Laid off parents appeal to govt over school fees

KANANELO BOLOETSE

MASERU – A group of 20 parents whose children attend schools in Mafeteng have asked minister of education Ntlhoi Motsamai to promise that no students will be expelled from public schools for failure to pay school fees this year. Schools were closed in March to prevent the spread of the novel Coronavirus which was declared a national emergency by the then Prime Minister Motsoahae Thabane, but now schools have started gradually re-opening after lockdown restrictions were eased.

“It is with a huge degree of frustration and desperation that we write this letter and hope that you will be able to engage with us,” the parents stated in their letter dated July 1. “We are asking you to make a solemn commitment that when classes resume, government will prohibit all public schools from preventing students from returning to school, suspending or expelling them due to the non-payment of school fees, depending on whether a parent has suffered a reduction in salary, has become unemployed or was forced to close down his/her small business,” they said.

“We know that as parents and guardians it is our responsibility to make sure the fees are paid, but due to the coronavirus pandemic it has become extremely difficult to make ends meet hence we are asking that no matter how far behind a parent is on fees, the schools should not expel the children or withhold their reports,” they added. The parents said keeping students in schools would ensure they were not deprived of their right to education. Motsamai yesterday said she was in a meeting and could not say whether she had received the letter or not. Schools were closed a few days before the government imposed a nationwide lockdown that was also aimed at curbing the spread of the virus despite Lesotho having no confirmed case of coronavirus then.

During the lockdown, citizens were strictly instructed to stay at home except in limited circumstances. Government said people could only go outside to shop for essential items, pick up medicines and health products and attend medical appointments. Citizens were only permitted to go to work if the work was deemed essential and if it could not be done from home. Small businesses like beauty salons, car washes, taverns, and printing shops were closed.

Before the lockdown ended, the then minister of education, Mokoto Hloaele, told Public Eye parents should expect to pay school fees when schools resumed. Some economists have indicated that Coronavirus and the lockdowns have plunged the world into the worst economic crisis since the great depression of the 1920s. The lockdowns led to serious job losses globally as hiring was frozen while layoffs increased. More alarmingly, job losses were focused on disadvantaged groups, according to various studies. “Even before coronavirus hit, we were already struggling to make ends meet due to pre-existing shocks and crises. This means we were already struggling to pay our children’s school fees,” the parents said.

They indicated some of them were bartenders while others were waiters who have since been rendered unemployed due to the lockdown restrictions, especially in the hospitality sector. “We have very little to fall back on, materially and financially speaking and could find ourselves forced to abandon our livelihoods. We might have to sell our animals and planting and sowing equipment. Once we do that, getting to be self-reliant again will become extremely difficult,” they said. “We write to you fully cognisant of the pressures schools face (since they) have to pay some of their teachers and non-teaching staff face, and have as a result urged stakeholders to continue paying school fees.

“Having grown up and attended school in this country yourself, you surely understand how falling behind on school fees is a fear that many parents face. This, Minister, is a real challenge for you and your ministry, one which needs immediate attention,” they added. The parents also asked Motsamai to consider expanding secondary education and make it universal over time by abolishing school fees starting from next year. “The expansion will improve education access for our poor children,” they said. Expansion of secondary education was first recommended by the World Bank in March last year.

“Now that universal and free primary education have been attained, it is important for the government to reiterate its commitment to expanding junior secondary education – and to make it universal over time by 2030,” said the World Bank. “Expansion under difficult macroeconomic circumstances would require a strong political commitment. Moreover, this expansion will improve education access for the poor. Therefore, the Ministry of Education and Training should give clear priority to expansion of access to junior secondary school,” it added.

The World Bank made the remarks in its education report titled Kingdom of Lesotho: Education Public Expenditure Review. The report was the result of collaboration among the World Bank Group, and the ministries of education and finance, and was designed to inform Lesotho’s efforts in expanding access to quality education services, while operating in a highly fiscally constraint environment. It offered a detailed assessment of the overall sectoral budgeting and expenditure patterns in the education sector over a five-year period, from fiscal years (FY) 2011/12 to 2015/16, using multiple data sources.

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