Education, what exactly are we supposed to understand when we talk of education?



The Lesotho Association of Teachers Secretary General says in order to understand the importance of education in light of the crossroads at which the national education system is because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is necessary to traverse the educational historical journey Lesotho has undertaken to where it is today.



The Kingdom of Lesotho, then formally known as Basutoland, organised a traditional education which aimed at producing useful citizens to be integrated into society with loyalty and skills for self-reliance (Ambrose 2007). Initiation schools where inmates spent some weeks for training were a formalised feature of the education system in addition to a family and community based education (MoE 1982).

Lesotho was introduced to the highly centralised and examination oriented Western formal education by the French missionaries of the Paris Evangelical Missionary Society in the 1830s that were joined by the Roman Catholic missionaries in 1862 and then the English Church (Anglican) Mission in 1875 (Ambrose 2007).

Although the main agenda of the early missionaries was religious, their formal education focussed more on literacy and some vocational skills for the Western administration of the time (Ambrose 2007).

Education in Lesotho became almost the domain of the missionaries. Therefore curriculum development and provision, including teacher training, was one of the key responsibilities of the missionaries (UNESCO 2012). Upon independence in 1966, the United Nations and Donor agencies ‘assisted’ Lesotho in her education system to develop educational reforms which were linked to the international activities and seemingly less on what was relevant to the needs of the people of Lesotho (Ambrose 2007).

It is argued that the contribution of the international organisations in the education system in Lesotho was seen as the expansion of the market for such organisations. The World Bank which took over the role of the UN agencies in funding education reforms in Lesotho, for instance, arguably prepared Lesotho for a lifelong debt by providing soft loans for education reform (ibid, 2007).

Raselimo and Mahao (2015), assert that a number of unsuccessful curriculum reforms were adopted in the early 1970s in order to ensure a more relevant education for Basotho. One of the reforms included education with production which was called curriculum diversification reform in 1974. The reform was characterised by the introduction of practical subjects such as Agriculture, technical subjects and Home Economics which were intended for self-reliance (Raselimo & Mahao 2015).

A number of factors contributed to the fall of the reform. The Review of Education Sector Analysis in Lesotho 1978-1999 (2000) found that lack of funding in schools led to a choice of cheaper practical subjects which had no effective contribution to curriculum diversification.

Moreover, the findings of the review also showed that in addition to overloaded programmes as a result of curriculum diversification, there was no serious attention paid to the reform and that there was a weak link between practical subjects and requirements of institutions of higher learning which are determined through national examinations (ibid, 2000).

In order to enhance efficiency in education, another key reform was undertaken- the ‘core curriculum’ (Ministry of Education, Sports and Culture, 1982). The reform placed more emphasis on organising the curriculum into subjects where English, Sesotho, Science and Mathematics took precedence over other subjects and were given more time on the timetable (Selepe 2016).

In addition to the distinct subjects encouraged by this reform there was the notion of emphasis on the core subjects in the examinations to determine success in education in the education system of Lesotho. Contrarily, Ansell (2002) contends that overemphasis on examinations hinders the curriculum from adequately addressing national needs as it undermines attainment of such educational objectives as the practical application of the concepts and skills, the development of moral and socially conscious character.

In support of the above contention, the Curriculum and Assessment Policy (MoET 2009) articulates that traditional school subjects do not adequately address critical Basotho challenges such as high unemployment rate and slow economic growth, high poverty, rampant HIV and AIDS, environmental degradation and human rights and democracy. Consequently, as envisaged in the 2005-2015 Education Sector Strategic Plan, the Ministry of Education and Training (2005) made a commitment to reform the curriculum to a model that would respond to these societal challenges (Lesotho National Vision 2020, 2004).

Subsequently, the Curriculum and Assessment Policy was developed and published in 2009 in order to guide an education system in Lesotho which largely is underpinned by social constructivism which puts the learner at the centre of learning as an active participant, as stated in the policy:

 Pedagogy must shift more towards methods that can develop creativity, independence and survival skills. In essence, learners must assume greater responsibility of their own learning process. Therefore, the new trend should be a move from teaching to facilitating learning; from transfer of facts to students’ construction of knowledge…from didactic teaching to participatory, activity-centred and interactive methodologies (MoET 2009 p, vii).

 It is worth noting that the district under review is home to mainly three ethnic groups, namely, Basotho who constitute 70 percent, the Xhosa with about 20 percent and the Baphuthi with 10 percent (Education Statistics Bulletin 2010). It is on the basis of the foregoing background therefore that education for national development; factors influencing learners’ poor performance and solutions thereof were discussed.

 Education for national development

In their book, ‘Education for National Development’, Psacharopoulos and Woodhall (1985) refer to education for development as direct individual and societal returns such as enhancement of relevant skills, knowledge, attitudes, and motivation necessary for economic and social development from an investment in education.

On the other hand, some scholars argue that the concept of education for national development can be viewed from the philosophies that inform the education system of each country. According to Yurdakul (2015) the meaning of curriculum depends on those who define its philosophies, pedagogical approaches or experiences with a concept. To this end, two curriculum models, namely, the objectives model by Tyler (1949) and the process model by Stenhouse (1975) are used to explain education for national development. From a rational point of view, curriculum is defined as a technical curriculum paradigm driven by pre-specified behavioural objectives in order to control what has to be taught (Tyler 1949).

