The story of refugee education among the Bhutanese refugees in Nepal begins with their arrival at Maidhar river bank in eastern Nepal in early 1991 when they were forcefully evicted from their country under the ethnic cleansing policy of the Druk regime.
While they take shelter under the plastic tents and huts constructed out of the bamboo sheets, people like Tek Bir Chetri, Ganga Lamitarey, Dhruva Mishra, Ram Das, Parmananada Khatiwada took initiative to continue the education to their children. Their initiative received god response from the community and the donors as well. As the education system got systematized, they established Bhutanese Refugee Education Board (BREP) as regulatory body. In 1994, a local NGO in Nepal, Caritas Nepal, took over the contract of education program from UNHCR. Since then, Caritas continue to regulate the refugee education in all seven camps in Jhapa and Morang districts of Nepal. It is the implementing partner of the UNHCR for formal education. Teachers’ qualification is higher secondary.
The school calendar
The school day starts with national anthem. While the students sing the national anthem, teachers stand up to pay respect. Other activities of the school are also carried out according to Bhutanese calendar. While Nepal observers the national holidays, the schools in camps continue to run. Except the Dashain and Tihar, schools are not closed in other Hindu festivals. Bhutan’s national day and king’s birthday are celebrated with functions.
The annual examination schedule has slighted changed over the years. While the Bhutanese education session begins in January, the refugees begin their new academic session in March. However, the secondary level operates according to Nepal’s academic calendar.
Budget and Donors
The total budget of the agency in 2005 was NRs 17.5 million and its major funding agencies are Caritas Germany, Caritas Australia, Caritas Japan and Italian Bishop Conference. The conference has funded refugee education program since 2003 but withdrawn from 2007. The other organization helping Caritas Nepal for class XI and XII studies is Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS). In 2006, Caritas Nepal distributed NRs 14 million to 4,500 students for their higher secondary education. Each student received NRs 3,000. In 2007 as well, some 4,200 students received the support in the same rate. Main donors of the agency for higher education in 2007 include Jesuit Conference for South Asia, JRS USA, Peace and Development Foundation, Canada and Catholic Relief Service, USA.
UNHCR funds for education from pre-primary to grade VIII. For 2005-06 session, Caritas had a total budget of NRs 33.5 million. For 2007-08, its budget is around NRs 39 million and the remains NRs 15 million is incurred by Caritas Nepal. The investments of the Caritas focus for vocation training for the refugee youths.
Academic performance and drop outs
Once the Bhutanese refugee education was termed the best refugee education system in the world yet of late the academic performance has derailed. This was due to the negligence by students and lack of skilled teachers.
There are some reasons regarding negligence on academic performance. The main reason is lack of motivation in children. For someone to motivate, there should be some opportunities for them ahead. For years living in the camp, they see that their future is going through a dark tunnel. So, they do not concentrate on their studies. There are various student clubs to which the children give more attention than to their studies like karate, music, political etc. Along with that good teachers are leaving the education system that in turn hampered the education because it takes time to make replacements. New teacher comes in who have little knowledge on the subject matter and students take time to be used to with his or her way of teaching. Sometimes, four to five teachers change in a year to teach a class.
Since 2005 years, the UNHCR stopped supplying kerosene to refugee camps. Given for cooking purpose, kerosene had been helpful for evening lightening where students used to spend for hours. With the stoppage of kerosene supply the reading hours of the students drastically decreased. Students who used to wake up at around 5 in the morning now has no meaning to wake up before 7 am in winter seasons. Similarly in the evening, it becomes dark by 5 pm and there are no facilities for reading. This put obstacles in studies of the children. To cope up with the problem, Caritas changed its school timetable, delaying schools hours by two intending to give some opportunities to students for studies in the morning and evening. But this is not the absolute solution.
In 2007, 3,129 students appeared board examination of grade VIII. Same number of students had appeared the examination in 2006 out of which 94 percent succeeded. More than 2,200 students sat for SLC examination and 72 percent of them passed in 2006 session. In 2007, 2,288 students appeared SLC examination.
Despite the cent-percent admissions, there was 2.2 percent drop outs in 2006. Generally, the drop outs rate ranges from 2 to 5. But as we see the population figure, it is large. The total student enrollment in 2007 is 33,200. Two percent of this is a large population. The dropout students remain unemployed in the camps. Increasing fail percentage is also discouraging the students to continue studying.
Amidst his hardships, Bhutanese Refugee Education Program is regarded as one of the best refugee education systems.
There are more than 1,200 teachers working voluntarily. The refugee community provides voluntary service for construction and repair of the school buildings. And the parents are very conscious towards education of their children, take care of what their children are doing.
Alongside the young students, the Caritas also helps the teachers to pursue their higher education if they complete five years of volunteer service or provide them with regular trainings to sharpen their skills in school teaching. However, this has not been effective since those receiving support for further education rarely return to their community service. They are generally absorbed by the Nepalese schools.
Around 10,000 refugees are pursuing their university education, either in Nepal, India or abroad. However, poor economic condition has been the constraints for completing their education or purse specializing courses. Despite this, refugees have ably made progress in producing a good number of medical doctors, engineers, journalists, botanists, chemists, physicians, social researchers, economists, musicians, accountants, administrators and educationists.
Curriculum and examination system
The curriculum is generally prescribed by experts with the Caritas Nepal. Books written by the refugee educationists are taught in the camp schools. Students learn Bhutan’s geography and history up to grade VIII. Additionally, Nepal and world geography and history are also taught. The other subjects include English, Nepali, social studies, mathematics, science, accountancy, economics, health and population and education. The students also learn their national language Dzongkha. However, the Dzongkha taught in these schools is older.
Three students need to share a text book. They are old. Exercise books are limited. This forces students to use and re-use the exercise books. The text books have to be returned at the end of the session, which is again distributed to other students in the new session. Thus, one text book is used for several years.
The secondary course is the same taught in Nepalese schools. It was necessary to adopt the Nepalese course in this level so that children appear the Nepal’s board of secondary education: School Leaving Certificate.
Grading examinations are held at the end of the year. Two other internal assessments also form the evaluation procedures. Generally, annual examinations retain higher value than the term examinations.
Extracurricular activities are frequently organized. Students are encouraged to participate. Such activities include debates, extempore speeches, quiz and essay writing. Recreational games are also provided though such facilities have been decreasing.
There are various vocational education projects being run by various agencies for the benefits of those refugees who did not or could not attend the formal education. Nepal Red Cross Society, Caritas Nepal, Lutheran World Federation, Bhutanese Refugees Aiding the Victims of Violence, Bhutanese Refuge Women Forum are some of the major agencies who run non formal education. Tailoring, knitting, garment production, making of handicrafts, production of chalks, training on wielding, driving, typing, computer etc are some of their projects.
Through these projects, some 200 refugees are benefited annually. Much of the budget for these projects is channeled by the UNHCR itself while little fund was provided by Jesuit Refugee Service and Australian Care for Refugees.
With the decreasing budget of the UNHCR as years pass by without seeing any concrete solution of the crisis, many of the projects have been withdrawn. The resettlement process being initiated by the western countries have direct or indirect impact on these projects.