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‘Prophets of doom’ got Education Bill all wrong

Odilon Motsoakapa Makara
I WISH to respond to the article that appeared in the Sunday Express (November 1-7) titled “Education Bill: Experts predict chaos”.
First of all, when I saw the title of the article, I was looking forward to hearing the opinion of experts and what chaos they were predicting. Well, I found neither the expert opinion nor the chaos that was being predicted.
The only chaos that I think we have is that of consistent poor reporting by Caswell Tlali on educational matters. The article displays utter ignorance of the education laws of this country by your reporter and his sources.
Many of the issues which your analysts predict will cause chaos have been in the education laws of Lesotho for many years. These include the need for schools and teachers to be registered, the approval of school boards by the minister and the power of the minister to close illegal schools, which all were in the Education Order No 32 of 1971 and the current Education Act No 10 of 1995.
How these will suddenly cause chaos if the Bill is passed baffles me!
Let me respond to the specific assertions made in your article.
In the opening paragraph the reporter refers to the assertion of analysts and teachers’ unions on the chaos that the Education Bill will create.
In the article, however, while there were direct references to Vuyani Tyhali of the Lesotho Teachers’ Trade Union (LTTU) and Paul Sematlane of the Progressive Association of Lesotho Teachers (PACT), who are known unionists, there is no mention of the experts or analysts that were consulted.
When people are experts, and they make such a calamitous prediction, we sure should know who they are or perhaps even challenge their expertise. Are they any experts at all, we can only wonder.
The alleged experts claim what they called “lack of stakeholders input” in the making of the law. Now, anybody who knows anything about the education of Lesotho, let alone an expert, would know how ridiculous such a claim is.
It is common knowledge in Lesotho, and Tlali should know better as a reporter, that since 2004 the Ministry of Education undertook an elaborate consultation process with a multiplicity of stakeholders to develop this Education Bill.
Even after the Bill was tabled in parliament in March 2009 (and that’s not so recent Tlali!), the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on the Social Cluster (which includes education) went further to consult with stakeholders on the Bill.
If these “experts” may not have been consulted personally, or if their personal preferences did not make it to the final version of the Bill, that does not qualify them to claim that there were no consultations, let alone stakeholder inputs.
On the allegation that private schools will be forced to close down, the ignorance of both the reporter and his experts on the law in this regard is glaring.
Many private schools have been registered under the Education Act and there will be no need for them to close down under the new law if they maintain their terms of registration.
On the other hand the Act prohibits people from running unregistered schools (see section 6 of the 1995 Education Act as Amended).
I hope the so-called “private schools” that are referred to in your article are not the illegal schools that have been operating without registration even under the current law.
The Education Bill does give the minister the power to close down such schools until the proprietors comply with legal requirements and get them registered.
I would have expected that your reporter followed the parliamentary proceedings and debate on the Education Bill, as journalists from other media houses did.
Or he could have sought the parliament Hansard publications to know that the issue of corporal punishment was debated thoroughly by the National Assembly, and amendments were made in the appropriate clause.
As mentioned earlier, the requirement for people to be registered before they can be teachers in Lesotho is not new, and it is common practice in most professions that people should be registered before they can practise.
Those teachers who have been teaching without registration and teaching in unregistered schools have a good reason to be afraid of this Bill.
The blurring between private schools and illegal schools that your article deduces is often deliberately promoted by those who would wish to continue to rob parents of their hard-earned money, purporting to provide private education while they are running illegal establishments.
They often disappear with school fees before the end of the year leaving children stranded, or use illegal means to cheat national examinations.
If people have no sinister motives, why would they not register their schools properly as the law requires, and provide private education to those who desire it?
For the first time in Lesotho, the Education Bill proposes that there be an office whose mandate will be particularly to promote public-private partnership in education and to provide support to private schools.
It has always been a legal requirement that a person who seeks to upgrade a school by providing additional grades (not structures as your article purports) should seek the minister’s approval (see section 7 of the 1995 Education Act) and this Bill brings nothing new in this regard.
There are sweeping statements, allegedly made by the so-called experts, about “the control that the Bill proposed to give to the education minister”.
First of all, what is wrong with a minister of education, of a legitimately elected government, accountable to the electorate, being in control of education?
Second of all, the minister’s powers conferred by the 2009 Education Bill are no different from those in the 1995 Education Act, give or take where there are new structures that the Bill proposes to create.
The Bill further proposes an improvement where the minister will be mandated to delegate some of the powers conferred on her to lower authorities where necessary.
This paranoia about “extra powers over the running of individual schools” by the minister is, therefore, unfounded and uncalled for.
As for the issues raised by the two representatives of the LTTU and PALT respectively, it looks like these two gentlemen have lost track of proceedings in the development of the Education Bill as some of their views are completely out of sync with what the Bill says.
Tyhali should know that the Bill which has now been passed by the National Assembly, and is ready for tabling before the Senate, says that the minister will only approve school boards as the law has always provided for.
On the other hand, one would wonder why Tyhali would be so apprehensive about a minister requiring accountability from school boards and from teachers providing public education.
Sematlane seems to have completely missed the point on the minister appointing the educational secretaries since the Bill now says the minister may approve the proprietors’ nomination and that principals are subject to the same disciplinary procedures as any other teacher, as has always been the case.
On the other hand, I find it distasteful and nonsensical that, of all important requirements for somebody to assume the position of educational secretary for church-owned schools, the minister’s “political tastes” is the only thing Sematlane could imagine.
This assumption that when people are ministers their main motive for decision-making is political – and therefore bad – is absurd.
Editor, the article in your paper is a clear indication that your reporter and his sources – experts or unionists – have not done their homework.
If they are as interested in the education of the children of this country as they should be, it is incumbent on them to be up to speed with what has been happening with the Education Bill.
The Bill has been five years in the making; it was in the National Assembly for more than six months from where it was passed in September, and it will soon be tabled before the Senate for enactment.
We can do without the prophets of doom as we seek to achieve education for all Basotho children.
• Odilon Motsoakapa Makara is the principal secretary in the Ministry of Education and Training.

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