With the introduction of the new ‘zero tolerance’ policy by the Ministry of Education, the topic has become a hot topic of discussion all over Bhutan. While everybody seems to have a strong opinion, it seems everyone has a different definition of ‘zero tolerance’. In fact it may help to change the title of the policy by removing the ‘zero’ as the policy is in fact very tolerant. It has only become stricter than the previous policy that can only be described as 100% tolerant!

The soft approach of the past 10 years has resulted, in the view of many observers, in a dramatic decline in student behavior. It is important to acknowledge that we in fact have a crisis of sorts on our hands. In the past, drug abuse was the domain of  drug addicts and stabbings were a rarity one could safely ignore. In little more than 5 years, drug abuse has almost turned mainstream and stabbings occur almost every other month. Gang culture is widely spread in most government schools in the capital. What can we expect in the next 5 years? If we do not make some serious changes, we have cause to worry. 

At Pelkhil School, we are firm believers in second chances. A quick look at our discipline policy will confirm that the policy offers a long long road that only sometimes leads to the student being asked to leave. It is a sad reality that in urban Bhutan parenting is found to be an uncommon skill and so we do our best to guide our students and turn them around. We are proud to say that we have had considerable success during our short 3 years.

Pelkhil’s ‘zero tolerance’ applies to only two categories of offenses: criminal behavior and drug abuse. We realize that in some schools students who have been caught wielding weapons, having gang fights on or off campus, being under the influence of drugs on campus, threatening teachers etc etc are still attending their respective schools. We respect the decision of those schools to tolerate such behavior and wish them good luck.

However, in our view giving second chances does not mean simply letting the offenders stay on in the campus as though they have committed no offense at all. Giving second chances means having a clear course of action to deal with them. The students must also know that they are running out of chances and should be making the necessary effort to improve themselves. The school must have the knowledge and training to deal with the challenges they present. Mostly importantly, the school must have measures in place to prevent these students from hurting or influencing the other students.

At Pelkhil we are acutely aware of how ill-equipped we are to deal with long term drug abusers, psychologically unbalanced youth or those indulging in criminal types of activities. Our teachers are fully occupied simply teaching and covering a very vast syllabus. Difficult students add considerable additional burden upon the teachers and this is unfair to the other students.

Although our policy does describe itself as a ‘zero tolerance’ policy, it applies only to our campus. The government has added the rule that expelled students will not be allowed to join any other school and this is not what we necessarily agree with considering that there has not been much done to provide alternatives for these students. It is also important that every school, especially a private school, reserve its right to take its own decisions in this matter. A school must have the right to formulate its own policy. Prospective students and their parents deserve  to know what it is and decision to join the school having the read the policy, must be taken as their acceptance of it.

The new government policy that ‘criminal’ students who have been convicted in a court will be expelled should not be turned on its head and understood to mean that only offenders who have been convicted by a court can be expelled. Can you really picture school Principals waiting around in the courts appeal after appeal just to expel one student? It is simply unrealistic and best to leave the power to expel with the individual schools alone.

It needs to also be understood that a student is not expelled to destroy his future but to protect the other students. There is no formal paperwork that describes the process as an expulsion. In fact, students are simply asked to leave and with the paperwork completed they can easily join any other school. It would only be if a student were to perpetrate a truly criminal activity on campus that he would be formally expelled and the matter reported to the police.

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