The Ministry of Education and Training is engaging various stakeholders as it looks at amending the Education Act of 2010. This move comes after the ministry realised since its inception five years ago, the Act has not been fully applicable due to “mistakes and omissions”, according to Lesotho Association of Teachers (LAT) President Mosaletsane Kulehile. Among other provisions, the law introduced free and compulsory primary education.
LAT President Mosaletsane Kulehile speaks with Lesotho Times (LT) reporter Lekhetho Ntsukunyane about the Act and the union’s involvement in the ministry’s quest to have it amended.
LT: The Education Act of 2010—could you tell us what this law entails and why it is being amended?
Kulehile: The Act simply tries to address general issues in the entire education system. These issues include teachers’ concerns such as how they are promoted and transferred. However, the law has so many mistakes and omissions which is why together with the ministry and other stakeholders, we are working on an Amendment Bill to close those gaps. Basically, since it was passed in 2010, the Education Act has not been fully implemented due to a number of loopholes.
LT: What exactly are these loopholes?
Kulehile: The Act was made such that it should cover all educational issues, from early childhood to higher education. This is the first problem we encountered with this Act. As teachers, we expected it to address issues pertaining to basic education only. This is because already, there is a law which specifically addresses tertiary education issues. And now you find that there are conflicting issues between the two laws, confusing the entire education system. So in the Amendment Bill we are currently working on, we are recommending that there should be two separate departments; one being for basic education while the other one would concentrate on tertiary.
LT: Is the Education Act of 2010 the same law that introduced free education in public primary schools?
Kulehile: It is the same law which talks about compulsory and free education for all. However, this section is also imprecise. For instance, the law only stipulates how parents would be punished if their children are found not to be in school. However, it does not say what should happen with the children themselves if they refuse to go to school against their parents’ will. The other bone of contention in the same law is its interpretation of words like ‘teacher’. The law does not clearly explain what a teacher is. We, members of the LAT, have since made it clear in the recommendation for amendments, who should be a teacher. Not everybody who stands in front of learners is a teacher. It should be clear in the Act that a teacher is a qualified professional who is able to apply proper steps to develop the minds of the learners.
LT: What other areas in the Act are you concerned about?
Kulehile: The law talks about people called inspectors. These inspectors are only based in Maseru and not in the districts. At district level, we only have education and senior education officers. The latter are people employed under the Public Service Commission, and not in the education system. The Act, therefore, does not say anything about them. But these are the people who administer everyday education issues at district level. The inspectors, on the other hand, are fully encompassed in the education law, but they are only in Maseru. They are used mostly to observe high schools, not primary education. So what we are saying in the amendments is we should have specific inspectors in the districts who will even observe early childhood schools. Those people should have relevant education and skills to deal specifically with early and basic education. Like I said, at the moment we have inspectors who are only skilled in observing high and tertiary schools. We don’t want those people to also be used to inspect basic education because that is definitely not their area of expertise. We believe one of the factors which contribute to our deteriorating standard of education is this issue of inspectors.
Further, the law does not specifically explain what a student teacher is. The law does not say, in specific terms, whether a student teacher is someone enrolled at the Lesotho College of Education (LCE) or National University of Lesotho (NUL) or both institutions. On the same note, the law directs that there should not be anyone who stands before learners and teaches them without registering with the Teaching Council as a teacher. But again that contradicts with a section in the same Act which directs that student teachers, who are not yet registered with the Council, should be provided with internships to teach at schools! The law should then draw a clear distinction between a teacher and a student teacher and their roles at schools.
LT: Why is it important to register with the Teaching Council?
Kulehile: Teachers, like nurses and lawyers, should not be allowed to practice unless and until they are registered with a legitimate body in charge of the system. At the moment, we have the Teaching Council, which unfortunately, is not operative and effective because it comprises of many officials from the ministry. To make it worse, its chairperson is, in ex-officio terms, the Principal Secretary (PS) in the ministry. We all know that is a political appointment. And because of this, the Council is incapacitated. Most of the time, these officers are engaged in other administrative matters of the government. They are hardly concerned about teachers’ issues.
LT: So if the teachers have to register with this ineffective Council, how have they been able to operate since the Act became law five years ago?
Kulehile: All teachers employed since 2010 have been appointed illegally because they have not registered with the Teaching Council as the Education Act of 2010 stipulates. However, this is because the Council has not been operative since then. We want the Council to be operative and regulate teachers. In other words, government has been violating the law by employing teachers who are not registered with the Council. We have talked about this on several occasions. We are not against new teachers being employed but we are saying this should be done according to the law. Government should simply operationalise the Council for this to happen.
LT: What other problems do you have with the Act?
Kulehile: We also have the issue of school boards. The law, in violation of the ethics again, directs that members of Village Councils should have space on school boards. We all know that these are politicians. How do you appoint a politician to directly manage a school? It is wrong to allow them on school boards. Things going our way, we would want elected parents and experts to be the only members of such boards. Section 23 of the Act stipulates requirements for such people to be eligible for selection into the boards. There is no need for additional members from Village Councils, including area chiefs.
LT: So how exactly should the Teaching Council operate, in your view?
Kulehile: We have learnt from our international partners how the Teaching Council should operate. First, it should have its own separate law which governs it. Because of that body’s significance to the education system, it should have its own law separate from the Education Act. To give an example, we have CHE (Council for Higher Education) which is a very pivotal organisation in the administration of tertiary education in this country. It has its own policies and laws guiding its operations. That should also apply to the Teaching Council so that it becomes fully capacitated and effective. Like CHE and other independent authorities, the Teaching Council should be autonomous for it to effectively fulfil its mandate. It should mainly comprise of teachers.
LT: Are there other provisions you are not happy about in the Act?
Kulehile: The law, in particular Section 21 which only relates to the functions of the school principal, also contradicts with Circular No 9 of 2009. This section directs that a principal, alongside his or her deputy and heads of departments, are members of management. It is therefore surprising that the Act only talks about the principal being in a position of management. We expect that as a management team, the functions of all the three entities should be enshrined in the Act. Without the law specifically stipulating their functions, principals, their deputies and heads of departments have problems coordinating their efforts in administration. Speaking from experience, no school can succeed under the management of the principal alone. For the principal to succeed, he or she needs the rest of the staff.
LT: Considering your concerns, it appears you were not consulted at all when the law was drafted…
Kulehile: It is clear the teachers were not consulted when this Act was being drafted. This is the reason why it has not been applicable. This should be a lesson to lawmakers that they should consult all relevant stakeholders first before attempting to enact any other regulation. I should mention that immediately after this law came into being in 2010, members of LAT raised their concerns with the minister. We even went to the extent of inviting the relevant portfolio committee members in parliament to discuss this law. We held a meeting at Lakeside Hotel and we were surprised that most of the Members of Parliament (MPs) at the meeting were not even aware of the law and how it was approved in the National Assembly with so many mistakes.
The other important issue which is not clear in the Act relates to the working conditions of teachers. For instance, you find the law stipulating that a primary schoolteacher should teach computer lessons, but that teacher was not taught how to teach computer studies at college. Again there is no computer and electricity at such a school. How do you make such a provision in the law without first ensuring that all the resources are available?
LT: So when are you expected to have finalised the amendments?
Kulehile: Initially, the closing date was 16 October 2015 but due to some problems encountered in the ministry, the date has since been extended indefinitely. But for our part, the LAT, we are done with our amendments.