Education set for major shakeup
‘If everything goes according to plan, Standard 7 examinations will be written for the last time in 2017. Our ultimate goal is to make our basic education continuous from Grade 1 all the way to LGCSE exams’, says Education and Training Deputy Minister, Thabang Kholumo.
Jobless graduates have become cause for concern for the government and indeed society at large, but critics suggest the problem is with the kind of education Lesotho continues to offer which no longer meets market-demands. Education and Training Deputy Minister, Thabang Kholumo, speaks with Lesotho Times (LT) reporter, Lekhetho Ntsukunyane, about this state of affairs and efforts being made to reverse the dire situation.
LT: During belated Workers’ Day celebrations on 2 May in TY, you told the gathering that there were over 3000 qualified teachers who remain jobless yet we hear of schools which do not have enough staff. Could you please elaborate on this issue?
Kholumo: Indeed, we have a large number of qualified teachers who remain jobless many years after they have graduated. We discovered recently that they are actually over 3000 in number. We got this figure after announcing that all jobless teachers across the country should register with their respective district education offices. Our intention was to have their full details, particularly relating to their qualifications and places of residence, and indeed see how many they really are. The ministry is also doing this because we are engaged in a campaign to change the way teachers are employed in this country. As we speak, teachers are mostly being employed by church authorities through school boards. This process has proved to be inappropriate and unnecessarily lengthy. We now want the teachers to be directly employed by the government. When there are vacancies, we want the schools to immediately report to the Teaching Service Department (TSD) where there would already be a list of these unemployed teachers. That way, the vacancies will be filled speedily.
The other reason we want to take full responsibility for hiring teachers, as government, is that we have realised that the school boards comprise of members of the public from villages around the same schools. When there are vacancies, board members always think of their relatives to fill the posts. The process of filling up the vacancies is therefore, delayed because positions are reserved for certain teachers who might still be in school. In the meantime, the students are stranded without teachers. We have discovered in some schools that for the vacancies to be filled, desperate teachers had to pay bribes to be employed. This is why we are also amending the Education Act of 2010.
LT: You talk of jobless teachers who heeded your call to register their names…Does it mean this figure could even be higher?
Kholumo: Yes. We suspect some did not come forward to register for one reason or another. I remember I met one such teacher in Butha-Buthe who complained to me that the government initially asked them to register their names in 2010 under the pretext they would get jobs but to no avail. The teacher, who graduated in 2009 but remains jobless up to this day, asked me why they should bother re-registering now when they didn’t get jobs after registering in 2010. That man told me straight that he thought the registering exercise was simply done by the government to pretend it is doing something while it is not.
LT: But those teachers on the list, when did they graduate? What qualifications do they have?
Kholumo: We have teachers who graduated as far back as 2006 on the jobless list. This shows how serious the challenge of unemployment is. These are teachers for primary, secondary and high schools. However, there are no Mathematics and Science teachers on that list. In fact, the list comprises mostly language teachers, and that is Sesotho, English and Social Sciences. We expect this number to increase when more teachers graduate from the Lesotho College of Education (LCE) and National University of Lesotho (NUL) this academic year.
LT: So how are you dealing with this challenge?
Kholumo: We have changed the curriculum from COSC (Cambridge Overseas School Certificate) to LGCSE (Localised General Certificate of Secondary Education) to address this challenge. Basotho should know we are where we are today because of having been under British rule in the past. Our education system was ruined by our colonisers. For a long time, our education system was such that English was made a priority and benchmark determining whether or not students had passed or failed exams. People who did well in Mathematics and Science but were not bright in English, were deemed to have failed. You agree with me that most people who are bright in Mathematics and Natural Sciences are not very good in linguistics. So most of our people who could be engineers today, dropped out due to the system. So people who specialised in languages progressed in large quantities. Today, the system we have recently adopted does not allow for our students to fail because of English. We believe the LGCSE is going to address this challenge. We have even instructed our university (NUL) to stop admitting students based on English as a basic requirement.
