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Teaching education free of knowledge

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Napoleon Hill, an American author and high-performance and personal development researcher, proclaims that everything worthwhile in this world has a price. Otherwise, one will get a fake resembling it. In other words, if education is worth its mantle and the effort, it must have a price.

In 2016, in South Africa, higher education pupils started what later became known as the ‘Fees Must Fall Movement’. The movement also demanded universities to offer free decolonised curricula. A Kenyan scholar and political activist, Professor Lumumba, cautioned that ‘free decolonised curricula’ could be translated into ‘education free of knowledge’.

Lumumba describes education as the key to opening the doors to prosperity. Education is supposed to help African nations overcome disease, poverty and ignorance. But a harsh reality for our country is that Lesotho has not eradicated these challenges. Although some still want to argue that education is an equaliser that equalises people from different economic backgrounds, this remains an illusion in Lesotho. Yes, it is a dream, an opium to lure votes!
As I write this article, a friend sends a clip of Obiageli Ezkwesili lambasting African leaders about the urgent need for Africa to change. Ezkwesili couldn’t be more relevant to this article. Ezkwesili is a Nigerian economic policy expert, a humanitarian and an activist. She points out that the African education system should prepare young people for the world of Artificial Intelligence, robotics, internet and blockchain technology ecosystems. Unfortunately, this world is totally off the education system that our country offers young people. According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), only 10% of the people entering the labour market worldwide find decent jobs. Politicians must review governance failure to enact policies leading to diversified inclusive growth.
The ‘haves’, the elitists, send their children to private education outside Lesotho. The general public sends their children to poorly maintained public-run schools. The lack of resources and teacher union strikes riddle the public school system. The quality of education in these schools is shambolic. Consequently, the economic divide nullifies the wishful thinking that education is an equaliser. It equalises the poor to the poor and the rich and privileged to themselves. It is discriminatory.
Governments and scholars argue that education opens many doors. It prepares pupils for tomorrow. However, the fact that over 4000 higher education graduates across the fields and disciplines could not find employment in 2014 is worrisome. This figure is increasing all the time. Most new graduates do not find work every year. Those who find jobs are underpaid. They take anything that comes their way.
These statistics confirm the tragedy that higher education graduates face. The days when graduates were guaranteed employment are over. Holding placards in the streets demanding work will not help these graduates. The world is now looking for another kind of product. It is looking for inventors and innovators. Based on this observation and the title I have given this article, I propose a way in which education can equip graduates for the future in line with its initial mission, at least for African nations. I do not suggest loading additional subjects into the school curriculum.
Scholars advocate for incorporating entrepreneurship into the curriculum. The Ministry of Education and Training (MoET) yielded to calls for including entrepreneurship in school curricula to reduce unemployment. The calls say entrepreneurship must be core to higher education institutions’ curricula. Lesotho has already incorporated it into the school system. Yet, today, unemployment, including that of graduates, continues to skyrocket. Also, there is no evidence corroborating that adding entrepreneurship to the curriculum reduces the unemployment of graduates.
In the meantime, MOET introduced another innovation. It brought Life Skills Based Sexuality Education (LSBSE) into secondary school education. LSBSE prepares secondary school learners to make decisions and informed choices about their sexual lives as they transition from childhood to adulthood. LSBSE curriculum explores identity and values, human rights, gender-based violence and abuse, sexuality, HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted infections, substance abuse, and chronologic child development.
The focus of LSBSE is on health and awareness education. It does not address their achievement, development and growth in the 21st century, the 4th Industrial Revolution and beyond. I believe that this is a serious omission.
The MoET introduced Entrepreneurial Skills and LSBSE as examinable subjects. All school subjects are examinable. If not, parents will not pay for them. Hill cautions that the things you give away absolutely free people usually value about as much as they pay for them. At the same time, pupils do not take it seriously. Parents do not realise they have already paid for their children’s minds’ growth. The school system short-changes them. Yet, education and knowledge carry a monetary value in a schooling system. Parents do not receive their money-worth service from the present schooling system.
