The underage conundrum

Headline National News

The Prime Minister has directed the Ministry of Education to work on the petition appealed by the representatives of parents, proprietor and principals of private schools.

Last week, they submitted a petition to the Prime Minister to regularize the admission of underage pre-primary (PP) students for the 2019 academic session.

They have also appealed the government to reduce the age of admission from five years, six months to five years for PP.

The education ministry has revoked the admission of 890 PP students across the country of which around 400 students are from public schools and around 490 students from private schools. Thimphu alone has around 480 underage students.

The ministry has seta criteria that only those children who attained five years and six months age at the start of the academic session can enrolled in class PP.

The ministry had also sent a notification in November last year stating thatonly the children who have attained age six (international calculation, child born or before February 2013) at the start of the academic session will be entitled for admission into PP class. However, after all the eligible children have been admitted, if there is still space, schools have discretion to admit children of five and half years old or older (child born on or before August 13th 2013) at start of the academic session.

The ministry has also stated that the department of school education will not be issuing student code for those children enrolled not as per the requirement.

However, the private schools in Thimphu claim that they have not received any notification from the ministry so far.

Private schools

The proprietor of one of the private schools in Thimphu said that the admission of the students started from October last year.

The proprietor said that the school academic session started from March and the school have sent details of students to the ministry. The school has even received student code from the ministry.

“In the month of April we received only one letter from thromde, stating that there were underage students in the school,” the proprietor said. However, in the month of May the student code was revoked by the ministry.

The proprietor also mentioned that the trend of admitting underage children at school existed earlier and there was no issue on it so far.

The principal of Druk School, Tshewang Choden Namgay said that most of the students have completed enrolment in the ECCD center.

She said admitting at the age of five is right time for the children to be in class PP. They excel in all spheres of social, emotional, physical and intellectual abilities. She said that with her 38 years of experience working with the education ministry in different capacities, five year old is correct for the present  PP curriculum. She feels that the ministry needs to revisit the admission age to PP considering the progress in child development and the need to increase the access to these younger group of children now.

“In our curriculum for PP at Druk School, we offer artistic and creative skills of arts and crafts, dance, music and moral science,” said the Druk School Principal.

“In the ECCD policy, the children should be from age three to five otherwise where will children aged between five and five and half go?”

She mentioned that countries known for quality of education in the world like Canada, Korea, Singapore, Japanhave entry level for class one at age of six.

The students performance analysis done by BCSEA for 2018 class X board exam shows that children at age 15 and below perform outstandingly in class X.

Similarly, the authority in Deki School in Thimphu also said that they get students who didn’t qualify for public school. Most of the parents opt for the private school at primary level because of the facilities and safety that the primary schools offer to children.

The school also mentioned that there are a few children who are below five, admitted upon request from the parents and that the school looks into the children’s capability to learn.

Most of the private schools in Thimphu admit children aged five years and above in the class PP.

Druk School and Little Dragon have 50 underage students;EthoMetho School has 84 underage students underage and Deki School has more than 50 underage students.

There are around 11 private primary schools in Thimphu.

According to the BCSEA Pupil Performance report 2019, children start their formal education at the age of six years. At the age of 16, a candidate is expected to complete class X. However; there is variance in age either due to enrollment at an early age or repetition of class in some cases.

The report states that the pass percentage of age 15 years and below is 99.24%, 16 years is 98.92% and 17 years and above is 95.05%.

The report also shows that the candidates who are in the age group of 15 years and below have out-performed the other two age-groups which included the expected age group (16 years).

Parents

Tshering Choden, parents of the student said that schools never informed them aboutthe underage rule.

She said that the rules should have been implemented at the beginning of the year and not in the mid-year.

“My daughter graduated from ECCD last year. She doesn’t want to go back to the center again,” she said.

She also mentioned that when she asked her daughter to repeat class PP next year, her daughter wouldn’t accept it as she wants to go to higher class next year.

It also affects the psychology of the child because they are excited every time to learn new things and go to higher grade, she added. 

Her daughter is five and half years old, and if she repeat in PP next year, she will be more than six years old which will be too late for her, said Tshering Choden.

Similarly, Kinzang Tshering, who works at Ministry of Agriculture and Forests, said his daughter is not willing to repeat the same class next year.

“If they think that five and half years is underage and children will get more pressure, the children won’t excel in academics,” he said, adding that his daughter is excelling in every unit test.

He also mentioned that most of the parents opt for private schools because of the care that the children get from the teachers. In private schools there is less strength in the class and in public schools there is more number of students in the class and teachers would not be able to spare individual attention.

Ministry

The Director General of Department of School Education, Karma Tshering said that the ministry had informed the schools repeatedly on the age of admission of the children since three years.

He said that everyone is aware of the age of admission of the children in the schools.

He also added that they have issued notification last year in November through Dzongdags, Dzongkhag education officers, Thrompons and thromde education officers.

“We must look into the larger interest of the children and nation. Just because a few children are affected, the ministry cannot make a decision based on exceptions,” said the Director Generaladding that it is scientifically proven that too early a schooling will affect the children.

He also cited the example of Finland, where children are enrolled in school at the age of seven years and their education is system is very good.

“In most of the countries in the world, the enrollment age begins at six; they have the best education systems in the world.”

The Director General also mentioned that during the start of the academic session while collecting data from schools on children, they provided all the student code but after validating information of the children, the ministry revoked the student code.

“Before last year, the ministry got complaints from the ECCD center that private schools are enrolling underage children who are supposed to be in center”.

However, as per the guidelines of private ECCD center, the enrollment of the child in the center is three and above and below the age of six at the time of entry.

The guideline also states that the center must not have any school-aged child or any child less than three years enrolled at any time.

The paper tried to contact theeducation secretary and minister but they were out of station.

pic courtesy: facebook

Dechen Dolkar from Thimphu

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