WINDS OF CHANGE WHET QUEST TO STUDY

TSITSI MATOPE

MASERU – There is a certain wind blowing in Lesotho, which has caused many young people to embark on a search for alternative sources of knowledge outside their home country. It is a knack for diversity, a globally-inclined mind and indeed, a development which is supposed to be celebrated.

Sadly, this development comes at a high cost and in the households where this wind has settled, it has compelled school-leavers to search for scholarships to study abroad. Observers this week noted that many students who want to study abroad, like 22-year-old Keketso Mabaleka, might have noticed the yawning skills-gap, which is stifling the development of certain sectors in Lesotho.

The learners want to narrow the gap in the medical field - a sector dominated by foreign specialist doctors - as well as engineering to create professional local companies: aviation, to support the development of the civil aviation sector and geology for Basotho to have full control over their mineral resources. Many of these degree programmes are unavailable at local universities.

However, securing a fully-paid scholarship to study abroad is not easy. This has left many students aspiring to study abroad heart-broken and feeling let down by their parents and the government. This year alone, there are scores of students from Lesotho who were awarded partially-paid scholarships to study in various countries including Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, China, and the United States of America (USA).

Some students who were supposed to leave this month are unable to travel after their parents failed to pay outstanding fees on their scholarships. And seeing one’s child broken and unable to assist is every parent’s worst nightmare. One of the unfortunate students, Mabaleka, lost an opportunity to study mechanical engineering in China because his family could not raise a service-package fee of USD3, 860, which covered his health insurance, police registration as well as study and resident permits.

“I approached the government for help but there was nothing they could do for me or other students who are in a similar situation,” Mabaleka said. Some education experts this week said there was no doubt the government needed to prioritise investing in the transfer of quality skills that Lesotho needs to ensure value for money and help stimulate the various sectors of the economy.

Another student, Relebohile Khema, broke down in tears as she explained how she has helplessly watched her dream of studying computer engineering crumbling after her parents failed to pay the outstanding fee of 28,000 Canadian dollars. A university in Canada had awarded her a C$25,000 scholarship, to be paid annually.

“I am still applying for other fully-paid scholarship opportunities in other countries and hope that next year I might get lucky and my dreams can come true. I would like to get international exposure where I can learn more and be able to transfer what I learn back home,” Khema said.But dreams can, indeed, come true.

Last week, the US ambassador, Rebecca Gonzales hosted a farewell reception for two Basotho men who were awarded Fulbright scholarships to study Master’s degree programmes in Geology and Educational Psychology. The fully-paid Fulbright scholarship is the flagship of the American Government’s exchange program and remains one of the most prestigious opportunities for foreign students to pursue studies in the USA.

It was introduced in 1945 by Senator J William Fulbright of Arkansas and designed to fund the promotion of goodwill through the exchange of students in the fields of education, culture and science. Speaking at the farewell ceremony, Ambassador Gonzales said over 200,000 students have benefitted from the scholarship globally while Fulbright alumni include 57 Nobel Prize laureates and 37 current and previous heads of state.

In Lesotho alone, a total 85 students were fully sponsored to study in various fields including economics, public policy, IT and sociology. “America has long been a strong partner of Basotho people and we have cooperated in many areas, including education. We remain committed to supporting the development of skills where there are opportunities. Through our public diplomacy programs, we strive to maintain and strengthen our people-to-people exchange programs, including in skills development,” Ambassador Gonzales said.

She said the US Government has partnered with host countries around the world, including Lesotho, to establish American Spaces and Corners that seek to promote dialogue, networking and provide an opportunity for young people to connect with available education opportunities in the USA. “It is through spaces such as this that many people have gained knowledge and connected with learning opportunities. I encourage the use of this space through meetings, lectures, workshops, cultural events and many other developmental programs.”

One of the beneficiaries of the Fulbright scholarship programs connected with the opportunity to study in the US through networking at the American Corner in Maseru.Leboea Rankaki, a teacher by profession, will be studying Educational Psychology at the Northern Illinois University for the next two years. Growing up in Nqechane village in Leribe district, Rankaki was one of the bright boys who never stopped believing it was through the power of knowledge that he could break free from the shackles of poverty.

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