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Getting education sector back on track

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Pitseng – When ’Matsebo Khotlolo, the principal of Pitseng Primary School in Leribe, heard that there had been an outbreak of Covid-19, a deadly, highly infectious disease, she did not know how to deal with it.

She had never dealt with a pandemic of this magnitude before and everything was new to her. It was no surprise that she soon went into a state of panic.

Her biggest fear at that moment was how was she going to keep the over 1 108 pupils at her school safe and learning. With Covid-19 cases on the rise, particularly in the Leribe district, the government responded by shutting down schools.

“When the school was closed, it was hard for us to teach the children because most of them did not have any smart or mobile phones,” Khotlolo says.

“We had very few children who had mobile phones and even those ones complained that they did not have enough data.”

With schools closed, and without access to mobile phones, the education process in Leribe came to a complete standstill.

This was unprecedented for the education sector. It was a situation that demanded a new, fresh approach to get the education system back on track.

And when schools were eventually re-opened a year later, there were still restrictions on social distancing that meant they could not accommodate every student in class.

Khotlolo says her school introduced the shift system that saw classes being split into two groups that would alternate to come to school in a week. Others would come on Monday, Wednesday and

Friday while the other group would only come in on Tuesday and Thursday.

“When we introduced the shifts we also trained the parents so that they could help the learners with their assignments,” she says.

“We maintained social distancing when they were sitting in classrooms.”

But even after introducing the shift system, Khotlolo always wondered how they were going to ensure that the students would catch up on lost learning time.

To deal with the challenge, the Ministry of Education came up with an “accelerated curriculum” to get the pupils back on track. It was a timely intervention that helped the school recover lost learning time.

Khotlolo says they also made use of self-learning materials that were designed by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

“They (learner packs) were very helpful,” she says.

She says bringing the pupils back to the right level of learning was a “hectic” process.

“We were supposed to teach the children from the previous level of learning to the next one. But we had very limited time to do so. It meant more work for the children which was very frustrating.”

Khotlolo says UNICEF also provided them with masks and hand-washing facilities which helped promote basic hygiene at the school.

“Instead of running to the wells in the village, the learners were now able to wash their hands as much as possible at school, which saved time,” she says.

“The wearing of masks made us feel comfortable because even if someone was infected, there was a (small) chance of infection when they had their masks on. That reduced our fear of the disease,” she says.

“UNICEF also trained the teachers in the Wash Club. The club is still active. We have ‘ministers’ who are responsible for various activities like food security, hygiene and environment. It is encouraging to see the children taking up leadership roles and doing some of these things on their own,” she says.

“It is now a culture that before they eat, they wash their hands. When they return from the toilets, they also wash their hands, unlike before when they wouldn’t do so.”

Khamara Mosiuoa who teaches Grade 5 at Pitseng Primary School says they had to adjust immediately to ensure safety at the school.

“It was not easy but we had to continue teaching. We had to protect ourselves by wearing masks and washing our hands regularly,” he says.

“We also got tippy-taps so that our pupils could wash their hands with running water for at least 20 seconds.”

Mosiuoa says the issue of shifts had a negative impact on the learning process.

“They would come to class today and the following day they would be home. That negatively affected them. We had a lot of absenteeism and it was very difficult to manage the pupils’ progress,” he says.

Ntene Relebohile teaches the Grade 7 class at Pitseng Primary School. He says Covid-19 affected “us mentally, spiritually and educationally”.

“We did not know what this Covid-19 is and so we did not know how to behave (to keep ourselves safe),” he says.

The shifts meant that the “teaching process was at a low because when you teach a child today, that particular child would not be in class tomorrow”.

“That affected the learning process badly,” he says.

Others eventually dropped out of school completely, he says. Out of the 1 108 students at Pitseng, 214 dropped out during the Covid-19 pandemic, according to the school principal.

Relebohile says the community learning centres which were introduced during the pandemic proved very helpful to get the learning process back on track.

“These learning centres had three pillars. They were the contact teacher, facilitator and the learners. The project brought tangible innovations and accomplished a lot. Since teaching and learning were low, the learning centres were extremely instrumental,” he says.

He says there was a lot of learning that went on at the learning centres which were set up in the villages when the schools were closed.

“These learning centres were introduced by UNICEF. I was appointed as a contact teacher there. We worked closely with the facilitators to ensure that learning continued,” he says.

“The learners managed to do their assignments at the learning centres and acquired the necessary skills in numeracy and literacy.”

He says the beauty about the programme was that “even those who were not in schools were still in a classroom situation”.

The only problem, he says, is that there was a lot of congestion at the learning centres where most would meet in a single rondavel.  The fact that all grades would meet in a single room also presented its own set of challenges, he says.

But overall, Relebohile says the centre did a lot of good under what were extremely difficult circumstances.

