By Seleoe Nonyane
Thousands of vulnerable children in Reception Class., mostly from rural communities, will have a good start into formal schooling through a five-year US$3 million (about or M60 million) initiative by the Roger Federer Foundation.
The organisation is the brainchild of global tennis legend Roger Federer, who retired in 2022 after over two decades on the professional tennis circuit.
The charitable Swiss grant-making organisation aims to support underprivileged children in Southern Africa and Switzerland.
Federer is on an official visit to oversee the School Readiness Initiative that his foundation is implementing in partnership with the Network of Childhood Development of Lesotho (NECDOL) and the ministry of education and training.
So far 166 primary schools with Reception Classes and six Early Childhood Development (ECD) centres have benefit from the project since 2020. More disadvantaged children from 800 institutions nationwide will be reached by 2025.
The Foundation says it aims to give children the best start in life by establishing and developing existing early educational services in a sustainable way.
In low-income countries such as Lesotho, more than 80 percent of children do not have access to early education, it notes.
During his visit, Federer met with key stakeholders including His Majesty King Letsie III and Her Majesty Queen ’Masenate Mohato Seeiso, Prime Minister Samuel Matekane, minister of education and training Ntoi Rapapa, international and local donors, as well as representatives from the corporate and non-profit sectors.
He also visited some primary schools across the country to learn about the impact of the School Readiness Initiative.
In a press statement, the Foundation said the project aims to advance the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 4.2 and Lesotho’s national education polices that seek to ensure that all children participate in quality and organised learning before they start the first grade of primary school, through Reception Class.
“The programme fulfills this mandate through raising awareness and capacitating all Reception Classes to meet their roles and responsibilities by 2025.
“It also seeks to ensure that at least 800 institutions have age-appropriate play-based learning environments and materials inside and outside the classroom, including natural playgrounds built by local communities using locally available resources.
“The third objective of the programme is to ensure that Reception Class teachers have appropriate knowledge and competencies to facilitate play-based teaching and learning that is appropriate for Reception Class and ensure that the children are ready for their first grade of primary school,” the statement said.
Unlike traditional methods of training and resourcing teachers, this programme has the advantage of innovative information and technology approaches by providing teachers with a tablet that contains digital resources and Android applications, including a course that fosters peer-to-peer learning among early grade teachers, which results in training cost savings.
The tablets do not need internet while in use and teachers get solar units to keep their tablets charged if they do not have access to electricity.
“The Foundation believes that investing in the early education of Basotho children is investing in a better future for the country.
“Investment in early childhood education should be prioritised to improve the children’s academic performance in later years, which has a positive ripple effect,” the organisation added.
Federer said the Foundation is committed to scaling up the School Readiness Initiative in Lesotho, to strengthening advocacy messages to other actors and to mobilising additional resources for the sector.
Speaking in Maseru this week, the tennis icon said the Foundation’s work can only have a greater, more positive impact if the Government of Lesotho puts preschool education highest on its priority list and allocates more resources to the sector. “The business and development partners will also need to join in. They need to speed up coordination efforts to pool resources towards a unified vision for ECCE And when that accelerated effort happens, we will see more Reception Classes being attached and opened in all primary schools; more qualified Reception Class teachers being hired and more quality assurance investments being made at all levels of government to deliver quality equitable early childhood education. The responsibility is ours. Let’s accept it and move to action.”