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Foot in the mouth

IT’S been a horrendous week for higher education in Lesotho.

First, Limkokwing University of Creative Technology was closed following violent student protests that once again reminded us of the riot control inadequacies of our trigger-happy police force.

The police shot nine people, seven of them students, as the protest over the dismissal of a student leader turned nasty on Monday.

Three days later, the National University of Lesotho (NUL) sent its 10 000 students home after the institution’s lecturers insisted they would not return to work until their grievances were addressed.

Inevitably, exams were postponed and learning time was lost.

Naturally, Education and Training Minister Mamphono Khaketla had to say something.

But then, once again, she did so with her foot in her mouth.

She threatened to withhold the monthly allowances that students get from the government if the Limkokwing strike continued.

Khaketla also warned that the striking NUL lecturers would not get their December salaries if they did not end their industrial action.

Just around this time last year, the same minister said she suspected a third force was goading local university students to strike after a spate of protests saw the police shooting a student dead.

With such leadership, who needs a third force to reduce our education into a farce?

A good minister would know that threats do not resolve anything.

If Khaketla’s intention was to depict the lecturers and students as a greedy and unreasonable lot, she rather unwittingly exposed her own limitations.

Not that I condone in any way violent protests or the disruption of learning activities at the concerned institutions.

The underlying issue here is that higher education is in a state of paralysis.

And the buck stops with Khaketla.

The importance of education cannot be overstressed.

But can a weak education system like Lesotho’s form the basis of the country’s economic strength and open up career opportunities for many?

Not when the poorly-resourced NUL and Limkokwing students and lecturers are always on strike.

And would they strike if we had a pro-active minister and government?

Your guess is as good as mine.

Has anyone ever wondered why, despite the increase in the number of students at tertiary institutions, the quality of tuition has not improved?

It will certainly not improve until we have acceptable governance and management at all post-secondary institutions.

It starts with a clear education policy and doesn’t need a minister who fights fire with fire.

While Khaketla publicly bluffs about the issues, she must privately summon Limkokwing authorities over the questionable way they are running that bare-bone college.

Likewise she or her representatives must engage the lecturers and thrash out their grievances, most of which are genuine.

Now, will the real education minister stand up!


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