Education must cease to be about examinations and paper qualifications only. School education must serve its purpose, viz., child development. A Mosotho child must be at the core of school education.
Lesotho’s introduction of LSBSE is fantastic. I support it. But, LSBSE addresses a specific societal problem. It is not enough. For instance, it does not provide for a whole child and personality development and growth. These traits develop outside the formal school curriculum. The school does not teach child development. Child development is the dogma of school education. School and examination systems put too much emphasis on cognitive and conceptual development.
Moreover, a challenge for the subjects LSBSE and Entrepreneurial Skills is that they are school subjects. Like all subjects, they have examinations. Pupils treat these subjects in isolation. As a result, pupils do not apply the knowledge or skills from these subjects in their lives.
My editor warned me to stop using academic jargon, ‘-isms and things’. But now and then, one is forced to do just that. For example, elsewhere, I showed that the word education derives from the Latin educare, meaning to draw out, or to develop from within. The school does not grow the minds of the pupils from within. It fails the pupils and communities. Education must facilitate the realisation of a pupil’s potential or hidden talents.
Mothers are the only people who carry out the task of developing babies from birth. Preschool continues the function of educating children. The problem begins with formal schooling. It is here that schools break knowledge into subjects. School teaches in compartments. Education begins to diminish.
An American Information Technology entrepreneur and philanthropist, Bill Gates, describes pupils as knowledge workers. A knowledge worker works with knowledge. A challenge with the school education is that they ignore child development and knowledge application. This challenge is more visible in countries which use examinations from external examination bodies. They focus on the efficiency of their systems.
I suggest that the MoET and NCDC (National Curriculum Development Centre) introduce compulsory curriculum activities in the school curriculum. For ease of reference, let us call them Fundamentals of Education Activities. I hope compelling schools to carry out these activities would add value. These would be the building blocks on which we will ground our school education. Schools must make these activities thematic. They must present them in a manner that different subject teachers would be able to extend the activities in their subjects. There must be collaboration and team teaching in the schools. Teachers across the subjects must plan together.
However, like any sporting activity, any school can implement these activities without the authorisation of MoET. Schools can decide at a local level. But, it would be critical that they involve parents in the decision.
The starting point for any achievement is a definite purpose. So, the Fundamentals of Education’s activities must help pupils focus on this purpose until they develop a burning desire to learn. When pupils are determined to accomplish this end, they will keep on, regardless of the setbacks. They must see themselves in possession of things they aspire for. In this way, they will cultivate faith. So, stumbling blocks are stepping stones to success. Pupils learn not to quit at the first adversity. Setbacks are tests. Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, the mind can achieve.
A precious gift available to people and no other living thing is the ability to control one’s mind. Other creatures work by instinct. But people can direct their minds to any end they please. They can choose. They have imagination. Schooling neglects this marvellous gift. Fundamentals of Education activities will guide pupils in optimising this privilege. Pupils will use their minds beyond the regurgitation they have in school examinations.
Our neighbour, South Africa, offers Life Orientation (LO) as a subject. South Africa does not examine the LO formally. However, its assessment is internal by individual schools. I see two challenges here. Firstly, some universities recognise the LO mark as a criterion for admission. But, the majority of pupils do not take it seriously. Secondly, it locates its marks to a subject. Consequently, pupils do not use their LO knowledge across the curriculum.
Scholars recommend adding Life Skills to the school curriculum. South Africa includes it as a credit-bearing subject. The bulk of the Fundamental Education activities would fall under Life Skills. MoET defines Life Skills as: “… those basic personal, psychological and social competencies that allow us to live effectively and constructively with ourselves and others in society.” (sic). On the other hand, the World Health Organisation (WHO) defines Life skills as the abilities for adaptive and positive behaviour that enable individuals to deal effectively with the demands and challenges of everyday life. In their study on the Significance of Life Skills Education, a team of scholars led by Prajapat found that life skill education is significant in the overall development of pupils. It is a supportive system for adolescents.
