The lost generation

The lost generation

…..Ministry to assess Covid carnage in education….

MASERU-THE combination of Covid-19 and a long running teachers’ strike has been deadly on Basotho children, with the impact on the quality of education likely to be felt for years to come.

The strike initially kicked off in 2018 to force the government to address teachers’ long-standing demands for an improvement in the career and salary structure as well as better working conditions.
They only called off the strike two after the government promised to address their grievances.

Just as authorities thought the end of the strike was an opportunity to rebuild the education sector, the Covid-19 crisis emerged and schools were forced to close around March 2020.
According to Basic Education Principal Secretary, Dr Lira Khama, he said they haven’t compiled a report yet to ascertain the depth of the carnage, but “it is obvious that quality was affected”.

He said the strike and the pandemic led to failure to cover content “but that doesn’t mean children should be denied an opportunity to proceed to the next class because they were not assessed”.
“Children ought to be equipped with all that is needed and teachers should ensure that they understand the content. Those struggling should be assisted until they manage so that they will all be given automatic promotion,” he said.

“Promoting them is for their benefit, we don’t want to humiliate them or put them in a state that they won’t be able to learn,” Dr Khama said.
Dr Khama said though research was yet to be conducted, “it is clear that children were left behind”.
“We suspect that’s the case… they didn’t get enough education, there were so many gaps. We plan to assist those admitted in universities with bridging programmes,” he said.

He said they also planned to form a committee in the ministry to help establish the readiness of schools in responding to crises that may unfold from time to time.
“We want to stay alert so that history will not repeat itself,” he said.
Lesotho Association of Teachers (LAT) Secretary General Letsatsi Ntsibolane described the situation as “bad”.

He said though the PSLE no longer has examinations in place, formative assessment was never conducted.
“The quality would be determined by the assessment we make and for us to say a learner deserves to be at a certain level, assessment should be done. If there was no assessment, what do you expect? Nothing like quality,” he said, warning that this could have led to many children dropping out of school when classes resumed.

He said the impact could be felt in the long run, and cannot be measured by the pass rates.
“The pass mark can be reduced (but) once the standard is reduced then it means we are talking about half-baked products.”
He said one major recommendation from his association is for the government to improve salaries and working conditions for teachers to motivate them to work hard at a time their services are needed the most.
He also called for the employment of more temporary/assistant teachers to boost manpower levels.

“We will be spreading children in school hence we need more people to teach those in tents. Quality will never be reached if learners continue to go to school in shifts. We already had problems and if this persists then we shouldn’t expect any improved quality.”
The Deputy President of the Lesotho Teachers Trade Union (LTTU), Letampu Mafaesa, said the outbreak of Covid-19 affected plans by teachers to bridge the gap caused by the strike.
“We are still behind in online learning, if we could engage more of it then it would be easier to close the gap,” Mafaesa said.

Bereng High School Deputy Principal, Habasheane Makhate, said the major impact was on content coverage.
“It was worse for externals as they were learning under pressure, getting too much information in a short space of time as we were trying to cover the syllabus before the start of examinations,” she said.
She said the delay still continues because of the shift system.

“It will still be difficult considering that we are dealing with children. We will keep giving them too much information without allowing them time to understand.”
“But we will try to give them assignments to work on though we won’t be able to closely monitor them, which is key. We need help from their caregivers,” she said.

St James High School Principal ‘Masetho Matalasi said the quality of education has been severely affected as the syllabus was not adequately covered during both the strike and Covid-19 pandemic.
She said it could be “very helpful to both children and teachers” to shorten the syllabus.
“It will make a huge difference,” she said.
However, she said asking learners to attend classes for three days a week would still be a challenge.

There are some slow learners who need a lot of time to catch up to learn, she said.
She said the ministry tried to shorten some topics, but parents and caregivers have become vital to ensure that children continue to learn and carry out assignments at home.

“Relying on a teacher only doesn’t help learners anymore. Parents and caregivers should help out on the days children stay at home. Not all parents know how to read but they can encourage and ensure that their children read as it can make a difference,” she said.
Holy Names High School Teacher, Lipalesa Ramarou, said the quality of education has drastically gone down as focus is shifted to just ensuring that children proceed to the next class.
“We teach Grade 8 but they don’t even know how to write their names or read,” she said.

“We are expected to finish the syllabus but instead of teaching our concepts we end up teaching them what they should have learnt in primary school and that is not our job. It is even more difficult to cover the syllabus as focus is shifted. It is a burden,” she said.
She said students attending public schools suffer most compared to those in private schools.
“They returned clueless,” she said.

She urged the government to fulfill its promise to hire teachers to assist during the crisis to help with bridging the gap of the syllabus.
“The question remains, how will we bridge the gap when dealing with people who don’t know how to read and write? If we had assistants, they would identify such students and teach them separately,” she said.
‘Mamoliehi Ramautu, a teacher at Mokoallong Government Primary School, said the issue of slow learners was a big concern.

“They can neither read nor write on their own though they would have proceeded to the next class. They will be so confused that we end up taking longer than the expected time on a topic.”
She said lack of adequate classrooms is another huge challenge.
Teacher ‘Maferete Sebatli of Mohale’s Hoek LECSA Primary School said reduction in school attendance time has taken a toll on learners.

She said current grade 8 students are almost at the same level as standard 4 learners as their education has been affected since 2018 when teachers went on strike.
“We need teachers and it is a major problem,” she said stating that at her school, only 21 teachers are in charge of about 1 000 pupils. Some teachers have class sizes of up to 90 students.
“They are burdened,” she said.

’Mapule Motsopa

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