Schools say the future of 1,500 school staff and 11,000 students enrolled in 36 private schools are at stake
With the government’s move to absorb all the students who are not qualified for class XI in the government schools, which would have otherwise enrolled in private schools, many owners of private schools in the country are now planning to surrender their schools to the government.
Two schools have already formally submitted their application to surrender their schools to the government.
The private schools say the number of student enrollment in private schools has declined drastically due to the government’s cut off policy. Therefore, the schools are unable to repay their loans, pay the staff salaries, and more than half of the classrooms in some schools are left empty.
There are 21 private schools in Bhutan offering class XI and XII, from a total of 36 private schools. There are about 11,998 students studying in 36 private schools, of which 8,685 students are in higher secondary school. In 2019, only 4,225 students were allotted for private schools.
According to the Association of Private Schools (APS), if all schools are forced to shut down, which seems more likely, more than 1,000 teachers and about 500 support staff depending on the private schools will be left unemployed. In addition to the change in the government’s policy, the high pay hike for teachers have put the teachers in private schools into a complex situation.
The General Secretary of APS, Tshering Dorji, said that the private schools were established because there was need for private schools at that point of time, and the government actually asked the entrepreneurs to come up with private schools to take in those students who would otherwise leave school. So it was under the government’s pressure that entrepreneurs were encouraged to come up with private schools, Tshering Dorji said.
A private school comprises of a proprietor, principal, vice principal and assistant principal, teachers and support staff like a librarian, office assistant, accountant, drivers, warden, matron and cooks. Depending upon the size of the school, the number of staff ranges from 30 to 70 staff.
“Before the cut off point policy came in, private schools were very stable, and therefore, people thought that it is worth committing and remaining loyal to private schools. There are few who have worked for more than 30 years in one particular institution. There has been certain stability in private schools, but because of this policy change and pay raise for the teachers, private schools were thrown into different scenario, and it is very difficult to attract the teachers now, and it is almost impossible to make it at par with the government school’s teachers as their pay raise is phenomenal,” Tshering Dorji said.
He said that if the situation does not improve then almost all the private schools have no choice but to surrender the schools to the government, unless there is a change in the government’s policy.
He said, “The Prime Minister is indicating that they will look into this matter, but if 21 private schools surrender their schools to the government, would they be in position to look into the matter then? If all the schools surrender, will government be able to buy 21 different schools and each schools costing not less than Nu Nu 20 million ? It is going to be huge cost for the government but if private schools are given opportunity to operate, there is no issue.”
“Fortunately proprietors who are not in the spirit of protest are seeking partnership with the government, and if we think about the worst scenario- where all the schools decides to stop operating, what will 11,000 students that are enrolled in private schools do,” he added.
He also said that although there is no more space, the government schools are forced to make space for students, and in a way they are compromising on the quality, and in the end the students will suffer.
He said, “There are government school hostels where two children share a bed and there are classrooms with so many chairs and tables where teachers can’t even move, and on the contrary we have private schools with so many classrooms empty. Kelki has 8 to 9 classrooms empty, Pelkhil has about 9 classrooms empty and ELC has 10 to 11 classrooms empty. Why can’t they find this as a nice opportunity and make use of what is already there?”
Most of the private schools expressed that all the private schools are in the same situation except for a few schools that are doing well.
One of the private school owners in Thimphu said that all private schools are directly or indirectly affected in the same manner, as all private schools operate in the same way.
She said that private schools compete with each other when there are students in the market, but when there are no students in the market they all suffer.
“Private schools have to advertise and market themselves, and depending on the customer’s choice, they will choose the school,” she said.
Thimphu Kelki has no loans to repay because it is the oldest private school but Trashigang Kelki is a new school that opened this year with a huge loan. The proprietor of Kelki School in Thimphu said, “For Trashigang School, we were supposed to pay the loan from last year but we requested the bank and started paying loan from this year. The loan repayment is not on full amount because we haven’t finished constructing it. We took a loan of Nu 70 million till last December.”
He said that the school is paying a loan of Nu 1 million in a month, and next year the number of students will decrease, which means more financial burden.
“The money that we will get from the government for the few cut off students will not be enough to pay the loan installment, forget about paying the salary for the teachers and providing hostel facilities,” he added.
He said the Kelki School in Thimphu had about 35 teachers, but this year, itself, some of the teachers have less work because the student enrollment has drastically reduced.
“This year, we had six sections of class XI but next year we might get only about four sections of class XI. This year, we had only 17 sections of class XI and XII, but we had 20 sections in the past and we never had problem in getting students,” he said.
From 17 sections, the school is expecting only around 10 sections. There will also be an excess of 7 teachers of which 3 teachers have voluntarily resigned, and the remaining retrenched.
Another school, Jampel School, in Haa said that private schools were told to provide quality education. “ If we look at the quality, out of 59 schools including government, most private schools were credited as top performing schools by Education Monitoring Division under the Ministry of Education,” said the proprietor of Jampel School.
He said that the government schools are overcrowded with students as while each class is allowed to have a maximum of 32 students, there are around 50 students in government schools. In addition government schools don’t have enough teachers, and teachers are under huge pressure, as an additional 1,500 students will be enrolled in government schools he said.