I am deliberately not referring to Fundamentals of Education activities as a subject. I do not want schools to label them as subjects because that might defeat the purpose of spreading knowledge and skills across the curriculum. The activities are for a pupil’s holistic growth and development.
The Fundamentals of Education activities would include entrepreneurial skills. However, the activities will teach high performance, personal achievement, development and growth. I am not advocating for stretching the school curriculum. I am, nevertheless, suggesting a practice that complements the school curriculum. The material must develop a pupil fully.
Presently, school education does not empower pupils. For example, pupils cannot use school knowledge to gain work. The activities must help pupils achieve their success by organising and directing knowledge through practical plans for action as a definite end. Schools must teach pupils to structure knowledge into clear plans. Pupils must direct their targets toward a definite purpose. Thus, knowledge is power only if pupils can organise it into definitive outcomes. Fundamentals of Education activities will help pupils to organise their knowledge for a definite purpose.
The assessment of these activities will be on what the pupils can do after completing their studies. Pupils’ application of their application will be holistic.
All teachers must take part in these activities. Team teaching and collaborative learning must prevail. It involves pupils working together on activities in a group to ensure that everyone participates. Pupils learn as a group.
Entrepreneurial skills include leadership, business management, time management, creative thinking and problem-solving. The knowledge transfer and application apply to any school subject or university. The skills apply to many industries. Entrepreneur skills promote innovation, business growth and competitiveness. Developing these skills requires the development of associated skills as well. For example, to be a successful entrepreneur, one must possess risk-taking skills and sharpen business management skills.
My suggestion is not new to schooling. Extramural activities exist in schools. They are often in sports form. Schools also had debates and some social clubs, as well. Schools must substitute some sporting activities with personal and entrepreneurial skills development activities. Schools would then put the activities in their regular timetables.
In closing, this article uses the South Africa and Lesotho education plight to discuss the education crisis in Lesotho. Education does not prepare pupils for the modern demands of the 4th Industrial Revolution. I suggest that part of the challenge is the schooling system that relies on the efficiency of the external examination system. The subject system compounds the already dire situation. The education system is free of knowledge, disempowering pupils.
Lesotho is seeking solutions to the crisis the wrong way. Each time there is a demand, the government adds a subject. I gave examples of LSBSE and Entrepreneurship Skills. Instead, the government must consider complementing the curriculum by timetabling social life skills activities. These activities must address high performance and personal achievement, development and growth. I listed the advantages of taking this route to school education. Also, I recommend team teaching and cooperative learning. Teachers must co-opt and integrate the concepts and skills into their subjects.
The innovation that the article suggests is not new to schooling. It is an adaptation of practices that already exist in the schooling system. Firstly, it takes some time from extramural activities and formalises into a formal school timetable. Secondly, it promotes structured team planning and teaching on one side and collaborative learning on the other. It encourages teachers to integrate knowledge across school subjects, thus diminishing the artificial subject boundaries and delineations.
In conclusion, adversities continue to haunt the education sector. However, all problems have solutions. Lesotho must learn from its problems. So, they must get on the straight and narrow route. The MoET must work hard to turn the lives of pupils around. Knowledge must transcend the school subjects and examinations. The MoET must not load the already oversubscribed school curriculum.
Paraphrasing Hill: ‘Every adversity, every defeat, every setback, every failure, every heartache, every disagreeable circumstance that one may experience, carries within itself the seed of an equivalent or better benefit’. The Fundamentals of Education activities would enable schools to add knowledge to schooling. Winners never quit, and quitters never win.
Dr Tholang Maqutu

