In Lesotho, primary education has recently been given a priority by the government with the involvement of the communities
01 / 1999
1. Challenge and context
The Kingdom of Lesotho is a small country with very few resources but its population. To develop the people, education is the first tool. A proper primary education lays foundations to allow people to become whatever they want. The government gives a big importance to the primary education which consumes half of the 30% of the national budget that is affected to education. The challenge relies on a change of cultural attitude towards education in Lesotho.
Traditionally, boys were to be physically developed to be able to go and work in South African mines. Very early, as soon as they reach 8 or 9 years old and can hardly write their name, boys used to leave school to go to the mountains to look after cattle as herdboys. Education was seen as a woman or girly activity. There is a need to conscientize parents that all their children must go to school whether girl or boy. In many mountainous areas of Lesotho, the school accessibility is also a problem. Children may have to walk long distances before reaching the place. With growing insecurity, parents are reluctant to let their children walk alone on these long distances. The government is committed to allow everybody to go to school. A strong political willingness is needed for people to really care because it is the first step in the building of the nation.
2. The actors involved
Children enroll when they are 6 for a seven year curriculum.
However, there is regular decrease in the enrolment. This is due to the fact that primary education is free in South Africa. School fees are usually charged to hire supplementary teachers who are not under contract with government. Expensive and compulsory school uniforms and transports costs are also contributing to keep the enrolment figures low.
Up to recently, churches played a major role in education. 95% schools were run by churches and are always owned by churches. It is difficult for them to hand over the education responsibility to the state. Churches themselves are divided between catholics and protestants who compete with each other. However, most of the teachers are hired and paid by the government. Newly built infrastuctures, books and curriculum development are also under the responsibility of the government.
In 1995, the Education Act empowered the local communities, so they’d be more involved in the school management.This act was disliked by the churches who consider that they lost a power that belonged to them. Thanks to the act, school committees have been created where parents have more say than the churches. In reality churches remain with a strong power, they even collect school fees and nobody dare say anything against the priest or the pastor.
Schools have to be brought closer to the community. Education officers organise promotionnal campaigns to sensitize the people through dramas, pamphlets, open meetings, group discussions. It raises awareness which is needed to empower school committees who are the only ones that can counter -balance the strength of the church. It is very important to train committee members because they are the ones who can really assist the teachers in making the school of their area a dynamic and successful one.
4. Evaluation of the outputs
From 1995 to 1999, one cannot say that the Education Act has had a very positive impact. It caused a constant confrontation between churches and government. The act was imposed when it would have been more clever to involve all stakeholders. Unfortunately, the government was a in hurry because the Education Act was a pre-condition set by USAID to provide a big grant for primary schools’ rehabilitation. The act was passed on time and the grant followed. Unfortunately it created a very conflictual situation.
On the other hand, teachers benefited from the act that gave them a statute of civil servants. They also know to whom they are answerable. It also opened the eyes of the public which was very passive and just ignorant of the way primary education used to work. The system is more transparent. In many places; parents engaged in fund raising activities to improve the education status of what they now consider as their school.
5. The role of donors
Donors played and still play instrumental roles. Food aid is distributed in primary schools. With the decentralisation, local educational authorities in each district will, have to be given the capacity to manage educational matters without relying on the central government’s budget.
This high rank civil servant is a very dynamic lady who links her job to the development of the nation. The system is still very centralised - during the interview a headmistress came from a mountainous district and request the officer’s signature to purchase --- tissue paper for the school she was heading.
There is a big diplomatic work to do to explain changes. The political turmoil in Lesotho is not conducive at all for such change of mentalities. On the contrary, it seems to be a period when everybody stands on its position.
Chief Education Officer - Primary
Ministry of Education Manpower Development
P.O. Box 47, Maseru, LESOTHO
Tel: 266 313628
Fax: 266 310562
[[Written for the public debate "Actors and processes of the cooperation", which could feed the next Lome Convention (European Union/ACP countries relations). This debate, animated by the FPH, has been started by the Cooperation and Development Commission of the European Parliament and is supported by the European Commission.]
Interview with KOKOME, Nims