Staff Reporter

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Mahao, PS in big fight

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PRIME Minister Sam Matekane this week summoned the Basotho Action Party (BAP) executive committee in a bid to defuse simmering tensions within the party.
This comes amid fears that Professor Nqosa Mahao’s fallout with his principal secretary at the Ministry of Energy, Tankiso Phapano, could threaten the unity in the BAP and the government’s stability.

thepost can reveal that Mahao has hinted that he would resign if Matekane doesn’t fire or reassign Phapano.

But there are strong indications that Mahao doesn’t enjoy the backing of his executive committee and MPs in his fight with Phapano.

Inside sources this week told thepost that some members of the BAP’s executive committee and MPs are openly siding with Phapano and have been secretly lobbying Matekane to reshuffle Mahao from the Ministry of Energy to Sports.

A source said Mahao is aware of these manoeuvres, including a clandestine meeting in Maputsoe, and has said he would rather resign than be the subject of a humiliating reshuffle instigated by people he leads.

The source of the bad blood between Mahao and Phapano is not clear but it is understood that they have disagreed over tenders and the ministry’s direction.

The source said Matekane was first briefed of the running battles at the ministry some three weeks ago just as matters were coming to a head.

It is the second briefing which revealed a complete breakdown in the relationship that triggered Matekane’s meeting with the BAP’s executive committee and MPs on Monday.

Three people who were in that meeting said Matekane told the BAP officials to deal with the crisis before it affected the ministry and threatened the coalition government’s stability.

The BAP’s executive committee, including MPs and Mahao, then had a marathon meeting to discuss ways to make peace between Mahao and Phapano.

A source who was in that meeting said “it was clear to Mahao that the majority of the committee and the MPs were on Phapano’s side”.

“Mahao quickly realised that he did not have the backing of the majority and took a conciliatory approach. It was clear that the committee would rather have him resign than get Phapano removed from the ministry,” the source said.

“In the past Mahao had flatly refused to reconcile with Phapano because of seniority. But this time he appeared to be open to a meeting to discuss reconciliation.”

Both Mahao and Phapano told thepost last night that their relationship was still cordial. ‘“We are still in good books with Phapano until further notice,” Mahao said.

“However, we cannot predict the future.”

Mahao denied ever discussing Phapano’s dismissal or transfer with Matekane.

Phapano also insisted that he was working well with Mahao.

“We are still on good terms,” Phapano said, adding that the allegation that they were fighting was “baseless”.

The fallout between Mahao and Phapano has been quick and spectacular.

The two had been almost inseparable months before Mahao agreed to join the coalition government.

Phapano would use his car to drive Mahao around. They would attend party meetings together. Some party insiders saw Phapano as Mahao’s right-hand man and adviser.

Mahao allegedly strongly pushed for Phapano to be appointed as his principal secretary when he became energy minister.

But sources said Mahao started having second thoughts days after recommending Phapano and tried to get his appointment reversed but it was too late.

A source says within weeks Mahao was telling cabinet colleagues that Phapano had captured the ministry and he was unable to function as the minister.

“He started pushing to oust Phapano within days because they were already clashing. It’s been war from the first days,” said the source.

Staff Reporter

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How chicken import ban hit vendors

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MALESHOANE Pakela used to work at small backyard chicken farms where she was paid with chicken heads, necks, legs, and offals that she would roast and sell to factory workers at the Thetsane Industrial Area.

Her job was to clean and pack chicken.
The profit wasn’t much but just enough for the 37-year-old widow to feed and keep her four children in school.

“It also covered her monthly rental of M150 for a room in Ha-Tsolo Sekoting.

Her life was however shattered last October when the government imposed a ban on chicken imports from South Africa following an outbreak of bird flu.
Without day-old chicks the farms quickly shut down, cutting Pakela’s supply of heads, necks, legs, and offals.
Within a few days, her family was starving.

Pakela had been struggling even for months before the ban. The closure of the factories and retrenchments of thousands of workers has severely hit her sales. She was behind on her rent and could barely feed her children.

The partial lifting of the chicken ban has not helped Pakela because her former employers still cannot import day-old chicks or live birds.
Pakela and a family were kicked out of their rented room in November when their arrears were about M1 000.
She has found another room nearby.

A ‘Good Samaritan’ has allowed her to use a room for free until she can afford the rent. But Pakela says she still feels obliged to pay something because she understands that things are hard for everyone.

“Here the rent is still M150 but the landlord accepts every amount that I give her,” Pakela says.
There are days when her children go to bed hungry.

“I have told them (children) that if I have nothing they should accept (the status).”

She now survives on handouts from neighbours and other well-wishers. Pakela’s poverty is apparent.

Barefoot and holding her small child in a seshoeshoe dress, Pakela says her two children usually go to school without eating.
The other child has dropped out of school because she doesn’t have shoes.

