Education needs Attention: Free Legal advice for the Department of Education

As you perhaps remember Olivia L. Sjiem Fat transitioned from Paralegal to Legal Advisor by writing a thesis, “The right to obtain an education and the freedom of education” in Aruba,” which she successfully defended at the University of Aruba, recently.

The thesis deals with the conflict between the government’s obligation to subsidize all schools in order to secure the opportunity for every child to obtain a decent education here, and the autonomy of these school organizations in the private sector, i.e. SMOA and SKOA, to run their schools in the manner they see fit.

I decided the materials are interesting and should be widely read, we freshly remember the frustrations and law suits between the former MinEdu and the various foundations, apparently, that conflict is anchored in law, which must be changed. Olivia writes:

The reality we live in:

Aruba’s applicable laws and regulations regarding elementary education were written in 1972. Back then the Dutch law from 1920 or 1930, regarding elementary education, was used as inspiration. Nowadays, because of technological developments schools use different materials and resources which have not been incorporated into the applicable laws e.g. the use of internet (wifi), computers, digital boards and/ or in some cases air-conditioning. Consequently, a gray area of conflict between the school-boards and the government continues to fester. The government of Curacao for example tried to tackle this problem by updating the law to current standards, by incorporating all these costs or at least specifying what will and what will not be subsidized.

Q: Can the Aruban government ask the parents of a child to pay a certain amount of money as tuition, or does the law require the schools to be tuition free?

A: Aruba does not have a law which states that the government is responsible for all costs related to education. So at this point the government CAN ask parents to pay a certain amount of money towards tuition, and this should be set at a reasonable amount.

Olivia adds that as a progressive country Aruba is obliged to work towards 100% Free Education. This may take ten, twenty or even thirty years. But as an enlightened country we must work towards that goal, with long term planning. It is essential for the politicians to start working on a plan to prepare an assessment of the current situation and start formulating a plan to reach that 100% Free Education goal.

It is important that parents should take some responsibly in this matter; however, as long as laws aren’t updated, and policies remain unclear, school-boards find it difficult to enforce a policy that is not anchored by law.

Parents would have no other option but to follow rules and regulations, if we had any rules and regulations.

Q: Who is supposed to pay for the cost of having air-conditioning in schools? By law, is this the responsibility of the government or of the subsidized school-boards?

A: Olivia is of the opinion that this can be negotiated, then school-boards will enjoy more autonomy AND bigger responsibility in controlling costs. The government and the school-boards should be open and transparent about the amount of money each school is receiving. The existing law also states that in case a school-board controls more than 1 school, the board has the autonomy regarding the way money is distributed, and this is one aspect of the law that needs to be changed, to prevent a situation where one school is better funded then the other.

Regarding the payment of air-conditioning:

Olivia believes that the decision that air-conditioning is no longer a luxury is not a decision that can to be taken lightly. And in her opinion, this is not the most burning of all issues. What should be immediately addressed is whether and why certain schools do, and others don’t, receive a budget covering the cost of having an air-conditioning system in place.

Olivia would like to start the process by adapting a law which clearly states that that every school with a certain number of students is entitled to a certain number of air-conditioned classrooms.

Q: Who is supposed to pay for the maintenance of the school buildings. By law, is this the responsibility of the government or of the subsidized school-boards?

A: The current policy is that the cost of the big renovations and extensive annual maintenance is subsidized by the government while the small fixes, are to be paid by the school-boards. But because certain school-boards cried bloody murder in the media denouncing the burden of maintenance, and pushing it back on the government, successfully, we today unfortunately suffer from the mentality that the government is responsible for everything.

Q: When appointing a principal of a subsidized school (private organization) who has the authority to set the requirements regarding admission to certain schools? Government or school-boards? And in case the government would like to have a say, which legal instrument, should it be using?

A: The school-boards have an ample autonomy when it comes to appointing their own staff and leaders. However, because the government pays ALL salaries – all educators are on government payroll — the government can for example make policies regarding salaries.

If the government makes changes via a Landsverordening, a National Decree it cannot be disputed, but sometime in order to save time, the government uses a Ministerial Decree, which doesn’t hold water in court and its validity is often subject to challenge.


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October 31, 2017
Rona Coster