By Tsitsi Matope
MASERU — The Minister of Education and Training, ‘Makabelo Mosothoane, says good facilities, well-trained teachers and strong management systems are essential to fostering quality education in Lesotho.
Mosothoane told the Lesotho Times this week that such good quality education could also be guaranteed through the constant review of syllabi at all levels of the learning system.
A skills-based society, she further said, has the capacity to find solutions to its social and economic challenges, hence the need for Lesotho to have a sound educational policy.
“Government must channel more resources towards education to ensure it continues to improve and effectively respond to the country’s needs, such as poverty-reduction and employment-creation,” Mosothoane said.
Since assuming her current post in June last year, Mosothoane has spearheaded various reforms, among them a new curriculum for primary schools which is being implemented in phases.
The ministry has also decided to localise secondary school examinations, which would see the Cambridge Overseas School Certificate (COSC) being gradually replaced by the Lesotho General Certificate of Secondary Schools Examination (LGCSE) beginning next year.
“This decision had to be made because the COSC, which was being regulated in the United Kingdom (UK), has been phased out. Lesotho is the only country still writing such an examination. What we are going to introduce, with the help of Cambridge University in the UK and other stakeholders, is a high school qualification that is at par with South Africa and other countries in the region. This is going to help deal with the difficulties that many of our students face when they want to enter some foreign tertiary institutions.”
Mosothoane further said starting next year, a school would be constructed in Maseru to mark the transformation.
“The transformation would start with select schools with the capacity to roll-out the new programme, which would commence at Form D level. Students would then go up to Advanced Level, before they can enter tertiary education,” Mosothoane said.
She noted her ministry has also decentralised inspection services to ensure regular assessment of schools for quicker identification of curriculum and management-related weaknesses, among others.
“We have merged the Central Inspectorate (secondary schools) with the Field Inspectorate (primary) to create one unit. This is going to help improve collaboration at all levels.”
The move to transform the inspectorate, the minister added, followed the 2011 Southern and Eastern Africa Consortium for Monitoring Educational Quality (SACMEQ) study that found Lesotho’s academic performance poor.
Out of the 15 SACMEQ countries, (Botswana, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zanzibar, Zambia and Zimbabwe) Lesotho’s performance was below standard by more than 47 percent in all subjects.
“Out of the 15 countries, Lesotho was at number 13. This followed an extensive assessment of performance levels of both students and teachers. It is against this background that we would like to, among other interventions, strengthen classroom inspections and management support to schools in order to improve the quality of teaching and learning.”
Mosothoane said her ministry this year intensified inspections by more than 30 percent, compared to previous years.
However, with 42 percent of teachers in Lesotho schools being unqualified, Mosothoane said there is need to redress the situation and ensure all students are taught by qualified teachers both in the urban and rural areas.
“There are interventions in place, which include encouraging all untrained teachers to train during holidays. We are also supporting them by paying for their tuition.”
According to Mosothoane, hard-to-reach areas are the hardest hit by the shortage of trained teachers and as a result, her ministry had since introduced an incentive scheme to motivate qualified teachers to also work in the remote areas.
While efforts to improve education are currently targeting public schools, Mosothoane said her ministry is also keen to become more involved in the affairs of all private schools.
“We are working at amending the Education Act of 2010 for government to also have a say in the administration of private schools. There are a number of concerns, particularly in the area of high fees charged by some schools. We would like to know how it is used and also introduce control mechanisms, such as the submission of annual reports to help us understand how that money is being used to benefit the learners.”
Mosothoane has, meanwhile, highlighted the many challenges her ministry faced as it embarks on reforming the education sector.
“Yes, we had a lot on our hands. For instance, there were schools which only existed on paper, yet records showed contractors had been paid to build them.
“Because of such corruption, the relationship between the ministry and some development partners deteriorated to the level where some suspended their financial support.
“We are working hard to ensure the credibility of the ministry is fully restored and also revive working with all our development partners. The ministry has taken disciplinary action against those who were involved in the ghost schools scam. Since outside contractors were also implicated, we referred the matter to the police for further investigations,” Mosothoane said.
One of the senior workers at the ministry took his case to the courts following his dismissal after the disciplinary hearing.
Despite the challenges, Mosothoane said she still managed to push for the passing of two policies — the Early Childhood Care and Development as well as the Higher Education Policy.
“This financial year, over M4 million was approved for the implementation of the Early Childhood Care and Development policy.
“It is important that we strengthen the educational foundation of all children. The programme seeks to adequately prepare them, both mentally and health-wise, for their formal education.”
Under the Early Childhood Care and Development policy, the minister explained feeding programmes are being implemented in 1 500 early learning centres, 57 home-bases and 227 reception classes.
“We also value quality early learning and that is why 84 caregivers graduated this year following two years of training at the Lesotho College of Education.”
However, a new feeding model was this year also introduced at 623 primary schools in the highlands — where 124 980 pupils are benefitting — with the aim of rolling out the scheme to the remaining schools by 2015.
“We are exploring ways to make the programme more efficient and cost-effective while maintaining the nutritional standards, as well as ensuring it remains equitable to all children in schools.”
The ministry, Mosothoane said, is working closely with the World Food Programme (WFP), which is responsible for procuring and distributing the food, while the government provides funding.
Apart from the feeding scheme, she said ensuring proper learning facilities was one of her major concerns.
This year alone, classrooms at 25 primary schools were renovated while construction of new classroom blocks is under way at 16 primary schools, she added.
“We have also constructed 105 secondary school classrooms, 24 accommodation facilities for teachers, 12 science laboratories and 12 administration blocks and technical workshops through funding from the Government of Japan.”
The Ministry has also reviewed the Technical and Vocational Education and Training and Teachers Education policies, Mosothoane said.
“This will go a long way to improve responsiveness to the country’s current needs in the area of skills.”
Mosothoane, who strongly believes tertiary institutions should be characterised by high levels of discipline among both the staff and students, is consequently leading the review of the National University of Lesotho (NUL) Act.
She emphasised the need to instil discipline, orderliness and maintain high professionalism at all the institutions of higher learning in Lesotho.
“Tertiary institutions must concentrate their efforts on the core businesses they were created to provide, which is ensuring quality graduates.
“But indiscipline and lack of respect for authority has eroded the values and principles some tertiaries should be standing for, hence the need to have a fresh look at regulations governing these institutions.”
She said various initiatives, which include the approved Higher Education Policy, would help in the restructuring and management of tertiary institutions.
“We are happy that guidelines for the registration of private higher education institutions have been developed. This is going to improve the ministry’s involvement through the Council on Higher Education.”
This development, the minister noted, has since led to a review of programmes at some institutions such as Limkokwing University of Creative Technology.
“We are now at NUL and would also assess the Lerotholi Polytechnic training programmes under the same initiative.”
On the other hand, the minister said her ambitious initiative, dubbed the ‘BIG Push’, seeks to ensure the “education for all” vision becomes a reality.
“The BIG Push is a multifaceted programme that is looking at ways to ensure education becomes accessible to all those who would want to build various educational capacities.
“We would like to see every child, including orphans, the vulnerable and those with special needs, in school. Those who, for various reasons, missed that opportunity, such as herdboys, can also now benefit from the free distance-learning in primary and secondary education,” she said.