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Parents face jail if kids miss school

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Caswell Tlali

 

MASERU — The days of deliberately failing to send one’s children to school could be finally over after parliament two weeks ago passed the Education Act 2010 that seeks to make education compulsory.

The new law, which replaces the Education Act 1995, has been hailed as a progressive piece of legislation that will restore sanity in Lesotho’s often chaotic education sector.

The ambitious new law seeks to make primary school education free and compulsory.

The Act says any parent who negligently fails to ensure that his or her child is enrolled in primary school and attends school regularly shall be guilty of an offence and will be liable to a fine of M1 000 or a one-year jail term.

“Where a learner fails to attend school regularly . . . each parent of the learner is guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to do such community service as the court may determine or a fine of not less than M1 000 or imprisonment for a term of not less than one year or both,” says the Act.

Where a pupil is to be absent from school, a parent is supposed to notify the school principal and give acceptable reasons for the absence in writing.

Failure to do so would be considered an offence and the parent would be liable to a fine or a jail sentence, according to the radical new law.

The Act also seeks to clamp down on the scores of unregistered schools that are operating illegally in Lesotho.

The Act says all schools should be registered with the Ministry of Education with a proprietor of a registered school having “a physical address in Lesotho which shall be shown on the certificate of registration”.

A person who violates this section of the law will be liable “to a fine of not less than M3 000 or imprisonment for a period of not less than three years or both”.

In the case of a society, church, corporation or board that runs an unregistered school, they shall be liable to a fine of not less than M5 000.

The new law could see hundreds of illegal fly-by-night schools that are operating in Lesotho disappear.

The law also empowers the minister of education to cancel the registration certificates of schools if “it appears to the minister that a proprietor is not managing the school satisfactorily or that the education of the pupils is not being promoted in the proper manner”.

A proprietor of a school who reopens the school “without the written approval of the minister commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine of not less than M2 000 or imprisonment for a term not less than two years”.

Teachers’ organisations and other players in the education sector have hailed the Education Act as a progressive piece of legislation that will ensure order in the running of schools in Lesotho.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef), an aid agency that promotes the welfare of children, has described the new Act as “a milestone effort to advance progress towards universal primary education”.

Unicef’s representative in Lesotho, Ahmed Magan, said the new law was a “critical step forward in reaching the remaining 18 percent of the most vulnerable children who are still out of school”.

According to the UN agency, at least 18 percent of children in Lesotho are not attending school.

There are thousands of children in Lesotho who are not attending school while working as herdboys.

Some fail to attend school while undergoing traditional initiation.

Magan said the provision of free primary school education was a major strategy towards achieving the goal of education for all.

“The next phase of implementation is the most decisive stage to ensure the fundamental right to free and compulsory education is fully realised” Magan said.

Vuyani Tyhali, the publicity secretary of the Lesotho Teachers’ Trade Union (LTTU), said the Act was a sign that we are taking “education seriously and we put education in its rightful place”.

“This is the most welcome piece of legislation ever passed by our parliament,” Tyhali said.

“We as the LTTU have for a long time called for the establishment of free and compulsory education.

“The government is in the right track in this regard.”

He however said the government will still face a mammoth task in enforcing the Act.

“I am of the feeling that there will be parents who will still not enrol their kids in school and it is not going to be easy to punish them,” Tyhali said.

Paul Sematlane, the executive secretary of the Progressive Association of Lesotho Teachers, said his union was fully behind the Act.

“The Act will radically change the future of many children who at present are not attending school,” he said.

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