Overhaul education system

Overhaul education system

On May 27, 2021, the Minister of Education and Training announced the Lesotho General Certificate in Secondary Education (LGCSE) results. The class of 2020 wrote the examination under the most trying circumstances in January 2021, where students attended regular school for just the first term of the school year. Then the Covid-19 shutdown happened. The outbreak of Covid-19 led to a complete shutdown of the country. But somehow, the schools had to soldier on.

I must declare my dismay at the indifferent response to the LGCSE results. Analysts, the government and the general public were dead silent about the outcomes of the LGCSE exams. The most crucial examination in Lesotho and students’ lives does not deserve a comment beyond the ministerial press release. The results are not part of the parliamentary agenda. People who ought to make the right noises and sanction derelict schools are indifferent to the LGCSE outcomes. The lack of interest in LGCSE results explains the mediocrity of Lesotho’s education system.

Lesotho’s priorities are misplaced. Whilst Lesotho aspires to attain its sustainable development goals (SDG), it neglects to develop its most precious asset – human resources. Accordingly, the education system fails to equip its future human resources with the necessary skills and knowledge to carry the country beyond the Fourth Industrial Revolution through education and training.

This article critiques the 2020 LGCSE examinations results in the context of the country’s school education. It highlights how the LGCSE curriculum fails Basotho and proposes the way forward.
A total of 17 413 students sat for the examinations, and 64% of students passed the examination. The Ministry of Education and Training (MoET) calculates this pass rate as a percentage of students obtaining grades A* (90% and above) – E (40 – 49%) in the LGCSE. The Ministers speech continues to analyse the finer details of the higher grades, A* down to B (70 – 79%). For example, there were 436 A* grade, constituting 0.4%. There were 2 751 (or 2%) grade B passes. She compared schools performances by the number of grades As. It is critical to affirm outstanding performance by students.

But this affirmation must not be at the expense of other students. At the same time, students take examinations as individuals. They are not in competition with their peers. The examination assesses individual ability based on the curriculum. How others around a student perform in the examination is not their concern. In other words, each student competes with him- or herself. Although it is important to acknowledge good performance, the MoET must not sugar-coat the results. Instead, the Minister manipulated the finer details to blur the bleak picture of Lesotho schools performance. The inclusion of students with the symbol E in the pass-rate calculation is disingenuous. It inflates the pass rates.

Others call this populism, creating a frenzy where it does not exist. Students with Symbol E are not eligible for admission into university education. It creates a euphoria that the failing education system works. While students obtaining symbol D (50 – 59) meet admission requirements into degree programmes, symbol E does not. Therefore, the inflated pass rate does not enable Lesotho to produce its critical mass of graduates who would allow them to attain SDGs. ECoL’s Research and Statistics annually produces an analytical Statistical Bulletin to help make decisions to improve the education’s quality.

But these annual reports come one year later. Unfortunately, ECoL is yet to upload the report for the 2020 LGCSE results. I analysed students’ performance in core subjects as a frequency of students obtaining grade A – D because these are the students who qualify for admission into university education. The results reveal that the core subject with the best results was Sesotho, followed by Physical Science with pass-rates of 82% and 42%, respectively. The lowest pass rates were registered for Mathematics with 22% and Biology at 26%, followed by the English language with 46%.

In an earlier article in thepost newspaper, I showed that the teacher education curriculum did not incorporate its students’ historical information. Although stakeholders are aware of the awkward predicament that Lesotho is in, there is no evidence that they utilise the information.
The majority of the students taking the LGCSE examination are between the ages of 18 and 21. The most significant proportion is 19 years followed by those 20 years of age. This information must inform the LGCSE curriculum. The 2008 MoET claims their curriculum places a Mosotho child at the core. But their curriculum adopts the constructivism approach that is not backed by empirical research.

ECoL provides item analysis for examination question papers. This report is crucial because the analyses enable stakeholders to address problem topics.
LGCSE, like its predecessor, the Cambridge Overseas Schools Certificate (COSC), is a two-year certificate. The two-year model failed Lesotho before. Numerous scholars showed that there is a disjuncture between Lesotho Junior Certificate (LJC) and COSC. Even more, LJC holders are not eligible for employment or any other opportunities apart from LGCSE that it fails to serve. It gives the holders a false hope for a redundant qualification that does not serve any purpose other than putting students under unnecessary duress. ECoL derived LGCSE from a four-year qualification, the International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE).

In the 1990s, when the National Curriculum Development Centre (NCDC) initiated its localisation processes, they drew their curriculum developers from practising teachers and teacher educators. But the curriculum design itself was flawed, where the purpose and objectives and the topic were not based on empirical research. Consequently, the outcomes are dismal, especially in biology, mathematics, English language and physical science, showing that something is clearly wrong. As a result, the LGCSE curriculum continues to fail Basotho.

There is no compatibility between the curriculum, teaching and learning in the classrooms and the assessments ECoL uses at the end of the two-year LGCSE studies and Basotho learners. But one cannot blame the Basotho students because the same students pass Sesotho very comfortably.
Take for instance the English language, Mathematics and science teaching exhibition held on national television during the Covid 19 pandemic shutdown. It explains why the LGCSE results are miserable. Those teachers did more harm to students than the Covid-19 virus itself. The trauma they caused will take decades to erase. Lesotho’s school education needs a thorough overhaul.

Moreover, the classes were recorded using sophisticated resources. Those teachers could use the resources creatively. Unfortunately, Lesotho lost the opportunity to impress on incorporating information technology in school education optimally.
Bernstein’s Pedagogic Device teaches us that Lesotho must own the knowledge they decontextualise into the curriculum. Again, the Language of Teaching Learning and Assessment (LTLA) reflects dominating power because knowledge is usually framed by the identities of those who are in a position of power.

