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Education a basic right

A BILL which seeks to make education at primary level free and compulsory is before parliament.
If enacted, the Education Bill (2009) will make it obligatory for parents or guardians to ensure that a child receives full-time education suitable to his or her age, ability and aptitude.
Parents and guardians who fail to send their children to school will risk imprisonment or a fine of M1 000 or both.
The importance of education to our lives cannot be overemphasised.
Education does not only give us the knowledge of the world around us, but also develops in us a perspective of looking at life.
Besides teaching us to be civilised, education helps make us capable of planning for our future.
Schools define the basic framework of education.
Hence we acknowledge the government’s efforts to ensure that education is not taken as a luxury one cannot do without or as a waste of time.
In any case, compulsory education can be argued to be a human right based on Article 26 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Denying a child education is denying him or her a basic human right.
Without compulsory free education, most children are denied access to basic education.
Such unfortunate children are mostly forced into child labour.
But if we have compulsory free education, access to a range of better-paying vocations and professions is made possible.
However, railing through the Education Bill could be the easiest task for the government.
How will the government police parents who will flout the provisions of the proposed law?
Yet that’s not the toughest task.
Compulsory education is closely associated with public education — provided by the state.
This, as we see it, is the biggest challenge.
Lesotho has over the years failed to provide enough public schools.
The situation is even dire in the highlands where the mountainous terrain makes it hard for children to attend the very few public schools available.
This has seen the proliferation, especially in urban areas, of privately owned schools.
In fact, a UNESCO report in 1998 said Lesotho had 1 264 officially registered primary schools, with the government and communities owning just 45 of them.
The rest, 1 219, were owned by churches.
Recent statistics are not readily available, but investigations by this paper show that dozens of unregistered schools have sprouted all over the country.
That’s probably why private as well as community and church schools — which cannot be forced to offer free education — are critical in covering up the government’s failure.
According to the Bill, anyone who operates a school without registration will be liable for a fine or imprisonment.
But the government must take cognisance of the fact that most parents who enrol their children at unregistered schools do so not out of choice.
They do so because the government has failed to build schools easily accessible for their children.
And others do so because they believe privately owned schools — registered or not — offer better education than what is obtainable from public schools.
This brings up another critical aspect: the quality of education.
Free and compulsory education will not guarantee quality education.
The government ought to ensure learning materials as well as qualified teachers are available to improve the quality of education.
Without that, as well as conducive learning environments, compulsory education will be as good as useless.
So, as they debate the Education Bill, our legislators must be reminded that the government will have the biggest role to play in revolutionising our education system.
The proposed law should not be about giving the education minister all-encompassing powers but to ensure that every child is afforded basic yet quality education.

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