’Mako Lepolesa, 44, who has been running a chesanyama (meat grill) at the Maseru West Industrial Estate since 2018. The father of three says his clients are mainly taxi drivers and factory workers.

Chicken was her main product until last October when the ban was imposed. It wasn’t long before his business started wobbling.

“I thought it would be just a short-lived problem (chicken import ban) but it passed on this year,” he says, adding that it might take months for his business to recover.
Moshe Ramashamole, 42, who also owns a chesanyama in the Maseru West Industrial Estate, tried to remain in business by sourcing chicken from local farmers.

It was a stopgap measure that however lasted a few weeks because the farmers also ran out of stock. He resorted to bad chicken but they were double the price of a full chicken before the ban.
Yet Ramashamole thought he could make it work by increasing the price of his plate from M35 to M55. The customers however resisted the new price and Ramashamole had to take the losses.

The poultry ban did not affect street vendors like Pakela alone.
Former Minister of Communications, Khotso Letsatsi, is one of those poultry farmers struggling following the chicken ban.

He ventured into poultry in January last year. It was an audacious venture that included a M100 000 investment in a shelter and other equipment.
He started with a batch of 300 chicks and had reached 1 000 by the time the ban was imposed.

“The business was lucrative,” Letsatsi says.

“I had to employ two people permanently to assist me on a full-time basis,” he says.

When it was time to slaughter the chickens, Letsatsi says he had to employ seven casual labourers.
Since the ban was imposed he had released all his workers.

“I do not know where they are now. Maybe they are starving,” he says of the workers he released.

Letsatsi doesn’t know how he will revive his business.
The Director of Marketing in the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security (MAFS), Lekhooe Makhate, says the ban has been devastating to farmers and businesses.

“Some big businesses are going to declare less tax to the government because there was no business,” Makhate says.

He says Lesotho spends M2.1 billion on the importation of chicken and its products from South Africa every year.
But that amount usually soars to M4 billion depending on the market forces of demand and supply.

Makhate says the M2.1 billion goes to South Africa where the chicken and its products are imported.

At the height of the scarcity of chickens in the country, Makhate says people were supposed to make initiatives to travel to villages to search for chickens.

“There is not enough production of chickens in the country,” he says.
“Economically speaking we rely on South Africa. We have to be self-reliant.”

Majara Molupe

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Letseng fends off threat to sue

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LETŠENG Diamond says it is under no obligation to advertise jobs for Basotho to provide certain services “where it has the capacity to undertake the same services”.
Letšeng Diamond boss, Motooane Thinyane, was responding to a threat to sue by a little-known political party called Yearn for Economic Sustainability (YES).

Matekane’s company, the Matekane Mining Investment Company (MMIC), had been providing blasting, haulage and drilling services at Letšeng mine since 2005.
The deal with the MMIC was terminated in December last year with the mining company saying it was improper because Matekane had now become a politician.

Letšeng Diamonds announced that it had reached an agreement with the MMIC to acquire its mining equipment at the mine and offered employment to its current employees in line with operational requirements.

“This will enable Letšeng to continue with its mining activities,” the company said in its statement.

This infuriated opposition parties that argued that the mine should have called interested Basotho companies to bid for the contract, saying it is provided for in the Minerals Act of 2005.

The leader of Yearn for Economic Sustainability (YES), Molefi Ntšonyana, wrote the mine last week threatening to sue for allegedly failing to follow section 11 of the Act.
Ntšonyana argued that the Act “does not grant the Letšeng Diamond 100 percent to mine with its good own equipment” but it should engage Basotho companies like it did with the MMIC.

Ntšonyana said Letšeng Diamond and the MMIC made the agreement to acquire the MMIC equipment so that the mine could continue with its mining activities “without any advertisement to seek qualified Basotho to provide such services”.

Ntšonyana said the agreement unilaterally denied Basotho a chance to tender for such services and ignored the fact that the government of Lesotho on behalf of Basotho own 30 percent in the Letšeng Diamond.

“It is advisable to reconsider your decision,” Ntšonyana said, adding that they would also write to the mining board requesting the resolution they made regarding this matter of insourcing mining activities.

He said the company should adhere to section 11 of the Mines and Minerals Act of 2005 and within 14 working days the matter should be reconsidered, “failing which we will have no choice but to drag the company to the courts of law”.

In his response, Thinyane said Ntšonyana must “revisit the section in question in full for its correct interpretation”.

“Letšeng Diamond is under no obligation to advertise to seek qualified Basotho to provide services where it is willing and has the capacity to undertake the same services,” Thinyane said.

He said the decision relating to the agreement referred to has been through the necessary governance structures and is therefore procedural.
Thinyane said Letšeng is a corporate citizen that is fully compliant with the laws of Lesotho.

Majara Molupe

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