The definition is guided by the ontological assumption that knowledge is universal, objective and independent of human senses; consequently, the epistemological assumption is that knowledge is scientifically acquired through the human intellect over other faculties (Kelly 1999). Obanya (1985) avers that the objectives model regards education as hierarchical and viewed as the means towards ends. In support of this view, James asserts:

This assumed that if ends were sufficiently carefully specified then the best means to attain these ends could be established by scientific evaluation of controlled interventions. Advice or prescription on the most effective and efficient interventions (the means) could then be disseminated to teachers to implement in their schools (2012:2)

 McKimm (2007: 10) adds, “The objectives model takes as its major premise the idea that all learning should be defined in terms of what students should be able to do after studying the programme, in terms of learning outcomes or learning objectives.”

Thus curriculum design follows a four-step linear model, namely, broad aims and specific objectives for the course, construction of the course to achieve the objectives (content), the definition of the curriculum practices to achieve the objectives (methods) and evaluation to ensure achievement of the objectives (evaluation) (James 2012, McKimm 2007, Kelly 1999).

Pedagogy is, therefore, teacher-centred and a learner is viewed as a recipient of knowledge from the teacher (Kelly 1999). To criticise the model, Glass (1969) as cited by Lewy (1977) argues that the Tyler model by emphasizing on the consistency between set objectives, teaching methods, prescribed content and outcomes is oblivious of occurrence of unplanned or unintended events. “…the model unduly emphasises the outcome of the program and does not pay attention to process variables or to the examination of the antecedent conditions that affect the success of the program. (Ibid: 11)

In criticising a pre-determined and controlled content, Kelly (1999: 60) contends that the adoption of the clear-cut intentions exclusive of learners’ wishes, desires and interests posts a serious threat to individual freedom which Raselimo and Mahao (2015) show that, although not explicitly written, it is embedded in the Curriculum and Assessment Policy.

The process model by Stenhouse (1975) on the contrary, assumes that knowledge is context-based, subjective and individual as opposed to collective. The epistemological assumption is that knowledge is constructed. Thus from a constructivist view:

A curriculum is an attempt to communicate the essential principles and features of an educational proposal in such a form that it is open to critical scrutiny and capable of effective translation into practice. (Stenhouse, 1975: 4)

 The process model, therefore, regards education as a process; subsequently educational intentions should be in the form of principles which could be subjected to scrutiny and capable of being translated according to different contexts (James 2012).

Shoemaker defines an integrated curriculum espoused by the process model as “education that is organized in such a way that it cuts across subject-matter lines, bringing together various aspects of the curriculum into meaningful association to focus upon broad areas of study. It views learning and teaching in a holistic way and reflects the real world, which is interactive. (1989, p. 5)

Thus the model envisages learner-centred pedagogical approaches that place the interest of learners at heart. This view is in conformity with the Curriculum and Assessment Policy, “…the best interests of the child shall be the guiding principles of those responsible for the education and guidance of the child” (MoET 2009: i).

One salient feature of the Curriculum and Assessment Policy is an assessment that espouses a social constructivist model. Brown and Knight (1994) as cited by Rust, O’Donovan and Price (2005), assert that assessment in a constructivist curriculum model is at the heart of the student experience and the biggest influence on how learners approach their learning.

Contrary to the Tyler (1949) model where assessment is conducted in order to obtain a comprehensive evaluation of a completed curriculum (summative assessment), assessment in the process model (formative assessment) is conducted in order to facilitate learning (Zais 1976, MoET 2009, Rust et al., 2005).

It is argued that summative assessment is only suitable at the stage of curriculum planning and the challenge with it is that once curriculum development is completed, there is resistance to addition of anything that suggests necessity for major changes (2009). The Curriculum and Assessment Policy envisages the use of three assessment methods whereat the summative model is used at the end of both basic and secondary level education for selection and certification while formative assessment (continuous assessment) evaluates the attainment of curriculum aims at all levels to check and facilitate the learning progress and remediation for diagnosis of problems to facilitate learning (MoET 2009, Raselimo and Mahao 2015). Rust et al., contend that:

A social constructivist approach to achieving meaningful understanding of assessment requires some kind of active engagement with the criteria by both tutors and students. For students, involving them in a marking exercise where they actually use the criteria in marking sample pieces of work and then discuss the results both with other students and tutors has been shown … to result in statistically significant improvement in the students’ subsequent work (2005: 233).

 In support of this interpretation of education for development, UNESCO articulates that, “Education must develop the ability to recognize and accept the values which exist in the diversity of individuals, genders, peoples and cultures… The citizens of a pluralist society and multicultural world should be able to accept that their interpretation of situations and problems is rooted in their personal lives, in the history of their society and in their cultural traditions; that, consequently, no individual or group holds the only answer to problems; and that for each problem there may be more than one solution.” (1995 p.9).

The contextual framework of Lesotho shows that the education system of Lesotho, throughout most of the reforms undertaken, was characterised by a centralised and high stake examination-oriented curriculum that was informed by Tyler (1949) model until the 2009 Curriculum and Assessment Policy which introduced a shift to a largely social constructivist curriculum, a step towards addressing education for national development.

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