Press Summary from the 5th Friday Meet held on 1st February 2019

Investing in our Children

The government is delighted to have brought about this major reform in our education system and being able to fulfill one of the key pledges presented to the people of Bhutan during the elections.

As the government has always asserted, the move to allow all Class X passed students to study in the Higher Secondary Schools came about following series of interactions with the people at the grassroots level and this is a genuine affair that we cannot ignore, if we are to enrich those who are deprived and disadvantaged. This significant change is a noble move that is timely and critical for our country. The government also understands that there are concerns being raised. Some of of the rational behind making this historical move in our education system are:

1. This is an investment in our children- a family’s hope, the country’s asset and our future. It is not a cost, as projected by the Opposition and some social media critics. If the questions being raised are on affordability, then the question we should ask is – Can we afford to ruin the lives of over 4,000 students who passed the examination but could not be absorbed in government schools? Bhutan has been investing in hydropower and rightly so, it is one of our main sources of revenue. Now, how about investing in human-power? About half of Bhutan’s population comprise of young people, yet practice such as ‘cut-off point’ has constrained them from pursuing higher studies. Most of these students are aged between 15 and 17 years. We cannot choose not to invest in our children but everything else leaving them to confront societal realities at that age. In the long run the nation would have to pay much bigger cost. We talk about diversifying our economy, investing in our children is an economic diversification.

2. The removal of the ‘cut-off point’ has been linked to the quality of education. The ‘cut-off point’ arrangement in our education system was not about quality screening but availability of infrastructure and seats in the schools. Realizing that the country will be graduating to the lower middle income from least developed country and understanding that the wealth of the Nation is its people we should afford to
give education to more of our children. In order to create more rooms for our children in Class XI, while ensuring an ideal teacher-student ratio, the government has created over 1,200 additional seats in our schools this year. Recognizing the importance of educating our children, the government has worked with Private schools to enroll the remaining 4000 students. The Ministry of Education has been continuously working with relevant stakeholders to improve the quality of education.

3. The Constitution mandates the state to provide free education to all children up to tenth standard. It also mandates the State to ensure technical and professional education is made generally available and that higher education is equally accessible to all on merit basis. There is no question of Constitutionality when the government, in keeping with time and progress of our country, is working towards enhancing free education opportunity in higher education, beyond class X the selection is merit based. We cannot force our children to work in hostile environments at a young age, denying them the right to education. Youth should be in schools studying and not in the streets looking for jobs.

4. There are concerns about employment of those children once they complete Class XII. By the same logic, is it fair for those children to let them be after Class X, just because there is no place in the job market for them after Class XII? It is evidence based that two more years of education will fetch the required maturity and broaden outlook in those children who will be better equipped to decide for themselves. This will also encourage government to explore more pathways. We are committed to employing and engaging our youth, completing all education levels. The government has additional years to explore other training opportunities within and outside the country. Efforts are directed towards ensuring that our children are taken care of until they can stand for themselves and subsequently become productive citizens.

In our quest to bring change for better, we understand that there will be glitches. But dropping the idea altogether, just because there could be resistance from few interest groups, would mean we were insincere in our pursuit and conviction. We are all in this together- the government, the students and the parents. Together, we must ensure the investment in our young people showers good returns for Bhutan. We seek your cooperation and patience until the process becomes more articulate over time.

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