Out of 21 private high schools, 10 schools on the verge of shutting down

The Ministry of Education (MoE) will be absorbing all the class X pass students in the government schools, causing the private high school sector to shrink dramatically, starting this year.

A proprietor of one of the private schools said some schools had very few students in class XI last year, but could survive financially because they had many students in XII. However, they are now left with a very small batch of class XI students going to XII and none in class XI. So the school is likely to close down.

The schools that had good number of students in XI last year will be able to survive one more year. If the school is able to attract good numbers of repeaters every year, then they can survive on those alone, but it will be a very sad arrangement.

After a good number of schools close down, the situation will improve for the remaining high schools, he added.

He said some high schools have even opened primary sections. Others will try to attract repeater students. And with the high failure rate in class X, some schools have opened sections for Class X repeaters.

But many schools will have no option but to shut down. Also, many teachers of private schools will be unemployed starting this year. Hopefully, MoE has some plans for them as well, he said.

He shared that the private high schools first did well in 2001 when the cut off system was first introduced. The cut off system had to be introduced because MOE had not properly planned the growth of the school system. In the early 1990s they began a rapid expansion of the primary schools to raise the gross enrollment ratio. 10 years later they did not notice that the huge bulge in class PP had finally passed Class X and they did not have adequate facilities. Private schools have, therefore, been serving the nation very well for more than 20 years, he said.

Private schools include both primary and secondary schools. Primary schools will continue as before. However, the higher secondary private schools will suffer. Private high schools were based on the cut-off system which itself was designed carefully back in the 1990s to ensure that government resources were not wasted but used intelligently.

It never made sense to send everyone to university or even to regular high schools. Countries such as Singapore send only 25 percent of their top students to universities. The rest go to polytechnics and then to vocational and trade schools. The market, itself, does not need 100 percent graduates. It needs skilled technical graduates who have studied the ‘applied sciences’ etc.

“So our model was built on that. RGOB built capacity for only about 75 capacity for class XI and XII. For the rest they invested heavily in technical education in Kharbandi, Deothang, Samthang, NRTI, and even NIE and Paro Institute of Education were technical,” he said. 

However, technical education did not attract students who chose to continue high school in private schools even if they had to pay for it. So that was how the private high school market was born. It was a stable situation because the public accepted that entry into public high schools had been fairly done via merit, and they paid the private school fees. The financial burden did not go to the country, he said.

However, over the years voter politics entered the thinking of policy-makers, and the logic of the 1990s seems to have been completely forgotten. It instead became a vote-bank opportunity for political parties to gain votes by pleasing the 11,000 students who studied in private high schools.

The proprietors of the private schools expressed that during the last government, the rapid and questionable expansion of central schools at tremendous cost, reduced the numbers of students in private schools to about 5,500 or so. When the present government formed, they took this further and within 3 years have brought that number to zero. To fast track the fulfillment of their pledge, they used private schools by sending students after slashing the fees by half. And as soon as they realized the seats in public schools became adequate this April, they dumped all the private high schools, without even the courtesy of informing them, he pointed out.

“A very poorly thought out decision. The government schools do not have the capacity to even host their existing students. Schools are crowded, classrooms are crowded, and even beds are shared. Schools do not have adequate facilities for sports, extra-curricular activities, libraries, labs etc. The government has justified adequacy in capacity purely based on the number of chairs and tables in the classrooms. And for that they even had to build temporary classrooms,” he said. 

He further said that fulfilling the pledge to cut out private schools is meaningless when it will only do more harm to the public school system through crowding. Time will tell as the quality of education declines further as a result of a very poorly considered pledge.

Meanwhile, the Education Minister Jai Bir Rai during the virtual Meet-the-Press said no private schools approached the education ministry or raised their questions formally. However, the education ministry has already activated a few things with regard to fees of the private schools and the ministry has also approved the private schools if they want to operate from class IX to XII. Furthermore, if they need any support, the ministry is ever ready to provide them.

The education minister said they have about 11,000 seats in the government schools and about 8,500 students made to class XI and there are additional 1,500 empty seats in government schools.

The Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said as decided in the past, all the class X pass students will be enrolled in private schools if there are not enough seats in government schools, and this decision still remains the same, and at the same time, being mindful about not over-crowding the government schools. So in due process all the class X pass students will be absorbed in the government schools if there are enough seats, and this was decided.

This time around 3,000 class X students repeated the same class, and roughly about 11,000 seats and around 10,000 could make it class XI and there are about 1,000 seats more in the government schools. “We have more seats in class XI than the number of students who have passed class X. So there is no question of scholarship coming,” said PM.

According to PM, the private schools must attract students based on their qualities and standards being better than government schools.

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