Declining birth rates impact school enrolments

At the Friday NA question hour session the Nubi-Tangsibji constituency MP, Nidup Zangpo, asked the education minister on the government’s plan to make central schools sustainable at a time when most developmental activities are being funded by grants and foreign aid.

The MP said that when the country is developing at a very fast pace the government should cut expenditures that can be borne privately or by individual people.

“When we say it is a central school, government take care of everything and bear expenditure starting from basic needs,” he said.  “This is appearing very unsustainable and can benefit students only for a very short period of time.”

Lyonpo Norbu Wangchuk said the idea of the central schools is to provide quality education to every Bhutanese student and it has helped a lot in providing access to better education.

He said that going by student enrollment Bhutan is at the top list compared with other countries, with 99% of children having access to quality education.

The minister said that the country’s 550 schools is increasingly getting unsustainable due to shrinking school cohorts as the birth rate in Bhutan has slumped. “Declining birth rates have had a knock-on effect on enrolments – first at primary schools, then secondary schools and now junior colleges,” Lyonpo Norbu Wangchuk said.

The education minister explained that schools need a certain critical mass to be able to offer a good range of educational programmes and co-curricular activities. For some of the affected schools, enrolments could have fallen to as low as 200 students within the next few years and this would be simply untenable.

“Now many choose to have two or three children at the most when earlier a family used to have more than 10 children,” the minister said. “Everyone is now encouraged by small and happy family structure where schools are getting empty.”

From 550 schools in the country 255 schools has been functioning for 20 years and 205 schools is in the country are at the brink of collapsing due to low students enrolment according to the minister.

The minster cited an example of the Sengor secondary school in Mongar, which has only 27 students enrolled. The ministry has provided three teachers so teacher student ration is 1:9 beating the world’s record.

However the minster said that teacher shortage in the school was still a concern as a single teacher has to teaching various subjects.

“Many schools across the country do not have enough students while many others would run short of schools ???? in few years down the line,” the education minister said.

The teacher shortage, according to the minister, is because of numerous schools in remote areas where there are not enough students but teachers have to be sent for those few students.

Citing another example the minster said students of Wangphu walk four hours to school and another four hours to go back home. The alternative for such problems is establishment of central schools.

The government target is to establish 160 central  schools in the country.

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