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Last Updated: Wednesday, 18 January 2006, 11:36 GMT
School fees hit Botswana learners
As Botswana reintroduces school fees, the BBC's Lucas Letlhogile in Gaborone looks at the impact that this will have after years of free education.

Kids
Children in rural areas fear they could be badly affected
Mpopi Lesotlho, 16, is ready for senior high school in Botswana. But as the school year begins, she fears that she might be turned away, as the country reintroduces school fees for all pupils.

"I need the education," she says.

"Already I have been having problems of not getting the necessary uniforms and other essentials. Now mother has to do more. I will just go to school and hope that the school authorities shall not send me back home as they have promised".

Mpopi's widowed mother is already looking after her older brothers, because they cannot get jobs. School fees will be an extra burden.

Breadwinners who used to bring in income have succumbed to Aids and that has left us with no regular income
Mma Mogapi, mother of schoolchildren
For nearly two decades now, the Botswana government has been offering free education to all pupils and students, from primary school through to university.

Those at tertiary levels might even get scholarships to study in other countries including overseas universities and colleges.

Cost recovery

But now that is all over. Botswana's government says that with effect from the start of the school year in January, students at secondary school and beyond have to foot their education bill.

Education Minister Jacob Nkate
Education Minister Jacob Nkate says no children will be excluded
The government argues that this is part of the bigger plan of cost recovery for services delivered and rendered by government departments, ministries and agencies around the country.

Education Minister Jacob Nkate has repeatedly said the government needs parents and guardians to assist in meeting some of the education expenses incurred by government.

Mr Nkate added that no single child shall be turned away from school because they have failed to pay their fees.

At the moment, the government has employed social workers to assist in determining the number of children who need to be exempted from paying the fees.

Incomes shrinking

But parents like Mma Mogapi - a mother of two in her 40s - are worried.

"Parents cannot afford this - especially parents in the rural areas because there is no work," she says.

"Besides, the breadwinners who used to bring in income, some of them have succumbed to Aids and that has left us with no regular income.

"Because of that and the fact that we exist as an extended family, we also have to look after other siblings."

As a result of this new measure, she thinks that some children may not get the education that so badly need to pull themselves out of the poverty trap.

Trickle down

The introduction of free education followed many years during which students had to pay, following independence from Britain in 1966.

During that period many parents were subsistence farmers, and some were unable to give their children the education they would have wanted for them, because they could not afford to pay the fees.

But the post-independence period came with the discovery of minerals, especially diamonds, in Botswana.

That gave the government of Sir Seretse Khama, Botswana's first president, an opportunity to accumulate some revenues gained from mineral sales, especially diamonds.

The 1980s saw an economic boom, and development projects like schools, roads and hospitals mushroomed in the country.

As national revenues from minerals and other sources accumulated, mainly during the 1980s, the Botswana government introduced free education to all children so that the benefits could trickle down to the average citizen.

Criticism

The return to school fees this year has drawn sharp criticism from opposition political parties, non-governmental organisations and a variety of teachers' trade unions.

Baboloki Tlale
The issue of fees will bring despair and hopelessness among the already struggling poor
Baboloki Tlale
"Education is a fundamental human right and the state has an obligation to make sure that the citizens enjoy the right to it," says Dumelang Saleshando, member of parliament for Gaborone Central and spokesperson for the opposition Botswana Congress Party.

"Fees come at a time when education is not compulsory and that it will be difficult for government to make sure that all children get to benefit in education and access schooling," he adds.

Mr Eric Ditau, president of the Botswana Federation of Secondary School Teachers points out that parents are already burdened with transport and other bills.

"In other words, making them pay beyond here will further drain them as they are already contributing to the provision of basic education of their children," he says.

Baboloki Tlale of the Botswana Council of Non-Governmental Organisations points out some children are already out of school and the introduction of fees will make this worse.

"This situation is worst among the very poor and the marginalised in society," he says.

"The issue of fees will bring despair and hopelessness among the already struggling poor."




SEE ALSO:
Is free education valued enough?
11 Jan 06 |  Have Your Say
Call for free African schools
09 Jul 03 |  Africa
Country profile: Botswana
03 Nov 05 |  Country profiles
Mozambique's crowded classrooms
16 Sep 05 |  Africa


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