 

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Insight

We need a coordinated approach on youth challenges

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For a number of good reasons, all of us are concerned about problems that face Lesotho’s young people, particularly youth unemployment, and the increasing tendency towards anti-social behaviour among sections of Lesotho youth including their increasing admiration for criminality.

Not only do members of such groups admire criminality and actually commit crimes but they commit crimes without much care as to the harm and other costs that their actions inflict on immediate victims and on society-at-large.

Evidence of public concern about these problems includes the fact that within society individuals, groups and public and private institutions have all expressed concerns over problems facing the youth, with some of these parties making attempts to come up with ideas and measures to assist.

However, a number of problems seem to be emerging on, at least, three fronts. Firstly, a seeming lack of coordination in addressing problems that face young people. Secondly, lack of clarity on questions of whether (a) parties that seek to assist are basing their interventions on credibly identified sources of problems that face young people; and (b) whether any credible assessments are made to ensure that interventions such parties are proposing and implementing have potential to solve problems that face Lesotho’s young people.

There are many examples of what may seem to us, members of the general public, to be lack of coordination in approaches to solve problems facing young people. One such example may be sufficient. On January 8, 2024, Lesotho TV broadcast a statement in which the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) authorities announced establishment of some army facility where Basotho young people would be taught some values, including patriotism.

The very next day, on January 9, 2024, Lesotho TV broadcast another statement, this time by the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) authorities, announcing the LMPS’s plan to establish a police facility at which young people would be taught anti-crime and other values. In their essence, the LMPS’s plan sounded not totally dissimilar to LDF’s.
Apart from the LDF and LMPS’s plans for Lesotho’s youth, there are also public and private sector initiatives to nurture and support entrepreneurial talents of Lesotho’s youth with a view, among others, to fight youth unemployment and develop the country’s private sector.

Politicians have also been seen to sponsor football games for young people in their constituencies with a view, they say, to keep young people from crime and narcotics. These events cannot be criticised too much but given that they are one, or two-day events that take place during specific times, they look more like publicity stunts.

National sports federations are now complaining that politicians who sponsor these events put too much stress on sports as a means to fight crime. What federations want is that, if politicians want to help, they should stress the importance of sports as careers, and sponsor young people to develop their sporting talents accordingly.

Amidst expressions of concerns and various parties’ attempts to address problems facing Lesotho youth, public authorities that we have not heard from, or from who we do not hear enough, are those charged with responsibilities over precisely problems facing young people; that is, authorities at the Ministry of Youth.

Admittedly, we do not know if the initiatives of the LDF, LMPS, and others are carried out in consultation with or with the blessing of the Ministry of Youth.

The worry ought to be not only whether interventions of the LDF, LMPS, and others have the blessings of the Ministry of Youth. Instead, the worry should extend to the question of whether the Ministry has any national plan to address problems facing young people. And, if such a plan exists, we would expect that it identifies the LDF and LMPS as places where young place can be coached; and initiatives of these and other institutions would align with such a plan.

Without an identification of the army and the police as implementing agencies of the Ministry’s plan, and without the army and police’s initiatives alignment with the Ministry’s plan, at least two things are likely to result: duplication of effort — as seems to be the case with the LDF and LPMS plans; or, at worst, LDF and LMPS plans might contradict and undermine national plans entrusted to the Ministry of Youth.

In the worst case scenario that a national plan does not exist, we face the danger that anybody wishing to address problems facing Lesotho’s young people can do so, basing herself, or himself on a personal or group perception, and implementing plans and solutions based on such perception.

As in the case of too many people stirring the same cooking pot without coordination, undesirable consequences can be expected from a situation where just about anybody can apply a solution to a public problem.

As hinted above, a good national plan aimed at addressing problems that face Lesotho’s young people would have two characteristics, at least. First, it would be based on our assertion of the kind of society we want to be; an investigation of problems that stand in the way of achieving such a society; how such problems can be overcome, say, through school curricula; and how, in general, from Early Childhood Care & Development (ECCD), young people can be brought up and socialised in ways that ensure they will be useful members of a society we wish to be.

Any action that is not based on an investigation of the problems that stand in the way of achieving a society we want to be has little chances of success. Such action would be based on some understanding that the young who are anti-social, unpatriotic and criminals are naturally bad people.

