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Bringing the spark back to schools

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Let your light shine. These are the words that enshrine the motto of my alma mater, Peka High School. Unfortunately, the light of this great school has ceased to shine. The school ridicules this motto. It is a hollow shadow of what it was in its formative years – the 1960s to early 1970s. Peka High School of those yesteryears was the pride of the nation.

Many remember with pride, when we donned the green blazer with a gold badge with a motto: ‘Luceat Lux Vestra’ inscribed in red. The Wednesday morning assemblies when our former music master and geography teacher, Ntate Mampa, led us in the hymn: ‘All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name’, were a marvel.
Peka High School is an outgrowth of the former Basutoland Training College of the Lesotho Evangelical Church of Southern Africa, (LECSA). The school was a joint venture between the predecessor of LECSA, the Paris Evangelists Mission Society (PEMS), and Anglican Church of Lesotho.

It came into existence in 1959. According to the Ex-Peka High School Student Association, (EXPHISA), Peka High School passed through a few principals. The principal who took the school into prominence was the third, Ntate Makhakhe in the 1960s.
This article serves my selfish interest. However, my school mates agree with me that we must share our experiences with Basotho.

When you arrive at the school, you are received by a daunting climate. This climate puts off parents from sending their children to this school and demoralises the school’s unfortunate students and teachers. EXPHISA put it bluntly in their description. They said that the school’s infrastructure is very dilapidated. The square-shaped student dormitories buildings were demolished, and the dining hall is a shame. The whole campus is thoroughly beaten down because of lack of maintenance. In the 2019 Lesotho General Certificate of Secondary Education (LGCSE) examinations, Peka High School registered only eight candidates.

Peka High School was a great academic achiever. But its excellence was not confined to the classroom. It also extended to sports.
This article explains success (or failure) of a school in Lesotho. I seek to shed light into how a great school may avoid being sucked into a ‘black hole’ and disintegrate into ‘nothingness’ by identifying success factors in school-leaving examinations. In other words, what could have gone wrong at Peka High School and other schools in a similar predicament? I present part of my doctoral research thesis, which identified school attributes that influenced achievement in physical science examinations in Lesotho. The physical sciences were my interests because I trained and conducted research as a physical science school and teacher educator.

It is prudent to focus on factors that a school may influence. For instance, the main study identified the mismatch leading to discontinuities in demands between Lesotho Junior Certificate and Cambridge Overseas Schools Certificate (COSC) examination contributing to poor results. But this applies to all schools. Schools do not have control over this attribute, even though some schools may address the deficiency.

There were four case study schools, two high and two low performing schools in this research. Here, I measured performance by students’ achievements at the COSC results. Case study research provides very little for generalisations.

However, I did not handpick the schools in the study nor select them by chance. Case study schools represented a specific school type. I identified them through a rigorous analysis of schools leaving examinations, COSC three-year results. While I understood that each school setting is unique, I inferred that one school’s factors could repeat in a similar school type.

There is no single school factor that can explain achievement in examinations. The factors interact with one another, making the task of identifying them a challenge. Many of these factors are compounded by the other. Thus, there is no single school factor that may explain achievement in school-leaving examinations.

COSC examinations were critical assessment in Lesotho’s education system. They determined students’ future studies or employment and evaluated teachers in schools. Indirectly, they monitored the standards of other education levels in Lesotho, especially the Primary School Leaving Examinations and the Lesotho Junior Certificate.

We must be cautious with approaching school achievement measured in this manner. Lesotho has a high dropout rate. Schools ‘cull’ students in their final year to manipulate the school’s outcome. Students that a school deems likely to pass examinations register with the school for school-leaving examinations, while those who are likely to fail register as private candidates at the Examinations Council of Lesotho. Pass-rates may sometimes be a smokescreen that schools use to bolster their examinations pass-rates.

School teachers and students expressed faith in management. The whole school, management, staff and students shared the vision, purpose and values of their school. The school declare these traits and aspirations. They shared and made them accessible to all stakeholders. Everybody in the school, including students, held these attributes of the school with high regard.

High expectations that the students and their teachers have about success in examination accompany the shared vision. Both high achieving schools in the study displayed these attributes. These high expectations in examinations were in line with the school’s vision and values.
Closely related to a shared vision is the quality of management. The school management was not part of my study, but evidence succinctly distinguishes the two school types as measured by schools’ management.

