Parents seek school fees waiver after lockdown

KANANELO BOLOETSE

MASERU – Amid the nationwide lockdown and suspension of classes across the country the Minister of Education, Mokoto Hloaele, has asked parents to expect to pay school fees when schools resume. The country has gone into a 21-day lockdown to battle the spread of coronavirus which has been declared a national emergency despite Lesotho having no confirmed case of COVID-19.

Schools were closed a few days before the total nationwide lockdown with Prime Minister Motsoahae Thabane indicating closure of schools was inevitable during the plague. Citizens have been strictly instructed to stay at home except in limited circumstances. People can only go outside to shop for essential items, pick up medicines and health products and attend medical appointments. They are only permitted to go to work if their work is deemed essential and cannot be done from home. Small businesses like beauty salons, car wash, taverns, and printing shops are closed.

This has left some parents worried if they will afford to pay second quarter school fees when the whole country is under lockdown and they are unable to go to work. The second quarter, which normally starts immediately after Easter holidays, has been postponed until the end of the lockdown. This has not only created a disruption for the learners’ curriculum but there are also financial implications for fee payers.

Some parents argue that the only funds they are left with are for the food and health security during this time of need and expect government to show sympathy by directing all schools to waive school fees for the second quarter by at least two months. But Hloaele told Public Eye on Wednesday this week that his ministry expects that there will be some relaxation of the measures after the 21-day period and schools will be re-opened before the end of April, and parents must be prepared to pay fees.

“We are expecting that government would have curbed the spread of the coronavirus when the lockdown ends and things will go back to normal. Students will go back to schools and parents should expect to pay school fees as scheduled. Teachers will work hard to recover the lost teaching time,” Hloaele said. He, however, warned that after the lockdown, people should not then suddenly revert to their normal ways of living as that could still be dangerous.

Lesotho introduced free primary education in the year 2000 as a major strategy towards achieving the Education for All (EFA) goals, meaning primary education is free, universal and compulsory. However, secondary and high school education is funded by parents, making access to secondary education skewed towards urban areas and higher income groups, while rural areas continue to suffer disproportionately. This is reflected in huge disparities across districts.

A number of learners have dropped out of school after completing their primary education and have not been able to enter the secondary education cycle while others have dropped out during the cycle. Previous studies have indicated that less than 30 percent of students in the country are able to afford the fees necessary to attend secondary and high school although the fees are generally below M2 000 per year, or M500 per quarter. The World Bank report, published in March last year indicated education spending in Lesotho favoured the rich.

The country’s education spending is one of the highest in the world as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The report stated that for each M100 that the government spends per student in primary education, it spends M165 per student in secondary education and M326 per student in tertiary education. This, according to the report, makes education spending highly regressive and unequal, considering that only a small number of students reach tertiary education.

Titled Kingdom of Lesotho: Education Public Expenditure Review, it revealed that amongst the poorest quintile, the net attendance ratio of 13 to 17-year-olds in secondary education was only 15 percent, while this was 72 percent amongst the richest quintile. “For instance, for every 100 students that complete their primary education, only 36 complete their secondary education and five complete their tertiary education. This strongly favours the richest quintiles,” it read.

The Public Expenditure Review (PER) report was the result of a collaboration between the World Bank Group and Lesotho’s 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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