Yonphula specialised school to open early next year despite mixed public reactions

The government’s plans to establish a specialised school for students with substance use disorders have been met with mixed reactions from the public. Some expressed concerns that the well-intended initiative may end up negatively affecting the lives of students struggling with substance use disorder. Meanwhile, the education minister said restoration work at the Kelki School in Yonphula of Trashigang is well underway. The minister added that the school is expected to start by early next year to provide targeted support and rehabilitation for affected students.

In April, the National Drug Taskforce directed the Ministry of Education and Skills Development to expedite the establishment of a specialized school at Yonphula so it is ready by July this year. However, due to the requirement of major renovation work, the school will only be able to start early next year.

While some look forward to the school’s opening, others have raised concerns about the initiative.

“People are aware that the Kelki School at Yonphula in Trashigang will function as a specialised school for students who test positive for drug use. People have already started stigmatising and labelling it as a school for mad people. If this is the situation right now, I feel that students will face discrimination once they are enrolled in the school,” said  Tshewang Tenzin, the executive director of the Chithuen Phendhey Association.

“If the students struggling with substance use disorder are sent to the special school, I think it will affect them mentally. Instead, if we keep them as a part of the community and give them guidance and support, it could help them stop using substances as soon as possible,” said Ugyen Lhamo, a resident of Thimphu.

People who did not want to come on camera told BBS that although the initiative is well-intended, students who test positive for drugs will be mentally disturbed or face discrimination once they are isolated and sent to the specialized school. Some even mentioned that it might also violate child protection policies.

Additionally, some suggested the need for a proper system to accurately diagnose substance use disorders, as a student might test positive even with minimal or initial involvement. They also proposed allowing parents to voluntarily send their child to the specialised school, as they know their child’s situation best.

On the other hand, some parents believe this initiative of the government to combat drug use at the grassroots level is a positive step toward achieving His Majesty The King’s vision of preventing youth from getting involved in drug abuse. Regarding the stigmatisation of students being sent to specialised schools, some teachers called for more awareness campaigns to prepare parents and change public attitudes. They emphasised that the public should respect, not stigmatise, children sent to specialised schools, similar to how people respect recovering addicts.

“As a parent, I think the government’s plan to separate the students struggling with substance use disorder is a good thing. This is because if they are away they won’t be able to influence the ones who do not abuse substances,” said Ngawang Dema, a parent.

Meanwhile, during the Meet the Press session today, the education minister said the specialized school will provide a dedicated space for recovery and education where students will be able to quit the habit without compromising their academic sessions.

“We will have expert teachers, counsellors, and therapists who will be treating them and taking care of the well-being of our students. The overall aim of this specialised rehabilitation school is to prepare our students for academic success, as well as to help them become stable, substance-free individuals who can lead successful lives,” said Yeezang De Thapa, Minister for Education and Skills Development.

She added that the students will be reintegrated back into the mainstream education system after completing the treatment.

The Prime minister said parents should cooperate to combat the growing concern of drug abuse among youth.

“Students abusing drugs are misbehaving and negatively influencing others as well. Sending them to a specialised school is not like they are getting expelled or being sent to prison. Instead, we are going to treat them through this specialised school. So, we are requesting all parents to support this initiative.”

Further, the Prime Minister also stated that the best alternative path for students testing positive for drug use is treatment.

“We do not know if we will be able to achieve it, but we hope that we are going to work towards it 100 per cent. This is because there is a big risk that many students will lose themselves to substance abuse. So, if I can save them, I will work towards this goal.”

The Prime Minister affirmed that the establishment of the specialised school is a concerted effort to address serious substance use disorder in the country.

Kinzang Lhadon/ Tenzin Loday Gyeltshen

Edited by Phub Gyem

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