afrol News, 14 May - The government of Lesotho has enacted the Education Act 2010, legalising the right to free and compulsory education. The act is hailed as "a historic landmark for the children of Lesotho" and will boost school enrolment.
In Lesotho, free primary education was introduced in the year 2000 as a major strategy towards achieving the "Education for All" goals. This initially led to rapid increase in the net enrolment rate, which currently stands at an impressive 82 percent of primary school aged children - 80 percent of boys and 84 of percent girls.
But Basotho authorities aim at enrolling all children in the kingdom, thus enacting free and compulsory education. The new act is the outcome of a widely consultative process, which aimed at reviewing the Education Act of 1995. While legislating for free and compulsory primary education, government needed to improve the quality of education, as well as making it more responsive to the impact of HIV, AIDS and poverty.
Ahmed Magan, the Lesotho representative of the UN's children agency UNICEF, today hailed the new act. "This law will give a major boost to education; it is a critical step forward in reaching the remaining 18 percent of the most vulnerable children who are still out of school. The next phase of implementation is the most decisive stage to ensure the fundamental right to free and compulsory education is fully realised," Mr Magan said.
Lesotho has one of the highest proportions of orphans in the world at 12 percent of the population and the third highest prevalence of HIV, with young generations being the most affected and at risk. "We need to ensure that children are fully equipped with the means to make healthy and informed decisions that will improve the quality of their lives, and school plays a major role to achieve this," says Mr Magan.
Making sure all children are in school is an important first step, but it does not necessarily mean they are being educated, as experiences have shown in other African countries introducing free and compulsory education. A similar attempt in Malawi had grossly underestimated the need for trained teachers, school infrastructure and textbooks, thus leading to a strong decline in education quality.
The Lesotho government and UNICEF claim to have learnt from these experiences. "Continued investment in the quality of education is critical and promoting proper financing for quality education, even during times of economic turmoil, is a means of promoting sustainable development of individuals and societies," notes Mr Magan.
The Maseru Education Ministry and its partners are now working to ensure that education "remains a key development priority and to support national policies that provide access to school for all children in a safe and gender-sensitive environment," according to UNICEF Lesotho. Currently, Lesotho's development partners are supporting the development of school management regulations that are to translate the new act into implementable systems and structures.
"Lesotho cares about education. The government is spending more on public education as a percentage of GNP than almost every other African country and is making sure girls and boys are being educated in equal numbers. Education is crucial to ensure human capital development," says Mr Magan.
"The entering into force of the Education Act 2010, making free primary education compulsory, is a historic landmark for the children of Lesotho and for the country as a whole," the UN agency adds.
The new Education Act comes shortly after the long awaited enactment of the Children's Protection and Welfare Act last week, a law that targets many of the same underprivileged children.
Lesotho's Minister of Health and Social Welfare, Mphu Ramatlapeng, presented the bill to the Maseru parliament last week, creating great enthusiasm from the house that received the bill with applauds and lots of 'Melilietsane' (ululations). The new law makes provisions on for various categories of children that had not been catered for in previous child protection legislation.
It includes children affected and infected by HIV, orphaned and vulnerable children, children living on the streets, children with disabilities and victims of abuse and exploitation. Above all, it legally mandates the Department of Social Welfare to protect children. The Education Act now also foresees that these same underprivileged children also shall be enrolled in public schools.
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