MASERU – Lesotho has been selected to champion the ‘Education Plus’ initiative, an attempt to reduce HIV infections in girls and women and ultimately deliver on the United Nations Member States’ commitment to end AIDS by 2030. The Education Plus initiative is a high-profile, high-level political advocacy drive to accelerate actions and investments to prevent HIV. This is a project by UN agencies that includes UNAIDS, UNESCO, UNICEF, UNFPA and UN Women and is intended to help the education sector with free secondary education and also help the country in reducing GBV, new HIV infections, inequality, early and unintended marriages and unintended pregnancies.
It is centred on the empowerment of adolescent girls and young women and the achievement of gender equality in Sub-Sahara Africa – with secondary education as the strategic entry point. Speaking to Public Eye, the education ministry’s Focal Point and Chairperson of the Education Plus Initiative Technical Advisory Committee, ’Mabakubung Seutloali, said through the initiative, Lesotho will, among others, offer free secondary education and review educational policies so that children are able to choose the educational stream they want to follow.
She said unlike now when children are forced to take the academic route in secondary schools, under Education Plus, children will have freedom to choose from academic, vocational and technical streams free of charge. “With this initiative, secondary education is going to be free. Lesotho only had free primary education for a long time and when children had to start secondary education, some dropped out of school because of financial constraints, mainly school fees. School fees is one of the drivers that restricts children from completing their secondary education,” she noted.
She said the UN agencies decided help Lesotho and other countries through this initiative after discovering that worldwide, girls and young women do not complete their secondary education and, as a result, they get exposed to early unintended marriages, unintended pregnancies, inequality and gender based violence. She noted that this year the ministry of education will be doing an investment case study as Lesotho is one of the five countries that have been selected to champion this initiative and as soon as the study is complete, the initiative will be implemented.
Seutloali said at the moment, the Ministry of Education has enacted a policy with the help of UNFPA that will ensure that children are not expelled from school because of unintended pregnancy or unintended and early marriages. She said the policy, once passed by the parliament, will ensure re-entry for such children in schools. Also to be enacted by the ministry with the help of UNESCO is a Retention Policy which will ensure that a child is seen as a whole, not just the literate component. Seutloali said the policy will ensure that a child’s talents and capabilities are also put into consideration so that he can also contribute in growing the country’s economy.
“This will help us to effectively implement the new revised curriculum which has been implemented and practiced in some schools but without a guiding policy which allows children to choose a path of their choice depending on their talents and capabilities as individuals. The revised curriculum is learner-centred and focuses on what a child is good at and is able to do rather than force a child into an academic stream.
Unlike the old curriculum, which is “a one size fits all” the revised one is a three-tier model and allows children starting secondary education to choose whether they go into the technical stream, vocational stream or academic stream. “In the past all students were forced into the academic stream and, as a result, people are clustered in one stream competing for the same job opportunities while others dropped out of school because they could not cope under the academic stream,” Seutloali said.
She continued that the Education Plus initiative is going to help with implementation of this curriculum and support Lesotho so that children are taught, depending on what they are best capable of doing. Asked what the country was already doing to meet students half-way and ensure that they finish their secondary education, Seutloali said the country was already implementing a text books rental scheme, pointing out that access to books was another roadblock in children’s education but now with rental of books, children are able to study effectively.
“The initiative finds us already putting in some efforts in ensuring that children finish their secondary education. However, the challenge is still that school fees have to be paid. “The social development ministry is assisting some secondary learners with bursaries but because of high numbers of children in need of assistance and the ministry’s limited budget not every child is reached,” she said.