It is, of course, not as simple as that. For example, one possible explanation for the absence of patriotism among young people may have something to do with socio-economic inequality in Lesotho: those who are closed out of, and excluded from, benefiting from Lesotho’s wealth and power cannot be expected to be patriots.

A second characteristic of a plan aimed at addressing problems that face Lesotho’s young people is that, such a plan should identify and/or establish institutions designed — and with appropriate skills — to implement ideas and proposals that come out of credible investigations.

It is unclear whether the LDF and LMPS plans have resulted from something like considerations suggested above. While it is admitted that these institutions’ initiatives are limited to addressing problems of lack of patriotism and criminality among the young people, one clear problem with their plans and solutions is that, it might be the case that they are catching young people a little late, when schooling and general socialisation have already entrenched anti-social values that we see among sections of young people; namely, individualism and the inability to think of others.

In one word, these institutions catch these young people when tendencies towards criminality, anti-social behaviour, and lack of patriotism might have already hardened.
Perhaps the biggest hope we should have is that the army and the police will have full complement of resources necessary for providing full and wholesome mentoring to young people who undergo army and police mentoring.

Short of adequate resources necessary for achieving what the army and the police have in mind, we might end up with cohorts of young people with a faulty army and police culture that may come back to haunt us. Inserting a faulty army culture among a section of young people brought us bitter results in the 1970s and 1980s that should not be repeated.

To conclude, no one can argue against all of us being concerned with problems of youth unemployment; increasing tendencies of young people’s admiration of criminality and their participation in crime. And no one can argue against all of us coming up with ideas and proposals of how to address these problems.

However, our concerns and proposals ought to be based on:
a nationally-agreed assertion of society we want to be;
a credible investigation of difficulties that stand in the way of us becoming society we want to be;

and coordination of proposals and ideas aimed at becoming society we want to be.

As with other specific instances of socio-economic development in Lesotho, problems facing the country’s young people cry out for the long-neglected establishment of the National Planning Board, as prescribed in Section 105 of the Constitution of Lesotho.

Prof Motlatsi Thabane

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Insight

Call that a muffin?

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In Oscar Wilde’s short story “The Canterville Ghost” (1887) one of the characters says about the British, “We have everything in common with America nowadays except, of course, language.” Between American English and British English there are many, many differences. Which is not to say that either American or British English are standardised; there are multiple varieties within each. As a south-western Brit I can find it difficult to fully understand what someone from Liverpool or Newcastle is saying.

I remember one year during the NUL’s International Theatre for Development project we had a student from the islands of Scotland. She was brilliant and hard-working and full of good ideas — if only one could understand the ideas when she introduced them. The NUL students grouped together and asked me: “Chris, can you translate what Kirsty is saying for us?” and I replied: “I’m as lost as you are.”

Between American and British English it’s not just a matter of pronunciation but also of vocabulary (I’ll be coming to muffins — see the title of this piece — in a while) and spelling.
In the biographical film Prick Up Your Ears British, dramatist Joe Orton shares a room with Ken Halliwell and they decide to write a novel together. Ken asks Joe “can you spell?” and Joe replies “yes, but not accurately.”

This is hardly a surprise, given that he’s a Brit. The American spelling system is far more regular and rational than the British. (Readers with laptops will have noticed that your spell-check gives the option of British or American spelling, but that doesn’t help you as in Lesotho the British system is used, so for the time being you’re stuck with it).

I mean, what can you say about a spelling system where “plough” rhymes with “now”, but “tough” rhymes with “stuff”– and “now” doesn’t rhyme with “low.” Yipes (as the Americans say). When I was lecturing in Lesotho and in Nigeria and marking assignments I was always very lenient over spelling, because I know what a mountain it is to climb (the latter word rhyming with “time”, of course).

