Private schools left jittery amid dwindling enrollment

Utpal Academy in Paro

SANGAY RABTEN 

Thimphu

Private schools across the nation are worried that the schools may have to close shop by next year if the current trend of low enrollment continues unabated. 

Further, the recent directives by the government to absorb all class XI students into government schools have left them in a quagmire. 

Until last year, the government provided scholarships to more than 2,000 students to pursue their studies in private schools after completion of class X.

The Principal of Rigzom Academy in Paro, Kezang Tshering, said the ministry of education deciding to enroll all class X passed students in government schools has left private schools empty and on the verge of closure. “We cannot even ensure and meet operational cost and our sustainability is in dire straits,” he said.  

However, he said that the school is trying to explore and diversify their services and strategies like admitting class X repeaters. 

The Assistant Principal of Yonten Kuenjung Academy, Phuentsholing, Sonam Phuntsho said that the ministry had earlier informed that the private schools will be provided with scholarship candidates during the conference with principals before the results were declared. “The decision of the ministry was shocking,” he said. 

He added that these adhoc decisions reveal that the government is not supportive of the private sector. However, the school is hoping to at least enroll repeaters. “We are hoping to sustain at least for a year and we may have to close down the schools by the following year.” 

Passang Norbu, the Principal of Dungsam Academy, Samdrup Jongkhar said that despite private schools performing well after even admitting low achievers the government stopped the scholarships. 

 “The government has failed to reckon the contributions the private schools have made towards providing quality education and a sense of competition among our students,” Pasang Norbu said. 

Due to location, the Principal said that unlike other schools, the school cannot start enrolling primary school students. “Our only hope is to sustain from the remaining class XII scholarships and few expected repeaters,” he added. 

The Principal of Sonam Kuenphen Higher Secondary School, Bumthang, Dakar Dorji said that with zero class XI enrollment, they may have to close the school by next year. 

He said despite announcing to enroll class X repeaters, not a single student came to seek admission in the school. 

“With the doing-away of cut off point for class X and even taking all Pass Certificate Not Awarded (PCNA), the government is adding to the increasing unemployment crisis in the country,” he said. 

Similarly, the Proprietor of Norbu Academy, Phuentsholing, Jigme Norbu said that with no other options to sustain business, the school is desperately waiting for repeaters to enroll with them. 

A teacher of Pelkhil School, Thimphu said that the government did not even have the courtesy to inform the private schools and that most of them were caught off-guard.

He said absorbing all class XI students in government schools is plugging the market for private schools. “It is kind of bad precedence and it will have long term implication in the years to come.”  

He also opined that despite most government schools lacking infrastructure and facilities to accommodate all students, and despite knowing that private schools have excelled, the government took the decision which is very ‘unbecoming.’ 

“Instead of supporting the private sector, the government is competing with us and killing our businesses,” he said, adding the school might have to close their Arts and Commerce departments. 

Chogyal Tenzin, the Principal of Utpal Academy, Paro said that they never dreamt that private schools were pushed on the verge of closure. However, the government’s actions suddenly dawned like a bomb that caught them unawares.  

He said that private higher secondary schools offered better options and choices for parents who can afford to finance the education of their children and relieved the government of having to spend without being a big burden on the public schools, and on the government treasury. However, all the big talks about development of the private sector went down the drain.  

“After all these developments, government agencies sermonizing on the importance of the private sector is a big joke. From 2023 onwards, many private schools will have to close business and hundreds of employees in the private schools would be laid off,” Chogyal Tenzin said, adding that it is a pandemic of a different kind looming large on their horizons. 

He also said that the curtains will close on the business of private higher secondary schools starting from the 2023 academic session.  A few top-performing private schools will sustain for a few years.  Those that change and adapt their business operations to the changing times might survive the tide.   

While some private schools are worried that their schools would be seized by the banks, few private schools are optimistic with their strategies to attract repeaters and self-funding students might work to their favour. 

Meanwhile, education minister J.B Rai said the decision was taken after almost 30 percent of class X students failed in their exams out of a total of about 12,000 students. 

He said that the private schools may get scholarship students if the results improve over the years.