It is important to mention that in the LGCSE curriculum, we are also getting rid of the Primary School Leaving Certificate (PSLE) and Junior Certificate (JC) examinations (Standard 7 and Form C) because they are also a waste of time. These two exams contributed to the high rate of unnecessary dropouts. If everything goes according to plan, Standard 7 examinations will be written for the last time in 2017. Our ultimate goal is to make our basic education continuous from Grade 1 all the way to LGCSE exams. This means for basic education, students will only sit for major examinations once. Today, we need engineers and architects more than white-collar careers. We believe the LGCSE is going to help us achieve that. All we expect teachers to do in class with the new system, is to enhance talents that students already possess from birth. This has been tested in other countries and proved fruitful. It is unfortunate that our previous education system only channeled us to become teachers, lawyers, nurses et cetera. We were made to believe that the blue-collar job was only for dumb people; that to be educated is to put on a tie and sit in an office where you are employed to work for somebody else. We want to do away with that stereotype and produce entrepreneurs.
LT: But how are you going to deal with the influx of students after they pass LGCSE exams? Are there enough tertiary institutions and markets to absorb them?
Kholumo: Like I said, not all students will necessarily need to go to higher learning institutions with this system. We talked about talent. Not all talents will require students to enroll in tertiary institutions. We don’t want our students to feel like it is compulsory for them to go to university. They should rather opt for technical institutions like Lerotholi Polytechnic and others. Secondly, our expectation is building future entrepreneurs in order to boost our private sector. In other words, this system will also help us create more jobs. The other bad thing about the previous education system was that people were taught to be employed and serve in Lesotho only. A lot of our educated people cannot find employment outside Lesotho. We all have that mentality that we cannot work outside Lesotho. But if you go to South Africa, you will find many uneducated Basotho working there. But educated Basotho, due to that education systems, find it risky to seek employment in other countries. But with the new system, we want to have more educated Basotho exploring other countries. If we have an influx of Chinese in Lesotho today, we want to have the same influx of Basotho working in China. This should be two-way.
LT: At some stage, the government was considering introducing an Advanced Level (A Level) qualification, which is only being offered at Soophia High School in Butha-Buthe after the school adopted it earlier this year. Do you still have that in mind?
Kholumo: We still have that in mind. Once we have done away with the two examinations that I have talked about, we intend to introduce two more years of A Level on top of the LGCSE examinations. But the LGCSE, on the other hand, will also only last to Form D. So the two additional years of A-Level will start after completion of what we now call Form D. A-Level is a preparatory stage for the students to easily find admission in any university worldwide. With COSC, our students were restricted to remain the property of this country only.
LT: You were recently conducting surprise visits to ‘underperforming’ schools throughout the country. What was this all about?
Kholumo: That is another big issue for the ministry because we are seriously concerned about schools which do not perform to expectations. We have made surprise visits to a few schools now but this has become a continuous programme for us in the ministry. It is with great concern that I announce that in some schools, we have discovered that the students are not the ones who fail, but the teachers. We don’t expect teachers to cheat their job and provide lip-service, but that’s what some teachers do. Oftentimes, these are teachers who are hopeless drunkards and regularly miss classes. Unless we engage much in surprise visits, the future of children in some schools is doomed. In some schools, we were shocked to discover that with the recent census, principals had connived with teachers and allowed them to leave their jobs for part-time census jobs. Our understanding is that the teachers are going to share their allowances with the principals – how shocking! This warrants our surprise visits because we believe it to be another way to stop this behaviour. Some of these schools are consistently performing dismally and are worth shutting down, but like I said, they are owned by churches and we would not want to be seen like we are meddling in church affairs.
LT: You have appealed to jobless teachers to register, which is fine and square. But could this eventually lead to employment?
Kholumo: With the new curriculum and amendment of the Education Act of 2010, which we hope it will be fully amended and enacted before end of this year, we have changed the ration of teacher-to-pupil from 1-to-45 to 1-to-40. We have reduced the number of students to be taught by one teacher so that we are able to employ more teachers. Not only that, we have also reduced the retirement age for teachers from 65 to 60 years so that we give the youngsters a chance.