By ’Mantoetse Maama & Ntsebeng Motsoeli
MASERU – Police and education officers have launched a crackdown on illegal schools operating in Maseru and Leribe districts.
Immigration officers, who were accompanied by the police, also raided some schools arresting foreigners teaching in the country without residence and work permits.
A police officer who took part in the raids said 14 school owners were arrested in the crackdown on Tuesday.
The 14 are expected to appear in the Maseru magistrate’s court on Tuesday to face a charge of violating the Education Act 2010.
They are being charged with operating illegal schools in violation of the law.
Under the law which was passed last year it is an offence punishable by a two-year jail term or a fine of not less than M5 000 to operate a school illegally.
The Sunday Express understands that several others will appear in the Leribe’s magistrate’s court.
At the time of writing it was not clear how many illegal foreign teachers had been arrested in the crackdown.
The chief education officer for secondary schools, Ratsiu Majara, said the operation had closed down 29 illegal schools in the two districts.
The operation started on Monday and it will continue in other districts, Majara said.
“On Monday and Tuesday education officers, together with the police, closed 20 illegal schools that were operating in Maseru,” Majara said.
On Wednesday they went to Leribe to close down nine schools that were operating illegally.
The police’s role in the raid was to investigate whether the schools were operating legally or not.
“The intention of the ministry is not to force the schools to close down. We are just asking the operators of illegal schools to operate legally,” Majara said.
“This will enable the Ministry of Education to monitor schools to see if they have qualified teachers who will deliver quality education to the kids,” he said.
A source within the police said most of the illegal schools operating in the country were being run by foreigners, especially from West African countries.
The decision to crack down on the illegal schools comes almost five months after the government ordered all illegal schools to cease operating.
The government last October wrote to the illegal schools ordering them to register with the education ministry before November 30 or face closure.
But several illegal schools defied the order and continued operating.
Most of the schools are said to be manned by illegal immigrants while others did not have qualified teachers.
The crackdown comes almost three months after schools re-opened for the new term in January.
The government’s failure to take immediate action in January saw some of the schools resuming their illegal operations.
Others in Maseru simply changed names and locations and continued operating.
Motlatsi Mokhoeea, who is the president of the Association of Private Educators, said they were forced to operate this year after parents and students pleaded with them to open the schools.
“We were forced by the students and parents who came to us saying they could not be enrolled in legal schools so they needed us to open our schools,” Mokhoeea said.
“We had applied for registration before but our applications were based on the Education Act of 1995.
“We applied again basing our applications on the new Act of 2010 but we never succeeded,” he said.
He said they had a meeting with Education Minister ’Mamphono Khaketla where they informed her about the difficulties they were having in registering their schools.
Mokhoeea said they told Khaketla that they were failing to meet the requirements to register because the Land Survey and Physical Planning department took seven years to issue title deeds, a key requirement under the new Act.
Mokhoeea said Khaketla had promised to get back to them on the matter.
Efforts to get comment from Khakatla failed yesterday.