Then there is the matter of vocabulary or denotation (a term I hope readers remember from a few weeks back). There are many examples of things that are denoted by different words in British and American English: lift / elevator; pavement / sidewalk; windscreen / windshield; petrol / gas; cinema / movie theater (and look at the American spelling of (Brit) “theatre”– a lot easier). And some of these reflect our different histories.

For example, there’s a vegetable, a kind of small marrow, the British call it a courgette (one of my favourite vegetables, in case any of you are planning to invite me for dinner). That’s a word that British English has borrowed directly from French — that is, a loan word (I’m not sure we plan to give it back).

The Americans on the other hand call it a zucchini, a loan word from Italian, which I guess reflects the size and influence of the Italian community in the USA. (Speaking of vegetables, I can’t give you an explanation for why the Brits call an aubergine an aubergine — another loan word from French — but the Americans call it an egg-plant).

Next week I’ll get around to muffins — a sore point — and I’ll move on to differences between English and French and between Sesotho and Setswana. Bet you can’t wait.

Chris Dunton is a former Professor of English and Dean of Humanities at the National University of Lesotho.

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Insight

Lessons from Israel: Part 3

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I shall round off my account of my 1995 trip to Israel by putting on my tour guide cap. Staying in Tel Aviv, most days were fully taken up by the conference, which was my reason for being there. Tel Aviv in July is scorchingly hot, so there were walks along the beach only before breakfast and after sunset. I did take a little time off to go with South African author Stephen Gray to an art gallery that had a painting he wanted to see (a portrait by Modigliani of Beatrice Hastings, whose biography Stephen was then writing).

I wasn’t especially keen on the hotel restaurant, where dinner comprised meat served by the ton (surprisingly little fish, given that we were on the coast. By contrast, I had always been surprised and happy that Maseru restaurants are so good on fish, despite the fact that Lesotho isn’t exactly maritime). But I discovered a little Russian Jewish restaurant that offered Beluga caviar at an amazingly cheap price. I suspect it had fallen off the back of a lorry, as we say in the UK — i.e. that it was contraband, acquired illegally. I just blinked innocently and enjoyed myself. I can’t think of a more delicious way of starting a meal than with caviar, freshly-made blinis and a large glass of deeply chilled Wyberowa vodka — no ice, please. (I only say all this to show you what a very cosmopolitan chap I am).

The conference ran to a packed schedule and we worked hard (no, really). Half-way through we were given a day off and taken to Jerusalem. On arrival I teamed up with an old Nigerian friend and a friend of his from Senegal and we took ourselves first to the Dome of the Rock, the main mosque, which is splendid and radiant (wow, the mosaics!) Then we saw the Wailing Wall.

Then we trudged up the Via Dolorosa to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The Via marks the route along which Christ was forced to carry his cross on the way to his crucifixion (dolorosa means something like “of miseries”). I had expected it to be lined with sculptures showing the Stations of the Cross (rather like the lovely ones at Fatima, near Ramabanta).

Instead it was one tourist gift shop after another. Here I came across one of the most repugnant things I’ve seen in my life. Proudly displayed for sale, a wall clock with the face adorned with the image of the head of Christ, the two clock hands protruding from his nose.

At the top of the Via Dolorosa, the fourth century Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the holiest site in the world for Christians, which is breathtakingly beautiful. The interior is (not visibly) divided into sections, the upkeep of each of which is the responsibility of one of the major denominations: Roman Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, Greek Orthodox, Egyptian Coptic, and so on. I had had the impression this was an arrangement worked out under the colonial regime of British Palestine, but Google tells me it dates back to the Status Quo of 1757.

My companions had done their homework and suggested we head first for the roof, which had been allocated to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church (dare one possibly suggest a tinge of racism in this marginalisation?). There we found a cluster of monkish cells, each inhabited by an elderly Ethiopian monk, at least two of whom spoke English or French. They were delighted to see us, and utterly sweet, hospitable, and in their accounts of their pastoral work spellbinding.

To be concluded

Chris Dunton

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