Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing  

The education ministry’s (MoE) decision to transfer class VII and VIII students and teachers (teaching VII to XII) out of Phuentsholing have left both parents and teachers unhappy and worried.

While there is no certainty of other dzongkhags being safer from Covid-19, parents and teachers raise many concerns.

Although not officially announced, the ministry is preparing to transfer 921 students and 100 teachers to other dzongkhags from the five Phuentsholing schools.


Parents worry

A father of a 12-year-old girl, Sangay Khandu said considering the present situation across the country, none of the dzongkhags is safe for children.

He said the education ministry should consider the children’s security as they were most 12 to 13 years old, who can’t manage on their own.

“My daughter isn’t willing to go to a boarding school,” Sangay Khandu said, adding that she was badly disturbed by the news.

“I think relocating children will do them more harm than Covid-19. They may even develop psychological problems later.”

Parents also shared that children can’t wear and wash school uniforms. Since class IX to XII students were already relocated, students of class VII and VIII can be easily accommodated in Phuentsholing, they say.

Tashi Om, a mother of a 12-year-old boy said her son doesn’t even know how to wear a uniform or wash it.

“Sending him to a faraway place is a big concern,” she said. “He has never stayed away from us.”

Parents also pointed out that the ministry should at least give them the liberty to choose schools in nearby dzongkhags such as Chukha, Thimphu or Paro. It would be difficult for parents to visit them in case of emergencies, a parent said.

Some said the thromde education office in Phuentsholing has asked them to choose dzongkhags, excluding Thimphu and Paro, for their children. Schools will be decided by the ministry.

Parents also need the option to keep their children as day scholars.

Some said the ministry’s decision is a harassment to parents and students.

“Why can’t MoE allow parents to admit their children in the nearby dzongkhags. They have to find other better alternatives in order to enhance quality education.”

Bhakti Maya’s son, who has asthma, will study in class VIII and the news left her worried.

“Why not have some stringent protocols and keep the children here,” she said.

A civil servant, who has sent his class XI daughter to Punakha, said he had sleepless nights when the Covid-19 was reported in the dzongkhag.

“She has been away from us for some time now,” he said, adding that going to even meet her would be difficult considering the movement restrictions from Phuentsholing.

He said the rationale of relocation was to prevent Covid-19 but the virus can reach anywhere and that makes parents anxious.

“It’s time the government trusted and had confidence in people. Parents must also be given the responsibility and accountability to prevent the coronavirus,” he said.

He said that if properly consulted, parents would cooperate, and Phuentsholing could still have schools in containment mode.

“At present students are sent to other dzongkhags and kept in confinement, while their teachers move freely.”

Parents said since students of class PP to six are still in Phuentsholing the Covid-19 risks still remain as their parents shuttle between workplace and home.

Many parents point that class PP to six students are the ones more vulnerable. “If they can be managed here, class VII and VIII students will not be a problem,” a parent said.

Meanwhile, private schools will be allowed to operate in self-containment mode, which some say was contradicting the ministry’s objective. Some parents are even seeking admission in the private schools in Thimphu.


Teachers worry 

The ministry’s decision will move about 100 teachers teaching class VII to XII, many of whom said it would create challenges and problems both in work and families.

Teachers say transfers will increase separation of families, which could even lead to divorces.

“There will also be a drastic increase in expenditure, if spouses are working in different stations leading to financial problems within the family,” a senior teacher said.

“The success of a child’s education depends on the family, if the key members are separated, it may impact on the child’s education and growth.”

Teachers said that many of them had worked in remote schools and were finally in a town with modern amenities.

They say they would have less chances in getting the places of their choice since many teachers choose Thimphu and Paro, which are already congested.

They said that they were under stress and that the ministry should reconsider the decision to transfer them.

“But we have nowhere to go to. Nobody ever asked us how we felt. People are only quick to point fingers at us.”

Some are single parents, others have their sick parents.

“And even the children will be relocated to different schools. For some, father, mother and the child will be in three different places,” one teacher who is currently serving with students in Punakha said.

While there is no formal notification from the ministry, teachers have been asked to fill transfer forms. The education minister and human resources department officials visited schools in Punakha.

Thromde education officer in Phuentsholing Thromde, Norbu Gyeltshen said that as per the ministry’s instruction, he has submitted the list of the students and teachers.

“However, we have not received any clear order in writing,” he said.

Thrompon Uttar Kumar Rai said many parents have been approaching the thromde office after the news of the students’ transfer.


Local economy worry 

Businesses in Phuentsholing worry about losing customers. Their businesses were hit when class IX-XII students and teachers were relocated to Punakha and Wangdue last year. The local economy will suffer, they say.

“No place is safe from the Covid-19 as we have seen in the case of Thimphu and Paro,” a businessman, Namgay said.

“Relocating students of class IX to XII with their teachers was to take them to safer places. But are they really safe now? Government must learn from their mistakes.”

He said taking away students and teachers will be a big threat to the already dying businesses in Phuentsholing. Daily sales have already decreased and many could not meet their rents and staff salary, he added.

“Many families have gone too. Government could take us too. Really confused with the decision,” he said.

Some landlords said they would be losing tenants and their rental income.

“If government’s intention is to destroy Phuentsholing business hub as lots of businesses are illegal here, then, I can’t say anything. Otherwise they are destroying our economy more than Covid-19,” said another shopkeeper.

A micro printing and photo shop owner said the business is down.

“Students coming to print photos and make copies have already decreased with class IX-XII students relocated,” he said. “Small scale businesses are suffering the most. The rent has not decreased.”

On top of that, there are lockdowns, and while the cost of living is the same, the source of income has drastically decreased, he said.

Business community representative, Lobsang Tshering said the business in Phuentsholing is already in bad shape and shifting students and teachers may adversely impact the local economy.

“With limited timing permitted for business operations and 50 percent seating capacity in restaurants and bars, the businesses are worst-hit,” he said.

Lobsang Tshering said without movement of people from other dzongkhags, the businesses were having tough time to meet the daily operational costs, mainly house rent and staff salaries.

“At the same time we should understand the consequences of the Covid-19 in the country,” he said.

“Therefore, I feel everything has to move with proper balance. All business entities are hoping for good days to come very soon.”