Bhutan is what it is today because of education. However, there are some communities still that do not see education as an investment.
The issue of students in Laya leaving school to help their parents at home, in collecting cordyceps, and providing pony services to visitors is worrying even if it is practical. In the last seven years, 50 students did not return to school. On an average, seven students leave school annually.
While efforts are made at all levels to ensure that no one is left behind, there is a need to study this issue in depth. We have about 1,039 primary-age children, 1.2 percent, out of school or not enrolled in any forms of structured traditional learning today, according to the latest education statistics. Children of nomadic communities and migrant populations and those who have dropped out are among them.
The issue of students in highland communities leaving school is not new. For the community, it has almost become a tradition to remove the eldest child from school.
Discontinuing a child’s schooling is not an issue. The need to do so may appear persuasive given the shortage of manpower at home,but there is still a need to persuade parents on the benefits of educating their children. We need to re-educate them on the values of education so that they see it as an investment. But depriving a child of education is also not right.
Against the unemployment situation that the country is buckling under and the high income that cordyceps fetch, convincing the highland communities on the long-term benefits of education may be a challenge. But efforts have to be made to change this mindset so that the communities work towards securing their livelihood . If this practice is driven by the need for immediate survival and shaped by the environment they live in, then we cannot blame them for not valuing education.
With development priorities of the highland community now getting attention, it is hoped that our policy makers and planners, who govern from the centre will look at their issues from their perspective. Plan targets that are set, need to be informed by an understanding of the ground realities. Setting a target of zero school drop out and increasing enrollment in annual performance agreement is important but it must be understood that achieving these targets is a national challenge and not the local government’s responsibility alone.
There is perhaps also a need to revisit the cordycep collection process. It is claimed that given their sharp vision, children are better at spotting cordycep. This is observed as one of the reasons why parents take their children along. Could our policy makers look at discouraging this practice so that children remain in school?
The education ministry could also look at upgrading the school so that children there are able to complete basic education without leaving their home. We have stressed much on the need to keep the highland community in the highlands because they secure our northern frontiers. It is time to secure their lives. It is time to give back.