year. In 2015 alone, Thimphu thromde received over 1,000 additional students in its 19 schools, which is double of what the schools took in the previous years. The revision of private school fees is also attributed to the increased admission pressures.

Loseling Middle Secondary High School (MSS) in Changjiji, for instance, has partitioned its biology laboratory into two to accommodate two sections of class III. All equipment from the lab is shifted to chemistry and physics lab.

The school had a capacity for 28 sections (PP-X) but following admission pressure, two additional classes had to be created this year.

This year alone, the school received 44 additional students in class IX and 26 in class VII. About 20 of the 44 students are football players who stay at the Bhutan Football Federation hostel below the school. It has 21 repeaters in class VII.

Students who completed class VIII from Chang Rigphel Lower Secondary School were transferred to Babesa MSS earlier but starting this year they are transferred to Loseling because of the school’s proximity.

This led to creation of two additional classrooms and in total, the school took 168 new admissions excluding preprimary. It has 1,230 students and 44 teachers.

Vice Principal, Tshering Lhaden, said although they have managed this year in the laboratory, it would be difficult to continue this way. At least a building with six units of classroom would solve the shortage for a few years.

“The two classrooms in the lab are partitioned with plywood and teaching in one class distracts the other,” she said. “More than creating additional classrooms, it was difficult to arrange additional textbooks and furniture.”

The school has 40-50 students in each class. The average strength in each class, according to education ministry should be 32.

Lungtenphu LSS, who has been struggling with structures that was built some 50 years ago, is also short of classrooms. The school gets flooded during monsoon and extremely cold during winter, while the wooden planks are uneven and widened.

Of the 36 sections, 12 are today conducted in the RBA officers’ old mess building, which is also partitioned with plywood walls.

Principal Sherap Dema said, although minor repairs are carried out every year, it has not helped.  “It either requires a major renovation or it has to be constructed anew,” she said. “The classrooms are so small that it can hardly accommodate 33 students.”

Classes became overcrowded in Lungtenphu LSS after it was merged with Choden LSS in 2013.

Sherap Dema also said that teachers lose time  walking from one class to another since the classrooms are scattered in three locations. Teachers use science laboratories as staff rooms.

For the last two years, the school has been requesting for a 12 unit building and although the thromde has accepted the proposal, it is not known when the structures would be built.

“Last year we had to conduct classes in open after some classes were flooded with rainwater,” the principal said. “When the learning environment is not good, it has a bad impact on quality of education.”

The difficult terrain and old structures are some factors that also impact the school’s assessment rating. The school is located above the Army colony in Thimphu.

Jigme Losel primary school also has old structures and is short of classrooms while Motithang HSS, Yangchenphu HSS, Dechenchhoeling HSS and Changzamtok LSS among others are facing admission pressure and have overcrowded classrooms.

Although it has adjusted this year, Dechenchholing HSS, which was upgraded from a middle secondary school would require some six additional classrooms next year.  Principal Tshewang Peldon said, the school would receive about four sections from Taba PS next year.

Deputy chief thromde education officer, Dorji Wangchuk, said admission process has been scrutinized but the pressure intensifies every year. At the end of each academic year, schools submit a list of available seat for next year based on which the thromde carries out the admission process.

“Parents who are transferred to the capital bring their children along but those going out of the capital leave their children in the schools here,” he said.  “This creates pressure and we can neither say no in admitting transfer cases or force parents to take their child while leaving Thimphu.”

He said, the closure of Changbangdu School in 2013 is one of the reasons why classes in Changzamtok LSS are overcrowded today.

Dorji Wangchuk said, construction of additional structures for some schools is included in the current Plan. So far, funding from Government of India is through to construct an 18-unit structure in Motithang HSS and a 15-unit structure in Zilnon Namgyeling PS.

In the 2015-2016 financial year, thromde got a capital budget of Nu 9 Million, which according to the Dorji Wangchuk is not enough to construct even a 12 unit building. Moreover, the budget is for buying furniture and other school equipment.

“We expect more students to go to central schools next year,” he said. “After few years, we hope everything will be in place.”

Currently, the 19 public schools in Thimphu have 18,829 students.

By Nirmala Pokhrel