The Education Minister Lyonpo Jai Bir Rai’s announcement on Wednesday that the class 10 cut off point was being done away with, and that the government would fund 4,225 students joining class 11 in private schools -led to a small quake.
Soon, social media was agog with those supporting the move or those against it. The Opposition party’s first press meet on Thursday focused on this issue and they put the government on the mat for the decision.
The government responded in the weekly Friday press meet where the Prime Minister, Education Minister and the Foreign Minister defended the cut off decision.
The Prime Minister Lyonchhen (Dr) Lotay Tshering said that the evolution of the education system is an obligation as the country graduates to lower middle income country from least developed country.
The PM said that while the government’s move to do away with the cutoff point is being questioned, the change is timely and critical for the country.
The press-meet highlighted that the move to allow all class ten passed students to study in the higher secondary schools came about following series of interactions with the people at the grassroots level.
“And this is a genuine affair that we cannot ignore if we are to enrich those who are deprived and disadvantaged,” said the PM.
“This is not because we have huge money to spend, but it is going to help many,” said the PM adding that spending millions for allowing all class ten passed students to study is not wastage of money but a real investment.
He said the human investment should be acted upon at the moment realizing the country’s development stage and population trend, otherwise it is going to cost the nation in the future.
“Spending 130, 140 or 160 million a year for allowing thousands of youths to study is a huge return for the future, if not immediately,” said Lyonchhen.
The PM said that cost is not an issue as school drop outs unable to find jobs will cost the nation more. He said that spending huge amount in programs such as direct employment scheme (DES) and temporary jobs is instead real wastage as these programs are to give jobs to dropouts in the job market.
He asked that the Opposition and critics do not seem to mind the billions in loans taken for the hydro projects but they question even some millions for students.
“In our quest to bring change for better, we understand that there will be glitches” he said, adding that dropping the idea altogether just because there could be resistance from few interest groups – would mean the insincerity in government’s pursuit and conviction.
PM said that for the interest of future, the government can’t afford to let the youths be deprived of education and to let the youths look for job instead of being at school.
The Foreign Minister Lyonpo Tandin Dorji clarified that the annual cost of fees of 4,225 students is not 1.3 bn a year as pointed by Opposition but is between Nu 130 mn to 160 mn a year.
Lyonpo said that the Opposition kept pressing govt in Parliament on fulfilling class 10 cut off point pledge but is now criticizing it once it is implemented.
On the quality of education, during the press meet, the PM highlighted that there is no link between removing cut off point and question of quality of education. PM said that the quality will not suffer as cut off point came in the first place due to lack of government school seats and not quality.
He also said that creating over 1,200 additional seats in schools this year is to ensure an ideal teacher-student ratio. “Recognizing the importance of educating our children, the government has worked with Private schools to enroll the remaining 4225 students.”
The Education Minister said the question of quality of education was there even before the talk of cut off point. He said the ministry has been continuously working with relevant stakeholders to improve the quality of education.
On the affordability, PM said majority falls in the category who can’t afford. “No one should be left behind.”
The PM said that while there could be few who could afford it is not possible to segregate them out and rather then segregate them and run the risk of leaving the needy out, everybody was incorporated in the scheme.
“If the questions being raised are on affordability, then the question we should ask is can we afford to ruin the lives of over 4,000 students who passed the examination but could not be absorbed in government schools?” asked the PM.
On the constitutional mandate which was pointed out by the opposition in the Thursday meet, the press release from Friday’s press meet said that there is no question of Constitutionality when the government, in keeping up with the time and progress of the country, is working towards enhancing free education opportunity in higher education and beyond class ten the selection is merit based.
“There are concerns about employment of those children once they complete Class XII. By the same logic, is it fair for those children to let them be after Class X, just because there is no place in the job market for them after Class XII?” states the press release adding that it is evidence based that two more years of education will fetch the required maturity and broaden outlook in those children who will be better equipped to decide for themselves.
“This will also encourage government to explore more pathways” read the press release adding that the government is committed to employing and engaging our youth, completing all education levels. “Efforts are directed towards ensuring that our children are taken care of until they can stand for themselves and subsequently become productive citizens.”
Meanwhile the opposition during the press meet on Thursday said that the pledge to do away with the cutoff point and examinations was mainly to garner votes while the deeper study on the impacts has not been done.
The Opposition said that the move may affect the quality of education in the country.
MP Ugyen Wangdi said the decision to provide free education for all up to class XII borders on being unconstitutional as there is provision for free education only till class 10 in the Constitution.
The opposition also questioned on where resources will come from to send students to private schools as it is not budgeted in the 12th plan.
The opposition also said the government’s decision contradicted its own slogan of narrowing the gap since the parents of some of those who’ll be admitted in private schools are financially sound.
The impact on the quality of education was also questioned. “The issue of education quality being a concern already, the lack of examinations and the cutoff point which will definitely make students complacent on studies will add to the issue,” said the Opposition.
The concern on whether some of the private schools would be ready to take low performing students was also raised.