INTERVIEW: Making a case for quality education

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As a key sector that leads to a more employable and productive workforce capable of competing locally and globally, education receives a significant share of government’s recurrent expenditure proposals.

A renewed strategic plan has focused on consolidating areas in the education sector that require refinement, allowing for growth in student numbers for further education as well as a reduction in pupil/teacher ratio. Emphasis is being placed on the improvement of quality, efficiency and effectiveness, with the aspiration of addressing access remaining valid. The target is ultimately to achieve universal primary education and to improve access to early secondary education, at the same time securing high quality and performance standards.

A report has revealed why Lesotho’s education remains a mess despite spending billions on training teachers, high salaries, free primary education and building more schools.

The Education Public Expenditure Review report is a result of a study by the World Bank working with the ministries of education and finance.
The report’s findings and recommendations should startle the government into making urgent and tough corrective decisions to stop putting good money to waste. It illustrates that it’s not how much you spend but how you spend it.
The report says although Lesotho spends 10 percent of its GDP on education, according to the 2016 budget, the results remain inadequate.

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theReporter’s Neo Kolane picks the mind of revered and renowned educationist and erstwhile education and training minister ‘Makabelo Mosothoane on the state of Lesotho’s education system.

NK: ‘M’e ‘Mamosothoane, according to the Education Public Expenditure Review, poor educational outcomes persist across the country. What do you think is the cause of this?

MM: First of all I have not read the review, so I will just be answering using my own understanding. I think this is caused by lack of teaching facilities in the schools and poor infrastructure like lack of laboratories, libraries and other resources like water.

Poor standard of education in the higher learning institutions like teacher training institutions. I am saying this because normally teachers come back to schools without training thoroughly enough to teach students because they do not attend any workshops, they just go straight to schools. Teacher producing institutions like tertiary schools, they must improve their products in order to enhance teaching and learning because if they do not do it then we shall always have teachers who are not well trained.

Also the ministry of education must have meaningful workshops for teachers and thorough school inspection with a good follow-up.

NK: Despite high spending on education and human resources, sector outcomes have been inadequate and inequitable, especially in rural remote and mountainous areas of the country. Why is that?

MM: Schools in the remote and mountainous areas are somehow forgotten because they are not reachable, and have no qualified teachers. All teacher institutions are in the lowlands and most people are reluctant to work in harsh and forbidding areas like our mountains.

Also, placement of teachers is not done, I think if it was done, then all schools would be equal, so because of these human rights, people choose where they want to work because they do not want to work in difficult areas.

NK: The review also suggests that education spending in Lesotho favours the rich, what could be the implications of this?

MM: This is very difficult, because I do not know what it is referring to. I am not sure about it, whether it relates to scholarships or not because if we want education for all, the child’s background must come first, whether he or she is from a wealthy family or poor family. Otherwise the poor will remain poorer and will suffer.

So I think clear policies must be made and followed with regards to who should be helped first not because of what they have.

NK: According to the review, the bulk of the money is poured into primary and tertiary education, starving early childhood care and secondary education of crucial resources. Has the ministry of education tried to do otherwise about the situation?

MM: Book rental was extended to secondary and high school; that is something which has been done. Social grants are extended to more students in secondary and high schools, so many students now are sponsored since 2013 through social development. Maybe in the long run, free education will be introduced to secondary and high school if things can be planned properly.

So under early childhood care, it has significantly improved, for example, the retraining of early childhood teachers at Lesotho College of Education. Some of these teachers are even paid by the government. Feeding was introduced in the pre-schools, so I think it is very important what they are doing to improve the early childhood and the secondary schools.

NK: The report says despite spending billions and significantly reducing the teacher-student ratio the quality of students out of primary and secondary schools remains poor, how come?

MM: Significant reduction of teacher-student ratio, I think maybe it was in the areas they chose to survey. I am not sure if I agree with this statement because in other cases schools still have large numbers but if there is that reduction then there will be problems of poor facilities, lack of teaching aids, little understanding of the curriculum because many people do not attend workshops to improve their teaching.

Sometimes you will find that sponsors put institutions under pressure, and projects start before people are ready. Maybe this also can be one of them.

NK: Pupils who remain in school until the end of primary school often face much greater difficulty in accessing secondary school, given the high costs of secondary education. What needs to be done to remedy this situation?

MM: I think, as I have said about the grants which students are given, if it can be done in a way that they check and plan in order that pupils who are sponsored are those coming from those areas where they do not have any resources to take their children to school. So they remain in primary when they have to go to high school because they do not have funds; and also by introducing the free education in the secondary and high schools.

It is a matter of the government through the ministry of education in making policies which will improve these poor kids.