Students convinced free tablets announcement  was fake news

Rinzin Wangchuk

At a fact-checking workshop with college and central school students recently, many students were convinced that the government’s announcement that its education ministry would issue tablets (a mobile device) was misinformation.

It was not a misinformation, disinformation and mal-information, students were quick to point out.  In December 2020, the government announced that about 173,000 tablets would be issued to students in the country after exploring possibilities. This created excitement among students, particularly in rural areas where many could not afford such gadgets. 

The move to provide free tablets was genuine. It was to complement the learning management system (LMS), which was developed by the ministry to enhance e-learning during Covid-19. LMS was supposed to be a virtual teaching accessible to all students and encourage them to learn beyond textbooks.

However, the government could not provide free tablet phones as planned due to “financial constraints”. This has led to disappointment and frustration among the students who were eagerly waiting to receive free tablets since 2021. 

Students said that they were excited when the government announced that students would be equipped with free tabs and electronic devices to enable e-learning during Covid-19. “However, the news disappeared along with the pandemic,” one group said. 

Students were quick to blame the media for spreading “false news” or “fake news” after there were no follow-ups on the announcement.

Kuensel learnt that the initial proposal the ministry submitted to the Prime Minister was to explore the possibility of issuing tablets to about 173,000 (PP-XII) students in the country to ensure that there is no disparity among students.  This became evident when schools had to be closed and the ministry initiated e-learning during the Covid-19 pandemic.

In early May 2021, the ministry sought approval from the government to distribute tablets to about 13,000 needy students and proposed to procure 20,000 tablets. This could have cost the government about Nu 260M and another Nu 182M (Nu 9.1M per month) for free data charges. The plan was to provide free data charges to students for two years. 

The ministry also proposed supplying laptops for about 9,500 teachers on a cost-sharing basis. The cost was estimated at about Nu 237.5M. One of the teachers from Mongar said that they weren’t aware of such a proposal. 

Minister for Education and Skills Development, JB Rai, said that the ministry had already developed LMS but could not roll it out due to a lack of funds. He said that they did not misinform the students and that it was the government’s aspiration.

“If the country cannot afford it, we must keep our aspirations,” the minister said.