Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering, during the Meet-the-Press session, on 27 December announced that in order to make it possible for the children in Bhutan to join the National Service at the age of 18 years, the admission age to enroll children in pre-primary grade will be reduced to 5 years from the present age of 6 years.
The Prime Minister had discussion with the experts from the Ministry of Education to reduce the existing age of admission from 6 to 5 years.
Education minister Lyonpo Jai Bir Rai said that after their discussion with the Prime Minister, the ministry is planning to implement the age change in the 2020 academic session after checking for its feasibility. If it cannot be implemented by 2020 then the ministry is confident that it will be implemented by 2021 anyhow, the education minister said.
Lyonpo said that every year there are around 11,000 to 12,000 children enrolled in pre-primary level, and if the admission age is reduced to 5 years then there will be more children enrolling. The ministry has to ensure there is adequate infrastructure in place. Prime minister said if a child starts class PP at 5 years, he or she will turn 18 years when they complete class XII, and by then they will be ready to join the yearlong National Service program.
Lyonchhen said, “I am sure there will be a few who would still believe that enrolling child at the age of 5 is too early, but I would like to ask, how long we have been following the policy of admitting a child at the age of 6 years, and how has this changed the mindset and way a child behaved?”
He said the changing times call for policy changes as well. In the past there were no ECCD centers, but today with ECCD centers, the things that were taught in LKG and UKG are taught in ECCD. So reducing of admission age to 5 years is okay according to his calculation, the PM said.
“So based on this, we have to make the age of admission as 5 years. We have had discussion with the experts from Education Ministry, and if this is possible, we should implement it and I think it is possible,” Lyonchhen said.
Lyonchhen also stated, “There will be few students who might fail but this is not an issue. If they want to join national service, the minimum age qualification is 18 years. Children attaining 18 years must join the National Service and those below 18 can volunteer to join National Service. And those students who fail will join National Service, but they will be 19 or 20 years.”
The only problem Lyonchhen said is that children crossing 30 years are not eligible to join the National Service.
“If the cut off point for class X was still there, students failing might have to go to their village and might have missed the National Service program, but with the new policy of no cut off point, no students will miss the National Service”, he added.
“Lyonpo Dechen is working on health fitness, and I have requested her not to make it so strict that those who are physically unstable would be cut off from the program. We have requested to make health package easier,” Lyonchhen said.
On the 112th National Day in Thimphu, His Majesty announced the National Service for youth. His Majesty talked about some key challenges for the country and said that the National Service is the solution for the issues that we are facing.
His Majesty said that the National Service program would instill values in the youth, give direction and encourage the youth to be strong and independent, therefore, capable of serving the country.
Lyonchhen said, “We are working on the National Service, and in fact, we have been working on that before the announcement was made by His Majesty on the National Day. Now that His Majesty has announced about it, it has become official.”
“Though there is specific committee that will work on it, all the Bhutanese people are part of it,” he added.