High performing schools had professional leadership, while dysfunctional schools had amateurish principals. Both teachers and students acknowledged this attribute. Achievement in examinations was positively associated with schools’ management.
A feature that transcends high achieving schools is collaborative planning and intellectual sharing and teamwork. Teachers in high performing schools attributed their success to the collegiality amongst colleagues in departments.

These schools display students’ performances, both internal and external, on the school’s notice board and staffroom. The school analyses external examinations results, discussed them and showed them to the community. These attributes set up a spirit of competitiveness in students. Teachers translate this competitiveness into classes. For example, a teacher explaining how he teaches said:

“When I am teaching, I make students compete. When I introduce a topic, I say, let’s do a project, guys. So let’s all work on this so that everybody knows what we are going to do when we come to class. So you find that those who went out to investigate when you come to class don’t even have to teach because students will tell me what I did was this and I found that. That, of course, separates boys from men.”

A phenomenon that was intriguing about the students’ competitiveness is that when a student under-achieved, fellow students gave him the support that thrust him or her to their potential. The target here was twofold, for the school to achieve the best outcomes all students must perform distinctly. Achievement is not just about a student, but the school in general.
This is not research about Peka High School. But where possible, I will present some ex-students’ conversations from social media, and contrast them with my research findings. An alumnus likens the school with gold, saying,

“Peka ea benya e tšoana le gauta.”
The extract translates: “Peka shines like gold.” The following quotes from the founding students explain the culture and ethos of the former school:
“The culture of Peka was developed and implemented to represent the summary of humanity’s values.” He continued: “… never give up until you attain your goal and potential.”
Another added:
“Walking tall is ideal towards achieving your heights one hundred per cent.”

Here are the words of yet another alumni who says:
“Ha u le Le-Peka you should work hard and (excel)”.
The first Sesotho words’ translation is: “When you are a Peka student.”
The extract below encapsulates the emotion of ‘Mapeka’, (as the students fondly refer to themselves), about their school:

“My father took me … to Peka because of its excellence in maths and science subjects. The school has produced many of Lesotho’s engineers, doctors, pilots, accountants and many others whose careers depended on a good maths and science foundation. I ascribe my success as an engineer which led to several accolades in South Africa and world recognition of my work to the foundation laid at Peka. The published article had a photo of me in my school uniform. It is a matter of such pride.”

Like effective schools’ research, ex-students’ positive views about their school catapulted Peka High School to greatness.
The first thing that catches the eye when one arrives at a successful school is the school’s general upkeep and repair of property and buildings. The school premises are clean and well kept. The students are in class when they are supposed to be. The only times you see students outside classrooms is during breaks, or when during class changes. During classes, the only talking is orderly and comes from the classrooms. This is an inviting school climate for students’ learning.

A criterion that is often associated with successful schools in examinations is teacher credentials. Teacher credentials are defined in terms of the number of years they spent in higher education and attrition, that is, the number of years that the teachers spent in the school. Teacher attrition translates into high turnover of subject teachers in the classrooms. A low-achieving school’s student laments:

“I have dropped in physics because we often had different teachers.”
Asked the frequency they had new teachers, a student exclaimed:
“This is the third one.”
Lee Shulman pointed out that good teaching at schools relies not only on content mastery but also on the teacher’s pedagogic knowledge. Shulman called this pedagogic-content knowledge. This knowledge depends on the number of years that the teacher spent in training. However, teachers’ credentials do not always translate into good teaching.

Scholars agree that the time students spend on tuition is critical to student learning. There are many ways that teachers may extend students’ time-on-task. Both students and teachers attended classes in high performing schools. Teachers and students were punctual for classes. Put the students together with the teacher in the school, and you indeed create a learning space. Teachers and students at high achieving schools displayed this attribute.

All the schools in this study were day-schools. Both the high achieving schools timetabled classrooms study times. Their students voluntarily came very early or stayed late into the evening for their studies. The school provided staff to supervise students during these study times. Students in these schools fully participated in these activities.
To add, high performing schools extended students’ time on learning by assigning homework, projects and work that students carry out on their own. “We are given lots of assignments,” says a high achieving school’s student. Teachers ensured that students would receive their feedback.

The study also found that teachers in high performing schools completed their syllabi early in the final year, creating ample time for revision and examination preparation. During this time, the teachers drilled and bombarded students with examination question papers. Throughout students’ stay in a school, teachers assessed students using the examination questions papers. At all times, teaching was deliberate and purposeful with teachers confirming that pupils grasped concepts before leading into the next topic. This was contrary to modern theories of teaching and learning that suggest that pupils construct their knowledge.

