MASERU — Parents who fail to send their children to school might soon risk being sent to jail, if a radical Bill currently before parliament is passed into law.
The Education Bill (2009) proposes to punish parents who do not enrol their children by jailing them for one year or fining them M1 000 — or both.
According to the Bill, guardians who keep children under their care from school will also risk the same punishment.
“In respect of (a learner’s) absence from school a parent has (to provide), either orally or in writing, a reason acceptable to the principal of the school for the absence of the learner,” the Bill says.
“Where a learner fails to attend school regularly in accordance with subsection (2), 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 a year or both.”
The Bill also proposes to make it a criminal offence for a teacher to beat a student.
“The Bill abolishes corporal punishment at schools in accordance with section 8 of the constitution which provides that a person shall not be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading punishment,” says the Bill in its outline of objectives.
The government says the Bill, recently circulated to legislators by Education Minister ’Mamphono Khaketla, is meant to provide free and compulsory education at primary level.
With this proposed law the government also seeks to tighten the conditions for school administration and registration.
Education experts say the Bill could spell disaster for most private schools that have mushroomed in Lesotho over the past few years.
According to the Bill anyone who operates a school without registration will be liable for a fine of “M3 000 or imprisonment for a period of not less than three years or both,” reads the Bill.
Organisations like churches that run schools without registration will be fined M5 000.
The Bill also proposes to give the minister of education all-encompassing powers over schools.
For example, if a school proprietor wants to add a classroom block he or she has to first seek permission from the minister.
This rule will apply to all independent, public and community schools.
In another instance, a pre-school will not be elevated to a primary school or vice-versa without written authorisation from the minister.
Also, where a school provides independent instruction to learners other than those normally registered with it, such instruction will be deemed to be a separate school and will be registered as such.
Contravention of this law will land a proprietor in serious trouble.
A proprietor who wishes to open a new school, upgrade or downgrade an existing one, change its form, add new classes or transfer it to a new site will have to apply to the minister.
The proposed law instructs teachers to refuse to teach in any premises other than those approved by the minister.
A proprietor, in the case of a natural person, or teacher who will contravene this section will be fined not less than M2 000 or imprisonment for a period not less than three years or both.
Societies, churches and boards will be fined M10 000 for breaking this law.
The Bill also empowers the minister to deregister a school “in the public interest”.
The minister may also deregister a school if it “is conducted in a manner detrimental to the interests of peace, order and good governance” or “where it is economically not viable for government or the proprietor to maintain such a school”.
A proprietor “who fails to close the school within the time specified by the minister or who re-opens 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 of not less than two years.”
If an inspector reports to the minister that “no meaningful learning by enrolled learners is taking place at a school” the minister may direct its authority to close it temporarily until remedial measures are taken.
“A person who obstructs or resists an inspector in the performance or exercise of any duty imposed or conferred by or under this Act is guilty of an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine of not less than M1 000 or to imprisonment for a period of not less than one year or both,” the Bill says.
The Bill will also critically affect proprietors who recruit unqualified persons to teach in their schools.
It proposes that all teachers be registered with the Teaching Service upon coming into operation of this Act.
“A person shall not teach in any school unless he or she is registered with the Teaching Service,” the Bill says.