Shake up  education sector

Shake up education sector

ELSEWHERE in this edition, we carry a story explaining why Lesotho’s education sector is in a mess despite the government pumping billions of maloti on training teachers and building new infrastructure.

The report titled, Education Public Expenditure Review, which was compiled by the World Bank in conjunction with the Ministry of Education, makes very interesting reading.
It is also brutally frank in its assessment of where we have gone wrong and what needs to be done to get our education sector back on track.
The report says Lesotho’s “education system is performing inadequately and appears to be stagnant, with stabilised student flows but high repetition and dropout rates”.
We must hasten to admit that Lesotho has made tremendous strides in improving access to education following a political decision to introduce free primary education almost two decades ago.
Yet despite the introduction of free primary education, we still have children who finish primary school without having mastered the basics of reading, arithmetic and writing. That is a tragedy.
We still have high school graduates who are functionally illiterate. That is a clear indicator that there is something terrible with our system.
The decision to make primary education compulsory in 2000 was a master-stroke. But as the report notes, there is need to expand the programme by making secondary education accessible for all Basotho.

That will require huge political commitment.
The report also acknowledges that “without quality primary education, quality secondary education will not be possible”.
We agree.
Students need a strong foundation in the basic skills of reading, writing and arithmetic. That means more resources and attention must be channelled towards primary and early education.
Only when we have a strong foundation can we start dreaming of improving the education sector in high schools and in tertiary institutions.
We also agree with the report’s recommendation to invest heavily in teacher training programmes. We need to see the ministry putting in place strong coaching and supervision mechanisms.
The quality of the teacher often impacts the quality of the student. Yet in a highly unionised environment such as Lesotho, mediocre teachers and principals are often not held accountable. How many teachers have been dismissed for incompetence?

The fact there has been none is not a reflection of a perfect set-up within schools. A strong supervisory mechanism must be able to weed out those that are incompetent. They must never be allowed to hide behind the cover of trade unionism.
That will of course trigger howls of protest from trade unions. Unless Lesotho shakes up its education system we will continue to produce mediocre graduates who are not fit for purpose. We need to see accountability within the education sector.

We do not buy the argument that Lesotho’s poor outcomes in education is because we are economically challenged. Far from it.
As the report acknowledges, we have some of the best paid teachers when we compare with their peers in the Southern Africa region.
Our teacher-student ratio also stands at one teacher to 33 students, better than that of South Africa which is stronger economically. That ratio is also better than that of Mozambique.
It would be a grave mistake to assume we can solve the problems in education by throwing money at the sector. Money alone is not the key.


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