Availability and proper utility of resources such as textbooks and other print materials, specialised buildings like libraries and laboratories were consistent with achievement. However, at the time of the study, physical science textbooks were insensitive to the local context. All the textbooks were foreign. The foreign textbooks and English, a medium of instruction, continue to be the area of concern.

In conclusion, the article showed stakeholders measured school quality by achievement in national examinations. I identified some factors that schools may influence and improve themselves.
Amongst these were the school’s management. High achieving schools were transparent with their achievement in examinations. Management shared vision and expectations with all stakeholders. Teachers and students’ shared high expectations of succeeding in examinations with the school.

These expectations manifested themselves in conducive culture and ethos for good teaching and learning practices in and out of the classrooms. These practices cascaded through to teachers in departments and students. Subject teachers planned and worked in collaboration as teams.
Teachers and students expressed confidence in their school management. Teachers quality in terms of time spent in training and schools’ ability to hold onto their teachers were vital to student achievement in examinations.

High expectations in the school, students and teachers, school culture and ethos, create individual and collective competitiveness in students. Students compete individually and collectively for school achievement. Achievement is associated with time students spent on learning. High performing school used numerous methods to extend learning time way beyond a school day. The achievement was consistent with the presence and appropriate use of the resources in teaching and learning.

This study focused on achievement in a specific subject in schools. However, we can extend these factors into other schools’ settings. There are useful lessons that we may draw from this article.
The schools’ good practices are practical. Dysfunctional schools require drastic action, a revolution, to correct. In revolutions, there are casualties. Lethargic actors in the system must be uprooted to effect corrective actions. Desperate times require desperate measures.

The law provides for action against negligent and derelict employees. Authorities have a duty to apply the law to uproot the deadwood to transform dysfunctional schools. Heads must roll to bring the spark back to Peka High School and let our light shine. ‘Luceat Lux Vestra!’

Dr Tholang Maqutu

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Reforms: time to change hearts and minds

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A very important milestone is gradually being reached in Lesotho politics. On April 6, 2022, I attended a National Reforms Authority (NRA)’s High-level Forum on the State of the Implementation of the Lesotho National Reforms at ’Manthabiseng Convention Centre.

For the first time, I heard at that meeting politicians acknowledging that Lesotho’s political problems have a lot to do with politicians themselves, and not with written clauses of the Constitution.

This is a point that this country’s intellectuals and academics have made for years. Lesotho politicians have refused to listen both because of their dislike for the country’s academics and because of absence of any communication between the two groups as a result of that dislike.

If politicians could use their newly-acquired wisdom as a basis from which to proceed in attempts to solve Lesotho’s political problems, there is potential for great strides to be made, finally.

Political instability bedevils Lesotho because the hearts and minds of politicians continue to be inclined to break the law, or to look for ‘loopholes’, in pursuit of narrow interests; and continue to change clauses of the Constitution when such clauses do not allow the pursuit and achievement of narrow interests.

We need a change of heart and mind-set among our politicians in order to make headway in building a politically stable society. Politicians’ narrow interests should not be a basis for what needs to happen in Lesotho. The need for constitutional changes and the search for loopholes will persist but they should not be inspired by the pursuit of narrow interests, as has hitherto happened.

Instead, to us the public, it should become necessary to reform the constitution on two conditions only. First, when it is found that the constitution does not adequately address concerns with the socio-economic welfare of Basotho. Second, when it becomes necessary to ensure that Basotho exercise real power on who rules them and on how they are ruled. These conditions are cardinal.

And they should inform all thought and action in Lesotho’s politics.

As has happened many times already, even these costly ongoing reforms of clauses of the Constitution will be all for naught if concern for politicians’ own welfare continues to be a primary motive behind their pursuit for parliamentary seats, and what they do once in parliament.

It may well be that the current and next generation of politicians will be short of men and women with hearts and mind-set fit for service to Basotho’s welfare. But serious attempts need to be made to ensure the generation after the next has a critical mass of such politicians.

This cannot only be wished for. It has to be worked for. One thought is to introduce a curriculum that teaches people the capacity to think of others, and care for others. These are some of the attributes mostly missing among our politicians. Their incapacity to think of others leads to their lack of a sense of public duty that we see and experience every day.

