Schools to get downgraded due to lesser enrollment

Education is the foundation of any nation’s development, laying the foundation for progress and prosperity. In Bhutan, the education sector plays a crucial role, with a comprehensive network of schools catering to the needs of students across the country. However, recent challenges have prompted a reevaluation and restructuring within the educational landscape.

There are 323 primary schools, 38 lower secondary schools, 57 middle secondary schools, 79 higher secondary schools, 27 private schools, 45 extended classrooms, and 525 early childhood care and development (ECCD) centers, collectively enrolling approximately 154,140 students, constituting about 20 percent of the population.

In recent times, the education sector has come under heightened analysis due to teacher attrition and declining student numbers, resulting in the downgrading of some schools. This has raised concerns about the quality of education and operational viability of smaller schools.

Addressing these concerns, the State of the Nation report highlighted an ongoing rationalization exercise aimed at fostering professional growth among teachers, ensuring fiscal prudence by consolidating small and unsustainable schools, and offering students a better learning experience in larger schools. The objective is to upgrade lower secondary schools (LSS) to middle secondary schools (MSS), while downgrading LSS to primary schools (PS) where needed, consolidating or closing schools with inadequate enrollment, and bifurcating large secondary schools.

Collaborating with dzongkhag administration, several initiatives have been set in motion, including the merging of extended classrooms (ECRs) and small primary schools (PS) with nearby larger schools, as well as the downgrading and upgrading of schools to align with the rationalization plan. This process has seen the redeployment of 148 teachers and 16 support staff as of April 2023.

Recently, concerns were raised regarding the rumored downgrading of Toedtsho Lower Secondary School to a Primary School in Toedtsho Gewog, Trashiyangtse Dzongkhag. In response, Member of Parliament from Khamdang-Ramjar Constituency, Karma Gyeltshen sought clarification from Prime Minister Dr. Lotay Tshering.

Prime Minister Dr. Lotay Tshering acknowledged the changing landscape of the education sector, emphasizing that while the number of schools has increased over the past decade, student enrollment has witnessed a decline from 174,000 to 162,000. Potential factors contributing to this decline include a decrease in the fertility rate in Bhutan, aligning with similar trends globally. To address this, the PM urged experts involved in formulating the 13th Five-Year Plan to closely monitor student numbers and quality of education.

To enhance education quality, he proposed exploring the possibility of transforming schools into boarding facilities, citing reports indicating improved educational outcomes for boarding students. He also raised concerns about school upgrades without a requisite number of students, impacting the teacher-to-student ratio.

According to global standards, a ratio of 1:13 is deemed adequate, yet Bhutan often achieves an impressive ratio of 1:12 or 1:13 in most Dzongkhags and Gewogs. However, these ratios could be compromised due to the decrease in student numbers and the increasing of schools.

Given the evolving educational landscape, Dr. Lotay Tshering emphasized the necessity of standardizing schools in the upcoming 13 FYP. Striking a balance between preserving access to education and maintaining a high quality of teaching and learning remains a priority for the government.

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