While the Forest and Nature Conservation Rules and Acts may be the cause célèbre that encourage rampant predation by animals on human crops and livestock, the principal cause for Goontongs, there appears to be other causes that contribute to declining rural population and disenchantment with life in the villages.
The inordinate implementation of the commitment made at the 1990 Jomtien World Conference on Education for All, seems to have played a significant role in the annual migration of rural population to urban centers – particularly those of the rural youth. During the course of my interviews in the rural areas, an old man in Chaskhar, Mongar told me that in his view, education has now become a paradox. In his opinion – it is good to be educated but he also attributes incomplete education and cases of dropouts from schools, to creating lots of unproductive humans, drug addicts, gang fights and juvenile delinquency, including some other social maladies.
I totally agree with him! I have long held the view that deficient education creates what I call “social misfits” – an emerging category of youths who can neither be identified with the farming community nor the educated lot. Few years of their stint in the classrooms of government community schools have deprived them of their inclination for farming while their inability to continue beyond Class VI has rendered them unsuitable for seeking white-collared jobs. Thus, hoards of these unfortunate “social misfits” leave their village homes to seek livelihoods in the urban centers. Some end up as drivers, handy boys, Drayang performers, gang members, thieves, drug addicts, and listless loafers without a cause or purpose in life. Some fall foul of the law and end up in jails. But none of them harbor any hopes or wish to go back to their villages to take up farm work.
The Royal Government’s well-intentioned establishment of Community Schools in practically all the far-flung villages of the country was envisioned to provide education to the rural youth consequent upon its pledge at the 2000 Dakar World Education Forum to achieve “Education for All” by 2015. As policies go, it was a laudable initiative deserving of all the praise and accolade – except that it failed to deliver the intended results. At the end, all that it achieved was to deprive the country of a whole lot of energetic youth from contributing to nation building through farm work or, contribute to growth in human capital through acquiring of meaningful education. Our experiment with Community Schools aptly validates the adage that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
The arrival of Community Schools in the villages saw the transfer of potential farmhands into school classrooms. Unfortunately, the implementation of the Community Schools initiative was done with poor foresight and lacked follow through action. For instance, the Community Schools do not provide teaching beyond Class VI. And yet, it is apparent that the educationists and the policy makers did not think about what would happen to the children, beyond class VI – particularly to the children of the majority of parents who did not have the wherewithal to send their children for higher studies outside of their villages.
The weeding out process implemented by the education ministry through the implementation of “Common Examinations” in Class VI, VIII and Class X & XII is another anomaly that contributed to the burgeoning pool of unemployable misfits. While the government systematically weeded out the academic non-performers at varying stages of their development, it did not have adequate plans in place to turn them into productive citizens. A number of vocational institutes set up by the government to offer life-skills did not find ready acceptance among the youth. Thus a hoard of school dropouts and disqualified students were churned out from the school system – year after year, most of who ended up as juvenile delinquents, substance abusers, thieves and vandals. It is small wonder that today the Bhutanese society is bewildered by strange and unthinkable incidences of crime that defy logic.
In my view the government has, even if inadvertently, been responsible in creating the kind of situation we are faced with today. The well-conceived but poorly implemented “Education for All” initiative has been partly responsible for the creation of Goontongs. While the recently introduced initiative of creating Central Schools by consolidating a number of schools may help curb the problem of poor quality education and incidence of school dropouts, it falls short of the real potential such an initiative offers. I believe that the education sector can contribute lot more towards restocking the villages with people and reinvigorating economic activities in the rural areas.
Nearly a decade earlier, my paper that the UNDP Res Rep declined to publish, points to the possibility that one of the surest ways to reverse the process of rural-urban migration may be: schools and colleges..
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