We have neglected the task of socialising and educating empathetic hearts and mind-sets claiming that Africans and Basotho naturally and culturally subscribe to, and live in accordance with, ubuntu (humanity). It is quite obvious that this is not true. People who make this claim loudest are the middle classes who, while claiming to subscribe to ubuntu, live in houses surrounded by six feet high perimeter walls.

There may be other thoughts than socialisation on this. What we have to hope for is that from here onwards, in our search for solutions to Lesotho political problems, we will proceed from the recognition that, primarily, these problems emanate not from inappropriate written texts of the Constitution but from hearts and minds of men and women.

Motlatsi Thabane

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We have lost our moral indignation

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I remember when the allegations that Tšeliso Nthane had shot and killed one of his employees first came to the surface. It was in 2019, back when the air was not so poisonous and Basotho still had much of their hope. Well not much because this is generally a hopeless, desolate wasteland but some small pretence of hope still remained. The nation was angry, and rightfully so. The consensus was that men like Nthane, no matter how deep their pockets, should not be allowed to act with impunity. A man was dead and we were baying for justice.

A lot has happened since then. The Covid-19 pandemic, mass retrenchments and job losses, the ever dwindling power of the loti. This and that but all has been more negative than positive in this place so when the time came for Nthane to be handed judgment we had mostly stopped caring as we had to deal with the business of living .

Anyway the man was found not guilty. I will confess I did not read the judgement for fear it will sink me lower into the abyss that is life in Lesotho. However, news of that sort cannot escape one even if they try, more especially if they are on social media. No sooner had judgment been handed down that social media debates began raging.

Suddenly everyone was an expert in punitive versus remedial justices and the pros and cons therein. Many argued that once more the rich had been proven to be above the law. A statement clouded in naivety really because had they been paying attention they would have realised that there is nothing to prove as the rich have always been above the law.

Those who fancy themselves the harbingers of remedial justice argued that Nthane had made certain payments to the family and thus paid his debt. I have no personal knowledge of these payments but I was of course curious to know how much the price of a life is amongst these parts.

They further argued that since Nthane owned many companies that employed many Basotho it would not be in the national interests to send him to prison as jobs would be lost. I am not sure how Basotho think companies work and if they have ever heard that they are a separate legal entity from their owners but no matter. This is certainly an elucidation on the finer points of company law.

I have in the past been guilty of judging my countrymen, perhaps a little too harshly as it is sometimes hard to make sense of their motivations but to hear young people speak so vehemently for letting a man walk free after another has died simply because he is in a position to provide them with a livelihood reminded me once more of the stark hopelessness when it comes to finding a job in this country.

Basotho youths are not uneducated, they are not immoral or unfeeling and they certainly are not pro-murder. At least I hope so. What they are however is hungry and desperate and desperation can reduce even the most pious man to his knees. What good is moral outrage if one is outraged on an empty stomach?

What good will it do for them to be out in the street being activists for social and moral issues when they barely can afford the nine maloti to hop into a taxi and arrive at such a demonstration? To argue that anyone who can offer them jobs should be treated differently as far as the law is concerned is a statement borne out of the worst kind of desperation and instead of making me angry, it made me sad.

Now, I have not enough knowledge of the case against Nthane to say whether I feel the judgment was fair and just. All I know is I certainly want it not to be in favour of him simply because he has jobs and livelihoods to give. It is however easy for me to judge from my privileged position where I have a meal guaranteed every night. It is easy to be morally indignant when one does not have to worry about the indignities of joblessness.

I spoke last week of how easy it is for us to condemn young people who lay their bodies on the human resource table. We laugh at older people who walk for kilometres to attend political rallies and sing for “baetapele” (leaders) and fail to take into account that in a moment of desperation a man who offers you promises of a job you badly need is someone you would follow to a rally.

To see young women in the arms of 70-year-olds who are not even good company. To see young men vehemently justify that murder should be forgiven if the alleged murderer can offer them a livelihood will quickly disabuse one of the notion that there is any progress happening in Lesotho.

So here we are in a country where people are willing to sell their bodies and souls for a chance at a decent life.

Here we are about to enter another election season and the only people who stand to truly benefit are the owners of guest houses. Whether Nthane got a fair verdict or not is immaterial to me, what remains shocking is how we have lost our moral indignation as a country. It appears Tom Thabane, that erstwhile leader was right when he said “sera sa motho ke tlala”. To quote the younger generations of Ma2000: “Because wow”.