This explains the excellent performance of students in Sesotho. Basotho decontextualise Sesotho knowledge into the curriculum. They teach Sesotho to Basotho students in Sesotho and examine them in Sesotho.
Whether one could put similar arguments about LGCSE Sesotho to subjects such as biology, English language, Mathematics, and physical science. In other words, all these subjects proffer foreign knowledge not researched on Basotho students by Basotho scholars. Teachers teach and ECoL assesses in an unfamiliar medium using foreign teaching methods that work elsewhere but are most likely not researched on Basotho learners. The assumption being that if these work in foreign countries, they must work in Lesotho regardless of the context. This practice came with devastating consequences in the past.

ECoL compares student’s grades by their frequencies in schools. But, the utility of the information is questionable. The analyses must highlight strengths and weaknesses to identify topics teachers must focus on. For example, they could include a correlation of students’ performances by schools and districts.
Sesotho’s pass rate was not a coincidence. There is something good that takes place in Sesotho. The something that other subjects must learn from. The explanation lies in both Bernstein’s pedagogic device and Shulman’s pedagogic content knowledge arguments.

Sesotho is the mother tongue of about 95% of Basotho. Therefore, learners are familiar with the words. They explain their experiences best in Sesotho. However, a challenge arises when a Mosotho student is asked to explain these experiences in English. Many English words are unfamiliar to the students.
I explored Basotho children’s ideas about some science concepts in Lesotho’s two official languages in 1990. I asked high school students questions about concepts in heat and evaporation in English and Sesotho. Half of the students answered the questions in English, the medium of instruction, while the remainder answered the same questions in Sesotho, their everyday language. Students who responded in Sesotho gave their answers concerning their daily experiences. In contrast, those who answered in English gave their responses about their classroom experiences.

This finding helped me to understand why my best school teacher, Mrs ‘M’aseabane Ntšekhe, made classroom science our everyday experiences that we, students, could relate to. Mrs Ntšekhe’s ‘knack’ was in pushing students to relate to abstract concepts that she taught. In doing so, she turned classroom experiences into students’ everyday experiences that they relate to. Science concepts became things that we talk about outside the classroom. She made students ‘own’ the science knowledge. To achieve this, she had to master both the science content she taught and the teaching practices she engaged in in the classroom. She helped her students relate complex and often remote science knowledge to their real-life experiences.
Lesotho must rethink its curriculum and examination board choices.

The history of school education in Lesotho reveals that colonial education goals were not towards the development of Lesotho. Yet, we adopted the curriculum together with their examination board. This curriculum system does not serve Basotho. It portrays Basotho children as underachievers who are unteachable. Yet, the same children perform desirably in Sesotho.
A missing link to Lesotho’s education system is accountability. Many blame the 2010 Education Act and the unionisation of teachers. But the Act and the unions help professionalise teaching. They cannot stand in the way of accountability. Derelict schools and teachers must not be allowed to shirk their responsibilities and blame others. The government and the public are uninterested in the outcomes of the LGCSE results.

The government must hold schools accountable for their LGSCE results each year through the schools’ secretariat. Principals must provide evidence of their endeavours to arrest the awkward predicament in schools. Yes, schools must avoid a case where they provide medicine after death. Instead, schools must anticipate challenges before the harm happens from historical information like past results and school records.
Then, once they have identified the challenges, they must prepare structured programmes to remedy the predicament of dismal performances at public examinations such as the LGCSE. In this way, chronic underperformers will be forced to think outside the box and improve. Schools must not set up Basotho children for failure.

At the same time, the MoET, through schools’ secretariats, must engage in performance management agreements with schools’ management and staff. Such contracts must fall within the MoET’s and teaching regulations. They must be set to improve schools’ effectiveness and efficiency. But, where there is no evidence of improvement, heads must roll. Unfortunately, one finds himself using such dramatic metaphors. But I cannot find a better one that befits the desperate predicament that the Lesotho education system is in.

Several lessons emerge from these outcomes. First, the ECoL report and the Minister’s press release emphasised students obtaining grades A* and A. It says little about the overall performance in the LGCSE. This misplaced emphasis distorts reality and impacts policy decisions that need to take place. ECoL must devote their efforts to analysis that inform policy.
The MoET adopted a colonial curriculum and examination system, accredited by Cambridge International Examinations. However, the intentions of this foreign curriculum and its examination syndicate may not be compatible with Lesotho’s developmental needs and SDGs.

Sesotho is not the best achieving core subject by coincidence. Stakeholders need to understand the qualities that the Sesotho curriculum has over the other subjects. The stakeholders, especially teacher training institutions, teachers and their unions, must then use these attributes to influence quality curriculum experiences for the other subjects. Education policy decisions must be local research-based.

ECoL analyses individual items by subjects and describes students’ performances for each. This is significant in that schools may plan on how to address the challenges while building on strengths. However, a concern would be that these reports must reach the relevant stakeholders in time to enable planning for the next group of students.
This article shows that the weakest link to Lesotho’s LGCSE curriculum endeavours is the lack of accountability. The indifferent response to the Ministerial LGCSE results’ announcement is a cause for alarm. But accountability comes with interest that authorities display in their investment in education. The government must show interest in developing the crucial asset of the country – the human resources. Accordingly, accountability through performance management is the only way that schools may account responsibly.

In conclusion, the indifferent response by the authorities in LGCSE results paints an ugly picture about Lesotho’s education system support. Lesotho is a developing country that needs to invest in human resource development to attain its millennium development targets. Yet, those in authority pay no attention to the educational outcomes. Consequently, Lesotho remains underdeveloped, impoverished and entirely dependent on foreign handouts.

Dr Tholang Maqutu

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