BOTSWANA: Reintroduction of school fees draws mixed response
GABORONE, 22 March (IRIN) - The planned reintroduction of school fees in Botswana from January 2006 has received a mixed response from opposition parties and educators.
Minister of Education Jacob Nkate said school fees were part of the government's cost recovery strategy, instituted as a result of the increasing demand for social services in the face of the country's declining revenue.
"This decision was taken in 2003, and school fees will be paid at a rate of five percent of the individual student's education cost per annum," he said.
The Botswana government pointed out that education costs per child attending junior school were around Pula 6,000 (US $1,500) per annum, while the education department had to cough up $2,250 per student at the senior secondary level.
Although parents would be expected to contribute about US $75 a year to their children's tuition, Nkate noted that education authorities remained committed to achieving universal access to education, as envisaged in the country's development strategy.
In a bid to get more children into schools, fees were abolished in 1987. Although the scrapping of school fees saw enrolment rates soar, only about half the students continued their secondary education, mainly due to the lack of space in schools.
Nkate explained that the reintroduction of school fees would help the government to construct more schools.
The move comes at a time when unemployment in Botswana is at an all-time high, hovering around 24 percent, according to the Central Statistics Office (CSO).
Opposition parties have rejected the school fees initiative, arguing that it was premature because most Batswana still lived in poverty. "Let us start off by balancing the playing field first, and get rid of the massive economic disparities between the rich and the poor," opposition parliamentarian Nehemiah Modubule told IRIN.
Meanwhile, teacher unions have said they would resist the move and called on the government devise alternative ways of collecting revenue.
"Education on its own is a basic human right," said Justin Hunyepa, publicity secretary of the Botswana Federation of Secondary School Teachers. "The government had abolished school fees in the first place, after realising that people cannot pay, and has taken a u-turn to infringe on people's human rights."
Sarah Ndeapo of the Botswana Teachers Union said educators had made it clear to the government that it had no problem with the reintroduction of school fees at technical colleges.
A 'means' test to assess which parents are capable of paying fees will be developed.
IRIN / UN