Saturday, February 27, 2016

Rural-Urban Migration: The Impending Crisis II

One and a half decades back when a Thimphu-based UN Consultant requested me to do a paper on “How to be prepared for Rural-urban Migration”, one of my principal recommendations was that all government schools in Thimphu municipal area - Primary to Higher Secondary - should be auctioned off to private operators and the money raised from it should be used to establish large central schools in remote Dzongkhags. My paper never saw the light of day - it got dumped in the digital dustbin, on grounds that it was too radical.

A lot of water has passed under the bridge since, but my recommendations are as valid today as it was fifteen years ago. The situation hasn’t improved - infact, it has gotten worst. Today the pace of rural-urban migration has increased by leaps and bounds. As a result, every classroom in Thimphu schools are packed like cans of Sardines. The situation is so bad that some Head Teachers of Thimphu schools resort to switching off their phones during admission time. And yet, succeeding governments refuse to be decisive about the issue and, instead, continue to take the bull by the rump. Schools after school are built in Thimphu Thromde to keep pace with the burgeoning demand. As a result, Thimphu Municipality today outstrips every other Thromde, Gewog and Dzongkhag - in number of schools and student enrolment. Take a look at the following:

Thimphu Thromde (municipality) has a total of 32 schools (whole of Thimphu Dzongkhag has 45). By contrast, whole of Zhemgang Dzongkhag has only 31 schools. The overall student strength of schools under Thimphu Thromde outnumber all of Bumthang, Dagana, Gasa, Haa, Lhuentse and Trongsa Dzongkhags put together!

Trashigang, Bhutan’s most populous Dzongkhag has student enrollment of only 11,598, while Thimphu Thromde has a staggering enrollment of 24,067 students – that is more than double the student strength of entire Trashigang Dzongkhag. As a percentage of enrollment, Thimphu Thromde is miles ahead of every other Dzongkhag - at 13.9% of the national total, while the next highest - Samtse Dzongkhag - trails at 9.1%.

So then, why am I bringing up this issue? Trust me it is not to expose the colossal investment in educational facilities in one city, as opposed to the rest of the country, although it beats me why our planners and lawmakers do not see this immense disparity. My father did - when he visited Thimphu few years back. Ten minutes of being driven around the town, he exclaimed:

“My God, I now understand why there is no money for developmental activities in the rest of the Dzongkhags. There cannot be enough money in the Gyalpoi Baangzoe to finance all the fanciful activities that are happening in and around Thimphu”.

If some of you read my 10-articles series on rural-urban migration published in the Kuensel few months back, you would have read that I blame our education system as the No. 2 cause - after wildlife predation - that trigger rural-urban migration. However, I also believe that same school system can come to our rescue - not only to halt rural-urban migration, but to reverse the trend and, over time, restock the villages with farmers and farm hands who will go on to bring about a revolution in farm production.

But for that we need the will to take the bull by the horn, and set into motion the first baby steps! The baby steps can begin at schools, colleges and other institutions of learning.

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