While enrollment is declining, those in school drop out to take up businesses
Laya is changing and it is changing fast. With improved road connectivity, it takes about eight hours to reach the gewog that is still considered remote given its location at 4000 metres. Its residents carry android phones and the community has 10 grocery shops.
However, a practice that has remained unchanged in Laya is students leaving school, some before completing basic education. Laya Lower Secondary School (LSS) is the only school in the gewog and encouraging youth to pursue higher education remains a challenge for the community.
The school saw a decrease in enrollment by eight students in 2016 and 2017. Unlike other communities in the country where the elderly are at home, Laya has more youth staying home.
In the last seven years, the school saw its strength peak in 2015 with 163 students. This year, the school has 147 students and 14 teachers. Every year, at least two students drop out of school.
Laya gup Lhakpa Tshering said that the number of students leaving school is concerning.
“The community has less cultivable land and the population increases yearly,” he said. “The main source of income for people here is Cordyceps, which might get extinct in future. We need to encourage students to continue their studies.”
From two last year, the number of students leaving school rose to 10 this year. Students leave school to join the monk body, collect Cordyceps, start business, to take up porter services and also because of early marriage.
The community has a custom of taking out the eldest sibling from school. Pema Yangden, 11, was one of the students who left school when she was in class three.
She helps her parents at home. “I thought of studying until class eight and I would like to continue my studies in future. I tell my parents but they don’t care to respond,” Pema Yangden said.
Students in Laya stop going to school after completing their studies at Laya LSS to take up business and porter services that help them earn an income to live independently.
Tshering, who dropped out of school after class nine said that as the eldest child, he left school to support his family. “There was no one at home to support my ageing parents and I don’t find any purpose of studying more as it’s difficult to get a job,” he said.
Passang Dorji, who decided to discontinue his studies after class 10, said that his weak English compelled him to leave school. “I was interested to continue my studies but I learnt that I was not good in English. I was in class ten and my English was not at par with class eight urban students,” he said. “I thought that village life is better.”
He said that the community is changing but it is not exposed to the urban life. “They fear children will get into substance abuse while studying in urban areas. So they don’t send children away from them.”
A teacher at Laya LSS, Thinly Rabgay said it’s been a big challenge for the school to encourage students to continue their studies. “Although the situation is improving, it would take few more years to motivate them to continue their studies,” he said. “Parents enroll their children at the beginning of the year and take out after two or three months.”
School principal, Khedrup la, said the parents choose to keep their children at home. “Through cordyceps, they earn a civil servant’s annual salary in a week and starting porter service for tourists also help them earn good income,” he said. “So few students are interested in studies. This problem could hardly be solved in this generation.”
It is a challenge for the school to gather students on time at the beginning of each academic year. During winter, the community moves to Punakha.
“We come early to school but most people head back to Laya only at the end of Gasa tshechu in April,” Thinly Rabgay said. “The school administration has forwarded this issue to the Gewog Tshogde.”
While students are expected to join Bjishong Central School, located above the Gasa-Punakha highway, after completing class eight from Laya LSS, most don’t. It takes about five hours on foot to reach the road point Ponjothang from Laya.
A teacher at Laya LSS said that student lacks motivation from parents. “The students here have no one to look up to as a model.”
The school administration had been arranging talks on the importance of education by guest speakers during parent teacher meetings and gewog meetings. The school is studying the drop out situation to come up with measures to retain students.