…dropping out of school will now be a choice …not a calamity!
MASERU – Many Basotho children drop out of school without completing secondary education for a number of reasons, with the main one being failure to afford school fees. For most of the dropouts, options remain dim and all the dreams that every child has had end up being consumed in the economic ills of child labour, human trafficking. Add to these an assortment of delinquencies that young people fall prey to, often leading to undesired consequences.
The education system in the country also contributes to the imbalance with funding access availed at the lower primary level and much later at the tertiary level, leaving the middle education tier unattended. Lesotho’s Constitution provides children’s education as a fundamental right to every child living in Lesotho. As per Section 28 of the Constitution, the government has to ensure that Basotho children get quality education at all levels.
Section 28 of the National Constitution reads: “Lesotho shall endeavour to make education available to all and shall adopt policies aimed at securing that education is direct to the full development of the human personality and sense of dignity and strengthening the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.
“Primary education is compulsory and available for all, secondary education, including technical and vocational education, is made generally available and accessible to all by every appropriate means, and in particular by the progressive introduction of free education. “Higher education is made equally accessible to all, on the basis of capacity, by every appropriate means, and in particular, by the progressive introduction of free education.”
However, Mpho* aged 15 is unable to enjoy or get her right to education because her parents cannot afford her school fees and Lesotho has not introduced free secondary education yet. Currently, the country offers free primary education and according to the Education Act 2010, primary education is free and compulsory. The country, through the National Manpower and Development Secretariat NMDS, also sponsors tertiary education, though funding is limited to annual budget capping. Affording secondary education has been a challenge to parents mostly the non-working ones.
Only a small portion of secondary students is sponsored by the ministry of social development while a lot drop out of schools because of financial constraints. Mpho is one of the children that dropped out of school and failed to do her Grade 9 because her single mother cannot afford to pay her school fees. Her mother sells fruits and vegetables at the Maseru market centre but since Covid-19, business has been slow.
With the money made at the market, Mpho’s mother looks after her and two other children that are in primary school. In 2021, Mpho dropped out of school and has been staying at home with no hope that she will ever go back to class again so she just watches as her dream to become a teacher fades away. The social development ministry cannot help her as she doesn’t meet the criteria of children that can be sponsored by the ministry. As a result, she will wait until her mother makes another plan.
However, there is new hope for children like Mpho. Lesotho has been selected with other four countries in the SADC region to champion the Education Plus Initiative, a project which, among others, will ensure free secondary education for all. The ‘Education Plus’ initiative is a high-profile, high-level political advocacy drive to accelerate actions and investments to prevent HIV.
It is centered 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. Through the initiative, Lesotho will avail free secondary education for all.
Speaking to this publication, the Ministry of Education and Training Focal Point and Chairperson of 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, with the initiative, 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 are one of the drivers that restrict children from completing their secondary education,” she noted. Seutloali said the Education Plus Initiative is a project supported by UN agencies including, 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.
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, get exposed to early unintended marriages, unintended pregnancies, inequality and gender-based violence. She noted that this year the ministry of education will be conducting 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 as of now, the Ministry of Education has drawn a policy with the help of UNFPA that will ensure that children are not expelled from school because of unintended pregnancies or unintended and early marriages. She said once passed by the Parliament, the policy will ensure that there is a re-entry route in schools for such children. Also to be drawn by ministry of education is a Retention Policy with the help of UNESCO which will ensure that a child is seen holistically, 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 or she 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 follow the path of their choices, depending on their talents and capabilities as individuals.
“The revised curriculum is learner-centered and focuses on what a child is good at and able to do rather than forcing 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, vocational 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 same job opportunities while others dropped out of school because they could not cope under the academic stream,” Seutloali said.
She said 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 at. Asked what the country was already doing to meet students half way and ensure that they complete their secondary education, Seutloali said the country was already implementing the text book rental scheme, pointing out that access to books was another hurdle 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,” she noted. Introduction of free secondary education has been applauded by teachers, students and parents. They say the free secondary education will increase enrollment in secondary schools and will, among others, respond to challenges pupils face as a result of dropping out of school.
Lesotho Schools Principal Association (LESPA) General Secretary and Principal Teacher at Lesia High School, Mathafeng Moteuli, applauded the initiative noting that it will address drop out challenges in schools which is mostly caused by school fees. He said the initiative is overdue since they as secondary school principals have been fighting for years for secondary education to be made free so that all children can get access to education.
Moteuli said it does not make sense that children’s education is sponsored at primary school and at tertiary but is ignored at secondary level. He said failure to sponsor secondary education has seen a lot of children dropping out of schools while others failed to even set their foot in secondary school. Just last year, he said, about 20 students from Grade Eight to 10 dropped out of school because their parents who were working in the textile factories lost their jobs and, as a result, they could no longer afford their school fees.
Moteuli said Covid-19 worsened the situation of school drop outs further pointing out that what is heart breaking is that as per the new integrated curriculum, children no longer get certificates at Standard Seven and Grade 10, meaning if they drop out before writing Lesotho General Certificate of Secondary Education (LGCSE), they will have nothing to show for the years they spent in school.
He said the other struggle that parents have been facing is of examination fees which have been increasing year after year. “The Education Plus Initiative will upgrade the country’s education and more children will get the opportunity to quality education. “This means that with education afforded to all, children will in future be able to contribute towards the growth of the country’s economy,” he said.
Liteboho Mosala-Letsie, from the Ministry of Social Development, told Public Eye in a 2021 interview that a study by her ministry the previous year established that 2 727 (15.15 percent) and 1 661 students (11.86 percent) who were supposed to sit for JC and LGSCE examinations respectively had dropped out. “That is a total of 4 388 students. Some owed examination fees, others owed school fees while yet others owed both examination and school fees.”