When education was being initiated and expanded across the country in the early years of our planned economic development, many schools across the country were identified as central schools. To encourage enrollment and retention, facilities such as free uniforms, shoes, bedding, toiletries etc were provided. As the country developed and society transformed, our enlightened monarchs guided the nation towards the path of self-reliance and sustainable development.
His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo during His coronation in 1974 said: “As far as you, my people, are concerned, you should not adopt the attitude that whatever is required to be done for your welfare will be done entirely by the government. On the contrary, a little effort on your part will be much more effective than a great deal of effort on the part of the government”.
Towards this, through the sweat, toil and sacrifices of our parent and elders, the government began to build its reserves while slowly weaning off people from too much government dependency. Like any good parent, Their Majesties and the successive governments wanted to see its children grow and become strong and independent. As household income began to increase, freebies by the government began to phase out and families willingly took responsibility of providing uniforms and other incidental costs. Today, having understood the value of education, parents are willing to go all out to give their children the best possible education. The progress that was made so arduously through many decades of development is being reversed by the poor implementation of the central school concept.
At the outset, it must be stated that there is no disagreement on the consolidation of the school system to improve efficiency and quality of education in the long run. DNT’s 2013 manifesto, section 5.2 categorically stated that we would “focus on the quality of education through consolidation and rationalization of schools both in terms of physical structure and the curriculum”. We believe that with the progress made in education, the focus should now shift from quantity to quality and that consolidation is one of the strategies.
Having said that, DNT is concerned with the manner in which the PDP government is bulldozing ahead with reintroducing the archaic central schools and reversing the advances made in our goals towards self-reliance. In addition, there are several critical issues that is guaranteed to pose problems for the future and undermine improvements in quality of education.
1.Limited consultation: The central school project is a typical top-down bureaucratic approach, not in keeping with democratic processes. Inadequate consultation, without involvement of key stakeholders (Dzongkhags, local government and communities) has resulted in wrong selection of sites for central schools and has divided communities as seen in several places. Grass root implementers such as Dzongkhag and gewog officials and most importantly the school principals are not provided adequate information resulting in confusion and incoordination.
2.Inadequate research: The research on costs, sustainability and implementation is not adequately done. The operational guideline for central schools is woefully inadequate for a project of this magnitude. The quality of education that is expected to improve with the central schools has not been amply researched and there is as yet no evidence provided. The government in its ignorance and haste to fulfill its campaign promise does not see the requirement of studying the experience of the initial 24 pilot central schools and instead has chosen to expand to further 60 schools. The government should carry out a careful study on the effectiveness of the central in improving quality of education, analyze the performance of the pilot schools, correct the deficiencies and build on the experiences.
3.Our children becoming victims of a hasty experiment: Central schools are being established hastily without adequate and proper facilities. Inadequate infrastructure and space in many schools is creating problems for students and teachers. Insufficient space and amenities for large number of boarders is creating overcrowding and unsafe living conditions. All of this coupled with the scarce number of caregivers is resulting in the first batch of central school students becoming unintended victims of an educational experiment.
4.Reversing national policy of self-reliance: The current policy is reversing our national objective of becoming self-reliant. By reintroducing freebies in all central schools the government is creating a new generation of dependents as opposed to contributory citizens. What our farsighted leaders took decades to inculcate among our people is being undone.
5.Sustainability of central schools: The biggest question in everyone’s mind, even when accepting the positive aspects of the central school is whether such initiatives with massive handouts are sustainable. With many donors phasing out their support and internal revenues still insufficient to meet current government expenses, how is the government planning for such a costly overhaul? What are the financial implications for future governments? Is giving freebies really necessary? Do these contribute towards improving quality of education? Surely there are more efficient ways to segregate those that need to be supported and those that can afford school amenities. Sustainable development has been our prime strategy and the global community has assented on the new sustainable development goals.
DNT is concerned that the present model of central school being implemented is under researched, inadequately consulted, hastily implemented, unsustainable and unlikely to improve the quality of education.
Note: We had to halt our research and could not conduct a detailed study due to government intervention.
Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa