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Education in crisis

by Sunday Express
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WE have always taken pride in flaunting Lesotho’s literacy rate, estimated at 85 percent, as one of the highest in Africa. The estimates say around 95 percent of women and 75 percent of men in the kingdom can read and write. The figures are quite an achievement for southern Africa’s second smallest nation and one of the least developed countries in the world.

The importance of education cannot be overstressed. Education does not only give us the knowledge of the world around us, but also develops in us a perspective of looking at life.Besides teaching us to be civilised, education helps make us capable of planning for our futures. We can say so much about education, which not only forms the basis of a country’s economic strength but opens up career opportunities for individuals. Ordinarily, a simple look at Lesotho’s literacy rate should be a source of hope for a nation that has not known prosperity in centuries.

But it appears we have very little to show for our enlightenment. Education has not helped us become a self-dependent nation. We have failed to explore and utilise our resources — including diamonds and water — for the economic benefit of our population of two million. Lesotho’s jobless rate is currently around 45 percent, yet education is meant to create employment opportunities. Yet not many of these economically active people are unemployed because of the global economic crisis. This is because our literacy has not helped us create industries, and therefore jobs, for millions of Basotho. Our enlightenment has not inspired us to come up with strategies to lure real foreign investment necessary for the betterment of our lives.

Here we are, with our high literacy rates, wallowing in abject poverty. The majority of Basotho live on less than US$1 a day. With such a sobering reality, isn’t it time we looked at the parlous state of our education? Really, education goes beyond knowing how to read and write. Yet our government seems to be doing little to improve the quality of our education. The proliferation of unregistered schools, as reported in our lead story this week, is clear testimony of the government’s lackadaisical attitude towards education. Statistics of the current state of our education sector are not readily available — another thing that education has not taught us.A 1998 Unesco report said Lesotho had 1 264 officially registered primary schools, with the government and communities owning 45 of them.

The rest, 1 219, were owned by churches. That year, 369 515 pupils were in primary school. The same report said there were 205 officially registered schools, of which 91.7 percent were church-owned. More than 71 000 pupils were in secondary school, with only 11.2 percent of them at government schools. As of 2007 Lesotho had about 1 400 registered primary schools with an enrolment of 400 000. There were also 291 secondary schools with an enrolment of 97 936. Thus, a decade later, the government has failed to improve the situation significantly. Rather private individuals have seized the opportunity to fill the void. In general, the participation of private players would have been a welcome development for the education sector.

But not when their private institutions do not meet even a modicum of prerequisites to constitute a school. Most of these privately-owned schools that have mushroomed all over Lesotho do not have basics to make their institutions conducive for learning. Not only do they lack books and basic learning aides, these schools do not have playing fields for extra-curricular activities. In the meantime, the government watches these unregistered schools take centre stage in the education of the nation. The government must not simply clamp down on these unregistered schools. The government ought to take a leading role in the education of the nation by ensuring, first, that we have enough proper schools — private ones included.

That includes registering private schools that meet the standards and helping those that can’t but have shown interest in providing education in our communities. Parents take their children to unregistered schools not because they simply want to, but because the government has failed to provide enough and accessible schools. Schools and colleges define the basic framework of education. Making sure this area is overhauled is the first step if we are serious about taking our education beyond knowing how to read and write.

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