Specially Elected MP, Botsalo Ntuane, on Friday came out strongly against government decision to introduce school fees in secondary and tertiary schools.
Presenting and moving a motion that calls for the government to place a moratorium on cost sharing pending a review of its impact on access to education, Ntuane maintained education is a fundamental human right that must be accessed indiscriminately by everyone without any hindrances.
“By introducing school fees, the government was indecisive and regressive. Education is the corner stone of social justice agenda. It must be free and accessed by everyone.
“Students from the poor families are subjected to humiliation and stigmatization because of this school fees policy simply because their parents can not afford to pay school fees. The exercise breeds indignity and hopelessness as opposed to free education which restores human dignity,” argued Ntuane.
He is boggled by the government’s decision to abolish free education saying “the system was a profound intervention the government ever initiated in the history of Botswana”.
Government introduction of school fees in 2006 attracted much criticism from both the public and the political leaders alike.
Though the government initially promised the public it would not punish students whose parents did not pay, it finally chased the students, including those from the poor families, from the school campus. This caused much outcry from the parents who in turn engaged their political leaders for assistance.
Ntuane said the introduction of school fees put students on unequal footing with students from the poor families victimized and stigmatized because of their inferior social status.
“This government has vast policies on offer. This government must be seen to be committed to the welfare of Batswana and one such commitment must be free education for all. Batswana must be seen to be benefiting from the much resourced Botswana,” Ntuane further argued.
The Specially Elected MP sadly reminisced about the past bursary system where the government used to financially assist the students from the poor family.
“They were subjected to fun and ridicule as their names were read out in the fully-packed assembly to collect uniforms. Those who had the guts to endure such humiliating and degrading episodes are today the leaders that we usually meet on the streets and see on television while the rest of the majority stayed away at the cattle posts to avoid such degrading circumstances. A progressive Botswana does not want such incidents to repeat themselves.”
But the introduction of the school fees is another way of reverting to the old ways where students from poor families were humiliated and stigmatized in front of their peers.
“It is an impediment to the poor who are subjected to ridicule and stigmatization by their peers,” Ntuane added.
He cast disdain over government views in introducing the school fees scheme adding that the views then advanced and expressed are no longer convincing in today’s Botswana.
“Botswana is a middle-income country with the potential to scrap off school fees and afford free education. More and more positive explorations have been carried out and the economic projections suggest the future is bright. The economy is sustainable. Batswana must benefit a lot from the resourced Botswana,” he reiterated.
Ntuane says the school fees system affect the psychological thinking of the students.
“Students suffer psychologically as they are subjected to social officers’ assessment, a development that does not augur well with students and discriminates the students from the rest.”
The legislator prefers a universal coverage of services where everybody has access to services without any charges.
He dismissed and undermined government imposed support structures that are currently in place to ensure the smooth running of the exercise adding “the structures do not function. Students bear the brunt as they are being sent home”.
He argued that the government must revert to the old system where students would be accorded the same opportunities without charges.
Ntuane refuted the suggestion that parents were not committed to their children’s education hence the introduction of the school fees.
He added, “Even with the old system parents contributed to the welfare of their children as they provided transport, rent and paid for uniforms.”
He indicated school fees affects enrolment as evidenced by past free education years.
“In 1987, enrolment stood at 1200 and when free education was introduced in 1988, enrolment shot to 1700. Likewise, Kenya introduced free education in 2002 with an enrolment of 5.8 million and a year later the figure shot to 7 million,” he asserted.
A question, he said, would be asked where these students had been all along.
According to Ntuane, the answer is simply: “school fees promote low enrolment while free education promotes large enrolment.”