It is dusk in early December. A class one student, Sangay and a group of children are walking home from school for more than an hour, treading the road that snakes through a dense forest.
They try to hitch a ride on every vehicle that zooms by them. Not today. So they continue to clomp. It soon drizzles and the children race home.
The journey home takes them at least two hours. They leave home for school at 6am and are home by 6pm.
“It’s very tiring especially in the rain,” seven-year-old Sangay from Pangzur said. “Sometimes we come across snakes.”
Others say they remain hungry in class.
A class four student, Karma Wangmo said they eat breakfast from home and carry packed lunch. “But when I get to school, I am already hungry,” she said.
Sending her children to far off Baling primary school is a worrisome task for Yangzom in Pangzur, Trongsa.
More than a dozen students from the village in Langthel gewog walk more than four kilometers along the Trongsa-Zhemgang highway everyday to attend school.
Sometimes, Yangzom walks her children to and from school. Other times, her neighbours and relatives accompany the children, some as young as seven.
Villagers say having boarding facility in the community school would have made eased the lives of their children.
“We’ve requested the gewog administration many times but nothing came through,” a parent said.
Langthel gup Sonam Dendup said that given the hardship of students, the villagers had proposed establishing a central school in the gewog.
“Despite requesting thrice, the central schools were established in other gewogs and we did not get one,” he said.
He said that the people have been asking for boarding facility at Baling school. There are two other schools with similar conditions in the gewog including Jangbi school.
Trongsa’s chief education officer, Pema T Wangchuk said the dzongkhag administration was aware of the issue. He said he has asked the school to identify students who have to walk long distances to school.
“The school reported that the parents did not want to send their children to central school,” the chief education officer said. “We’re going to try to enroll these students in Tshangkha central school next year.”
He said that the central school is in a good location and has adequate facilities.
Gup Sonam Dendhup said parents were reluctant to send their children to Tshangkha central school, which is more than 90km away from the village. “Most children are too young and parents don’t think they could adjust in large boarding schools,” he said.
Villagers said if the boarding school were located nearby, they would be able to visit frequently and check on their children.
To cater to such situations, there would be central schools and the other schools would have facilities similar to that offered in central schools in the 12th Plan.
Education minister Jai Bir Rai said that such students should be either relocated to central schools or day meals provided to the students.
“For that we need to find out from the school and decide,” he said.
The Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa pledged to ensure children stay close to their parents and acquire experiences of home values. “We will reopen community and primary schools wherever necessary,” the party’s manifesto states.
When families, community groups and schools bond together to support learning, children achieve more in school, stay in school longer and enjoy the experience better, the party stated.
The party said it is evident that the themes for successful school transformation emerges from community school partnerships, parental collaboration, and curriculum connected to real world experiences and cross-generation learning.
“We will review the location of central, community and primary schools, number of students, the distance among others and draw a plan for sustained consolidation as opposed to the rush, to close all schools at one go,” it stated during the campaign.