December 5, 2005

Access to education may be limited by new fees policy

A move to reintroduce school fees in Botswana is causing controversy, with politicians and education experts warning that it may be a step backwards. Opposition parties have called on parents to defy the government's decision to reintroduce fees when the new term starts in January 2006. In October, parliament had approved legislation reintroducing school fees for pupils at junior secondary and senior secondary schools in 2006. Fees had been abolished in 1987 in a bid to get more children into schools, and enrolment rates soared. However, the government has said it would have to cut high annual expenditure on basic education.
Education Minister Jacob Nkate noted that although the state was still committed to the principle of equal access to education, it was no longer economical to continue a wholly subsidised education system. "We are asking the parents to share costs, as government cannot do everything due to budgetary constraints - it is not true that government is abandoning the people," Nkate noted. He could not say how much the state would contribute in fees per pupil.
According to the new law, pupils at junior secondary school are to pay 300 pula (US $54) per term, while the fees for those at senior secondary school will be P450 (US $81) per term.
Opposition Botswana National Front (BNF) President Otsweletse Moupo said that "most of our people are struggling below the poverty datum line - we cannot expect them to pay the new fees". He said the new policy would result in higher dropout rates.
The UN Special Rapporteur on the right to education, Vernor Munoz Villalobos, has urged the government to reconsider its new policy on school fees, and to view education as a basic right. According to him, the current non-rights-based approach was evident in the country's failure to provide education to the growing HIV/AIDS orphan population, the denial of access to education by pregnant girls and adolescent mothers, and the poor standard of education available to remote-area dwellers like the San. "The introduction of school fees is a dangerous step backwards. Any short-term budgetary gains from the reintroduction of school fees will have regrettable economic and social costs in the long term - education should be considered a right and not a service for which one should pay," Villalobos commented. (IRIN)

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