By Matṧeliso Phulane
A baffling increase in the number of girls dropping out of school at Montṧi Secondary School at Molikaliko in Maseru district has raised concerns among the teaching staff and the local community council.
This year alone, eight girls have dropped out of school for marriage while four other girls dropped out of learning under unknown circumstances.
Others who also pulled out class were forced into working either in South Africa or locally as cattle herders.
This has left the school and the local council in great acrimony, with the school’s principal openly expressing her disappointment.
The school’s principal, Thapelo Lethobane, revealed to theReporter this week the number of students who quit from the school.
Lethobane said eight of those students fell out of the learning line due to early marriage. Other than those, four of the students also left studies under undisclosed reasons.
In addition, two more left classes to be employed while the other two dropped out of learning due to lack of funds to fend for their education.
Lethobane believed that lack of parental interest for their children to study was a factor contributing to the developments. She attributed that to some parents’ illiteracy which is also rife in the area.
“In most cases you find that parents or the community do not regard understand education as a priority but they believe in cultural activities such allowing school learners to go for initiation as cultural practice.
In other instances, he claimed, some parents welcome their children’s failure to continue with their education especially animal herders. That, he suggested, would be an opportunity for the parents not to employ anyone to look after the animals.
For girls who fall into early marriage, some parents welcome the moves as they are ensured of getting bride prizes, he added.
According to the law, girls are not allowed early marriages and that is regarded as kidnapping for those who are eloped and parents and child guardians are forbidden to allow such marriages.
He opined that poverty is also contributing to the situation adding that those falling of the learning radar are aged 15-16. They are usually in grades 10 and 11.
“When they reach those grades they think they are mature enough for marriage. Others are forced to drop out when they fail to proceed to other grades. Others do volunteer to marry or leave school for some reasons,” he added.
“This goes along with poverty in their homes, but it is surprising that even those who still receive the social grants drop out, so I can relate that as lack of parents’ interest to education,” he said.
He admitted some school goers cease with learning due to being forced to walk long distances to and from school especially in cold season.
“Children walk two to three hours from home to school, as a result they get in to the classrooms already tired, hungry and lose concentration. During winter, they have to walk through such harsh and cold weather conditions which is result interest in schooling,” he added.
Lethobane claimed that to fight the scourge, the school holds meetings with parents to advise them against the rising practice.
He indicated that during Covid-19 pandemic they were urged by the ministry of education and training to conduct outreaches to the different villages in order to be informed of hiccups for children to miss and leave schooling.
“We try to source possible funding from the social development ministry. In most cases, they do not have national identity cards making it impossible to confirm they are Basotho school learners. It is a necessity for children seeking financial support to have those cards.
“Besides that, we normally hold community gathering to encourage children to go back to school; even though they get inspired for some few months still will a very poor attendance,” Lethobane said.
Additionally, lack of staff influences children to drop out in schools as one teacher might be forced to work under pressure to teach more than one subject.
As a result, he said, some parents change their children’s mind-set that a certain teacher is not capable of teaching a certain subject he or she is not specialized with. He said last year there were two children who dropped out as a result of that.
The community councillor of Molikaliko Thapelo Pitso said he is concerned with the rate at which parents allow and sometimes force children drop out of school to perform difficult tasks such as parenting their siblings and herding livestock.
This week Pitso said it has become a norm for parents in his community to deny their children access to education; rather stay at home and look after families which has to be their own responsibilities.
“Children are forced to drop out of school to baby sit their younger siblings and do difficult house chores. Apart from that, young boys are being compelled to look after cattle and that starts when they are in primary school.
“Parents, especially women fail to take care of their families and let their young girls to babysit their younger siblings as well as to do difficult house chores. You will find that there is really nothing much that parents do.
“Therefore they seem not to be interested in their children’s future and it is a really concern to us,” he commented.
Pitso added even parents who receive social grants from the social development “do not allow their children to continue with their education, instead use the grants for other purposes other purposes other than providing for education needs.
He said their plea for remedy of the situation by the ministry of education and training has fallen on deaf ears.
But he was hopeful the ministry will conduct campaigns to urge for continued school attendance by learners.
He was surprised the situation is developing when there is in place a policy for free education introduced some years ago.
Commenting on the matter, a parent, Mosotho Ramabaka from Ha Montṧi, said his young girls, aged eight and the other one aged 12, have quit school without any valid reasons.
He said earlier this year when he returned home after two months from Maseru where he was employed, his children were already not attending school, their reasons being the corporal punishment administered at school.
Adding to that, Ramabaka said he decided not to report the matter to the ministry of education as he did not know it was abolished.
Despite education being a child right, he said he was respecting the right of children not to force them into schooling.
“We both tried to talk to them with their mother but they do not want to listen. I have given up because they fail to act accordingly and they even give us a bad attitude whenever we try to disciple them. I wish they would change their minds and go back to school because they will one day regret,” he said.
Ramabaka said they do not walk a long distance from home because the Molikaliko Primary school is not far from home.
Quizzed about child labour, labour inspector at the ministry of labour Mpho Mosili last year indicated there are four elements which are looked at when attempting to end child labour. Issues considered are the child’s age, type of work to be performed and working conditions.
She added that in cases where there is a reported case of child labour, the ministry visits the place and the child to asses all the elements mentioned above adding that if one of the elements is pointed out, the employers and parents are warned and given the chance to stop the practice.
She said if they do not stop the practice then the ministry takes legal action with the help of other sectors such as the police through Child and Gender Protection Unit, ministry of social development as well as the ministry of education.
According to a 2020 report, findings on the worst forms of child labour in Lesotho, children in the kingdom are subjected to the worst forms of child labour including in commercial sexual exploitation, sometimes as a result of human trafficking. Children also perform dangerous tasks in animal herding and domestic work.
Again Lesotho’s compulsory education age is below the minimum age for work, leaving children in between these ages vulnerable to child labour.
Children also perform dangerous tasks related to animal herding and domestic work. Statistics show that those attending school from age five to 14 is 93.8 percent. And those who are combining work and school aged seven to 14 stands at 32.1 percent. Primary completion rate is 85.6 percent
Many children face limited access to education due to a shortage of teachers and schools, which causes them to travel long distances. In Lesotho, primary education is free; however, secondary education incurs a fee that is cost prohibitive for many families.
Children aged one, five and 17 and 24 with disabilities encounter difficulties with ill-equipped educational facilities and untrained teachers. These factors increase a child’s vulnerability to the worst forms of child labour such as human trafficking.