The Member of Parliament (MP) from Panbang constituency, Dorji Wangdi, questioned the Education Minister, Mingbo Drukpa, on the initiation of School Reform Program (SRP). MP Dorji Wangdi said the reform actually boils down to the consolidation and creation of 49 central schools.
He said that in the absence of a clear written policy and criteria on consolidation and eligibility of admission (to central schools), there is a nationwide anxiety caused by SRP.
He said the biggest concerns and worries are on fairness, particularly on treatment of other schools and students, and the long-term sustainability of the proposed program. He asked for explanation on how the proposed program will be implemented and how the concerns and worries will be addressed.
Similarly, the Sergithang-Tsirang Toed MP, Novin Darlami, asked for clarifications on the SRP. He said some people feel that the present government is unnecessarily closing down schools, instead of expanding the institutions of learning.
The Education Minister said that the main worries are children committing suicide, nutritional problems in schools and in villages, students not being able to attend schools and staying back at home, students not able to complete class twelve and dropping out, the use of drugs and alcohol, the lack of teachers and principals problems, and the fact that youth are unable to find suitable jobs after graduation. He said these are the worries of the nation.
Among the many solutions in the pipeline, Lyonpo Mingbo Dukpa said that the SRP may not solve the whole problem, but can help address most of the problems.
Lyonpo said that the SRP is intended to fulfill His Majesty’s Vision 2020, and enhancing schools with better educational materials, so that the local students in a particular area can study from PP till class twelve in the same school, and not have to change schools. He said SRP is also intended to provide quality education for all students and to fulfill the goal of education for all.
Lyonpo added that a central school in all the dzongkhags would ensure that the same quality of education can be provided to all students.
“SRP is not to close the schools, it is not to club the schools, and it is also not to force the children from their homes,” Lyonpo Mingbo Drukpa said.
Lyonpo said that in the 11th FYP, the Government of India gave grants for 49 schools, out of which 24 central schools would be constructed in 20 dzongkhags. The works have started and most of the central schools would be operational by 2015.
Meanwhile, Lyonchhen Tshering Tobgay during the meet the press shared that the SRP is important, going by the difficulties encountered by the teachers and students in the remote areas.
Lyonchhen shared that the students who live very far away from schools are unable to concentrate on their studies. They do not get the quality education that the students in urban areas enjoy. He said that in some remote areas, the students have to live in makeshift sheds that are close to their schools to solve the problem of long distance walking to and from school as most of the schools do not have boarding facilities
Lyonchhen also added that, despite trying their best, there is a lack of teachers in remote areas as the teachers are not motivated to teach in remote areas.
According to Lyonchhen, the children in remote areas already work many times harder than their urban counterparts, and through SRP, they would receive quality education and ensure that the education they receive gives them a strong enough foundation to help them through the school system.
He added that it is unfortunate to disparage school reform program, without visiting those remote schools like Community Schools and extended classrooms, and seeing the hurdles encountered by the students, from poor families, in the process of getting an education.
The PM clarified that the reform would not be introduced in areas where the community felt people could take care of their children and did not require such schools.
He said under the current system the quality of education was poor and neither the students nor teaching were benefitting. He said there were cases of children and teachers not getting adequate nutrition due to the remoteness of the locations.
“Sitting in Thimphu and enjoying the advanced education, one would not understand the problems in remote areas,” the Prime Minister said.
The Minister of Economic Affairs and the Labour Minister also gave anecdotal accounts of the poor conditions of the current community schools in remote areas where even getting adequate food is a challenge. They said that they were so moved in instances that they spent money from their own pockets to feed children.
The MoEA minister even recounted how class four children in a community school in Trashigang did not know how to read time.
The PM also said that tests done by the Ministry of Health showed that in most cases so far students suffered from a shortage of low Vitamin B complex. Citing the past and recent incidents of children falling prey to Beri-Beri and malnutrition the PM said that the SRP would help resolve such issues. The PM said that this was the reason why he had ordered the government to start giving Vitamin B complex tablets to students.
The PM said, “All of us (Cabinet Ministers) are from humble families and it is education that has got us here which is why we believe that it is so important to reform the Education sector.”