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Education Bill: Experts predict chaos

Caswell Tlali

MASERU — The Education Bill (2009) recently tabled before parliament has the potential to create chaos instead of solving the problems in the education sector, analysts and teachers’ unions have said.
They say the Bill gives the minister of education an “open cheque” to interfere in the running of schools but does not put in place checks and balances to deal with the potential abuse of such powers.
The Bill, which the government says is meant to make primary school education free and compulsory, has also been criticised for what education experts call a “lack of stakeholder input”.
No thorough consultation was made in the writing of the Bill, they say.
There are fears in the education sector that should the Bill be passed into law in its current form many private schools will be forced to close down because they cannot meet the requirements set for their registration.
The Bill also seeks to abolish corporal punishment at schools as well as punish teachers who work without government registration.
It also proposes to imprison parents who will not send their children to school as well as people or organisations that will operate a school without registration.
It also proposes to create an Education Advisory Council and a Teaching Council it says will be responsible for advising the minister on policy issues.
It also proposes a whole host of other stringent measures that analysts say will not be easy to implement.
Education experts are particularly peeved by the control that the Bill proposes to give to the education minister. 
The Bill gives the minister power to control schools at the lowest level, as well as committees and boards.
For instance, it says no new structures or additional classrooms may be erected at a school without the minister’s approval.
This, stakeholders say, will subject the running of schools to government bureaucracy which might lead to serious delays on crucial issues that affect learners.
The spokesperson for the Lesotho Teachers Trade Union, Vuyani Tyhali, who is also a teacher, told the Sunday Express that the Bill had been “too much pruned” and did not have “expert input made during consultation”.
Tyhali said the Bill’s weakest aspect is that it gives the minister “extra powers over the running of individual schools” — a situation which he said was unhealthy.
He said he was particularly concerned that the Bill wants to give the minister powers to appoint school boards.
The Bill says a school will have eight board members appointed by the minister.
Two members will be nominated by the school’s proprietor, one of whom is the chairperson.
Three members will be proposed by parents, one of whom is a vice chairperson while one member will be nominated by teachers.
A member from the local government council will be “appointed in consultation with the minister responsible for local government”.
All these members will only be nominated and the actual appointment will be made by the minister except for a principal who will automatically be an ex-officio board member.
“It seems the minister will be everywhere and her influence will be in every school,” said Tyhali.
“I do not see why the minister wants to stick her nose in everything even in selection of school board members.
“I bet you these boards are not going to be effective because in everything they will be tasked with they will wait for the minister’s final word.
“Government bureaucracy is going to hit hard the running of every school once this Bill is enacted.”
Tyhali recommended that there be three representatives of teachers in school boards because “they are the ones manning education”.
The executive secretary of the Progressive Association of Lesotho Teachers (PALT), Paul Sematlane, also said the minister has been given too much power under the Bill.
Sematlane said “it defied logic that the TSC will employ a principal who can only be disciplined by the minister and not them as appointers”.
“Why will the minister do that?” he said
“Since when did the minister find the TSC incompetent in carrying out that duty?”
Sematlane also said PALT was not comfortable with having the minister appointing board members “and almost everybody who will be working in this ministry while there are commissions and other authorities who are capable of doing the job”.
Commenting on the appointment of educational secretaries for proprietors who have more than 20 schools as stipulated in the Bill, Sematlane said it was wrong that such proprietors will only nominate with the minister appointing.
“The minister may, if he or she has reason to believe that the nominated candidate is not suitable, disapprove such nomination,” reads the Bill.
Sematlane says this clause leaves room for the minister to use her political influence when she appoints the nominated secretaries.
“I feel that the minister will want the secretaries to be nominated according to her political tastes,” he said.
A private school teacher who spoke on condition of anonymity said there was not enough consultation done when the Bill was crafted.
“If people were to work together they would come up with a Bill that would be inclusive of all opinions,” he said.
“This Bill does not favour private schools.
“It was made in a way that will force many private schools to close.
“The requirements for one to open or own a school are very tough.
“Proprietors of private schools will find it almost impossible to satisfy the requirements.”
He said the closure of private schools would leave thousands of children out of schools “especially because the government does not have enough schools”.
He added that that Maseru district alone had over 10 000 students in private schools.
“Where will they go if the schools are forced to close?” he said.

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