Thakane Rethabile Shale

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No peace plan, no economic recovery

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The world’s struggle to reboot economies viciously disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic remains real. However, the impact could be more severe to countries that already had dwindling economies and lack a way out, chief amongst them Lesotho. The focus on recovery gets disrupted from time to time by new variants seemingly more infectious than the previous ones; we had the Delta variant and now Omicron.

Several countries seem to be putting their own nationals ahead of everyone else. The squabble between the European Union and the United Kingdom over vaccines was but an example of leaders who put the interests of their own people first. The leaders surely knew that the world would not win the fight over Covid unless the rest of the world is vaccinated as stated by the World Health Organisation.

They however made plans to keep their people safe first, protect their boundaries and then set stringent entry conditions into their countries to further protect their own people. Though this may seem selfish, who in their right mind would not do the same?

As countries draw and implement plans to get their economies back on track, Lesotho has very little to show if anything at all. Businesses shut doors and the few people who had jobs lost their only incomes. Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, Lesotho was already struggling to engage in much needed capital projects because it simply did not have the money.
Sadly, there is no watertight plan let alone a draft to increase dwindling revenue following the reviewed Southern Africa Custom Union’s approach. There is basically no plan to support entrepreneurs to scale up thereby increasing the tax base. Instead, the Lesotho Revenue Authority (LRA) is expected to milk dry the remaining few dying cows.

With this hopeless state of affairs in Lesotho, one would be misled to think that Lesotho is not capable of making solid plans and sticking to them. The reality is, Lesotho, a country of around 2 million people only is indeed capable of doing more for her few people. She has abundant resources; minerals and human capital.

Sadly, the skills and resources are always misdirected to produce negative energy among Basotho. The only fully funded strategy that Lesotho is committed to at the moment and can be articulated clearly by all parties involved without having to consult is Mothetjoa Metsing’s arrest. Metsing is accused of treason based on a hard-to-understand incident where he was a coalition partner and a Deputy Prime Minister, yet he is said to have been involved in an attempt to unseat the then Prime Minister Thabane.
Thabane of course did leave the country but Metsing never dreamt of taking over the premier’s office. The police, Public Prosecutor and the executive are all on the same page about progress and what the next move against Metsing should be.

There are officers ready to do whatever it takes to bring him down. There is no shortage of resources when it comes to arresting him. Intelligence is on top of its game when it comes to him. The propaganda machinery is fully empowered. When will the government get its priorities right?
The army commander Lt Gen Motšomotšo and senior army officials Col Sechele and Col Hashatsi were shot dead in broad daylight, within the army barracks and there is absolutely nothing and no one who has been held accountable for their killing. This against the background that former army commander Lt Gen Tlali Kamoli and others remain in prison for years pending the case surrounding among others the killing of yet another army commander Maaparankoe Mahao.

Where is the logic here? No investigations, no arrests, absolutely nothing on the killing of the three high profile army officials. Yet the government is persecuting Metsing for allegedly plotting to oust a government which never happened.
Around 80 people died in cold blood in police custody under the All Basotho Convention-led operation – “Tokho”. The then Prime Minister Tom Thabane allowed the police to torture people and the Lesotho Congress for Democracy tried to force the premier to withdraw his instructions to the police. That however drew a blank.

The police chief has not yet been called to account for these deaths. The police are doing what Basotho were complaining about during the reign of the previous regime that the army was acting with impunity. Suddenly, it is ok for the police to brutally torture and kill Basotho.
Suddenly, it is ok for army bosses to be killed with impunity. That’s the only reasonable conclusion that one arrives at based on the hesitation of the government to do anything about the killers on the government’s payroll.
The government of Lesotho needs to focus on revamping this country’s economy, creating jobs, improving health services, building infrastructure, promoting peace and unity and managing the escalating crime rate. Lesotho fails to acknowledge that the country’s peace is a group effort and Basotho must all be in it to work.

Investors are unlikely to risk their money in a country that is not at peace with itself. Until the government get its priorities right, Lesotho will continue to struggle to have peace and a stable economy. This will translate to high unemployment worse compared to where it is currently.
Metsing had a peace plan that was unfortunately not supported by some parties. Those who opposed it could only assume that it would let him go free. They never weighed options nor tabled alternative peace-making efforts. To them the country would rather suffer, rather be divided than accept the fact that the government was never toppled. There are far more pressing issues in Lesotho. Instead of paying loads of money to a foreign prosecutor, and taking much valuable time from our courts of law, we should be focusing our priorities on something positive. We need to heal and move on as a nation, not as individuals.

Potjo Potjo

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