Soofia scores a first



Butha-Buthe school becomes Lesotho’s first institution to offer Cambridge Advanced Level qualification

Pascalinah Kabi
BUTHA-BUTHE-Soofia English Medium School has made history by becoming the first institution in Lesotho to offer the Cambridge International General Certificate of Education Advanced Level qualification—one of the most widely accepted qualification for university entry alongside the International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma.
Both are two-year post-Cambridge International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) or Lesotho General School Certificate of Education (LGSCE) programmes but until Soofia’s accreditation for A-Level studies this year, the country only offered IB qualification through Machabeng College.

One of the four pioneers of Soofia’s A-Level programme is 18-year-old Najm-us-sahar Fareed, whose prospects of studying outside the country had appeared bleak because she did not have an A-Level or IB qualification.

Fareed could still have enrolled at the National University of Lesotho after obtaining her IGCSE, but believed she was not yet ready for tertiary education.

Now armed with an Advanced Subsidiary Level (AS Level) certificate from Soofia written after the first year of the A-Level programme endorsed by United Kingdom-based Cambridge University, Fareed and her three fellow pioneers of the programme have all been provisionally admitted at the University of Pretoria in South Africa pending their results to be released in January next year.

Speaking at the programme’s official launch on Monday this week, Fareed thanked both her school and Ministry of Education and Training for helping her realise her dream of university education in South Africa without having to undergo ‘bridging classes’.

Without A-Level or IB qualifications, LGSCE holders need to undergo further one-year ‘bridging’ studies in South Africa to qualify for university entrance in that country.

“After writing my Form E examinations, I was worried because I didn’t know what I would be doing next,” Fareed told the Lesotho Times.

“Although I had an option of going straight to the National University of Lesotho, I didn’t want to be like some of the students who were here before me. They went to the university but couldn’t even make it past the first year because they found the going tough. Their Form E Ordinary Level qualification was not good enough for them to undertake the programmes they had chosen so I didn’t want to find myself in that difficult situation.”

In fact, Fareed said her preferred choice had always been a South African university.

“The problem is South African universities don’t accept our LGSCE or Cambridge Overseas School Certificate (COSC). We either have to have Matric, IB or AS Level qualifications but I couldn’t do any of them in  South Africa or Machabeng because it was too expensive,”  Fareed said.

“But when Soofia announced that it was introducing A-Level studies this year, I grabbed the chance because it was affordable; I paid a third of the money I would have spent in South Africa for the same qualification.”

Fareed said originally, the students were supposed to write their examinations at one of the University of Cambridge-accredited schools in Ladybrand.

“It was hard imagining ourselves sitting in a big room with so many strange faces in Ladybrand. It was going to be even tougher for us to write the exams in such strange surroundings in South Africa and luckily for us, Soofia and the Ministry of Education worked hard to make sure our school was accredited by Cambridge University.”

Speaking at Monday’s event graced by scores of dignitaries from various sectors of Lesotho society, the school’s principal, Vijayakumar Bhaskaran, said it was not easy to eventually have A-Level studies at Soofia. The Buthe-Buthe-based school also offers preschool, primary, Junior Certificate, and COSC/IGCE/LGSCE education.

“This A-Level programme is aimed at putting a stop to the perennial struggle our children have to endure to enter universities outside the country without first being subjected to a bridging programme,” he said.

“Soofia will give the children direct access to any course in any university anywhere in the world at very minimal cost and at their doorstep.”

However, Mr Bhaskaran said the school management had to overcome many hurdles to finally become Lesotho’s first formal school to offer an A-Level qualification.

“With the cooperation of management and the school’s founding fathers, Soofia first aligned itself with Cambridge University’s requirements to enable our Ordinary Level students to sit for IGSCE examinations,” he said.

“However, we did not only make sure our students wrote IGSCE examinations, they also had to study at a school meeting Cambridge standards, and we managed to make sure Soofia met these requirements.

“The upgrade also goes down to primary school where students will write examinations in their sixth year and then go to secondary school.”

Mr Bhaskaran also pleaded with the Butha-Buthe business community to establish a trust that would help fund the education of students from poor backgrounds.

“I would like to propose a scholarship fund specifically to support needy children who wish to enroll for A-Level studies at this school,” Mr Bhaskaran said.

Speaking to the Lesotho Times during the celebration, Mr Bhaskaran said the four pioneer students each paid M23 000 for the entire year, inclusive of a M7 000 examination fee.

“The school is not a profit-making organisation and we are trying as a much as possible to ensure that we charge fees that will only help us run the school, and not put parents under undue stress,” he said.

“Next year’s fees have not been agreed upon yet but we are hoping to charge between M30 000 and 35 000 for each student. This money is for the entire year. We are expecting 20 students for next year’s intake, all day-scholars because we don’t have boarding facilities here.”

Education and Training Minister Dr Mahali Phamotse, on her part, said Monday marked a milestone in Lesotho’s education system.

“As a nation, we have to be very proud of Soofia. Looking at the proud history of this school, one comes to the conclusion that all the stakeholders here are dedicated towards quality education,” Dr Phamotse said.

“I also want to specifically talk to the learners. Your parents have given you a lifetime opportunity by bringing you to this school so you should not waste their money and time by coming here to play.”

The minister further noted Soofia had performed consistently well in Primary School Leaving Examinations, Junior Certificate and COSC level.

Because of this excellent track record, Dr Phamotse said it was not surprising her ministry saw it fit to facilitate the introduction of A-Level studies at the school. However, the minister cautioned the management against complacency.

“Please don’t make us regret having entrusted this programme into your hands. I would personally feel aggrieved as both this school and the whole district have a special place in my heart,” Dr Phamotse said.

About Soofia English Medium School

The school belongs to the Muslim community who established their first mosque in Butha-Buthe between 1905 and 1910. In the late 1950s, an English-medium school was introduced on the mosque premises, but was burnt down in 1971 due to an accidental fire. The school was reestablished  in January 1990 for Standard One to Five learners. In order to offer a proper and sound foundation in English right from the age group of four, a pre-school section was introduced in 1998. Again in response to popular demand by parents, Soofia established a secondary section in 2005.

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