The new education system continues to divide opinion with some parents expressing fears it could ruin their children’s future, while a teachers’ trade union official and government beg to differ.
Under the new system, government has replaced Primary School Leaving Examinations (PSLE) with National Examinations (NE), and substituted the Cambridge Overseas School Certificate (COSC) with the Lesotho General Certificate of Secondary Education (LGCSE). The PSLE and COSC were set and marked locally but ratified in the United Kingdom while the NE and LGCSE are local qualifications.
The new system also dictates that students cannot be prevented from advancing to the next grade due to poor performance unless the situation is extremely bad and beyond redemption.
According to the Ministry of Education and Training Education Officer-Curriculum and Assessment, ‘Mabakubung Seutloali, the changes were the result of a World Bank study which revealed the old syllabus was no longer responding to Lesotho’s needs and discriminated against certain learners.
However, Ms Seutloali also told the Sunday Express there were many misconceptions about these changes which needed to be corrected.
“First of all, it is absolutely wrong to say learners will just proceed to the next grade even if they have not performed well. If there are learners who need to repeat classes, teachers must justify this decision,” Ms Seutloali said.
“Again, the primary objective of localising our curriculum was simply to make it relevant and responsive to the needs of Basotho. On top of that, it was too expensive to run the previous syllabuses, which means we are now saving money through this new system.”
Ms Seutloali added according to the World Bank’s study, there was a high drop-out after Standard Three and Seven because the old curriculum did not encourage learners to stay in school.
“The report revealed that there was no retention of learners after Standard Three and Seven and that most of them left for South Africa after failing their PSLE.
“You will also remember the PSLE certificate was once used to get a job but that’s no longer the case, so it had become irrelevant,” she said.
According to Ms Seutloali, under the new syllabus, learners do not fail or pass, and there are also no positions as teachers are more concerned about the abilities of each child.
“Students will only repeat classes if teachers have clearly stated in the Profile Report why this should be the case.”
Unlike the past syllabus, Ms Seutloali said the new one gives learners room to develop where they have the greatest potential, but also stresses the need for teachers and parents to be constantly in touch regarding the student’s progress.
Ms Seutloali urged parents to be fully involved in their children’s schoolwork by also religiously doing homework with them.
Meanwhile, unlike in the past where children were marked right or wrong, under this new curriculum, teachers use triangles to symbolise each learner’s progress.
For instance, a complete triangle means a learner fully understands what is being taught, while a two-sided triangle means she or he is “half way there”, said Ms Seutloali.
On the other hand, if a learner gets a one-sided triangle marking, this means he or she does not understand what is being taught.
According to Ms Seutloali, triangle markings are a professional communication tool between teachers, learners and parents.
“This encourages children to stay in school, unlike in the past where learners would get outrageous markings like an image of a crying egg which made them scared of making mistakes, thus preventing them from learning new things,” Ms Seutloali said.
She also stressed although PLSE have been abolished, Grade Seven learners would still write National Examinations, that would inform secondary school admissions.
On the issue of Secondary and High School curriculums, Ms Seutloali said learners would be divided into three groups, Artisan, Tvet and Academics, in line with their abilities.
LGCSE gradings would change from A1, A2, B2, B3, C5, C6, D7, E8 and U9 to A*, B, C, D, E, F and G, she added.
“LGSCE is a non-group examination and doesn’t have 1st Class, 2nd Class, 3rd Class, GCE and fail. There will be no need for numerals on the grades as an aggregate will serve no purpose in a non-group examination,” she said.
Yet several parents who spoke to the Sunday Express condemned the new system for “taking the country backwards” as far as education is concerned.
“My daughter goes to St James Primary School and under this new curriculum, her performance has deteriorated so much that we are now worried,” said one of the parents, who requested anonymity for fear her child could be victimised if she was identified.
“Because no one is going to fail and repeat a class anymore, the students don’t see the need to work hard in their studies. Under the old curriculum, learners put more effort as they did not want the embarrassment of repeating a class or being mocked by their classmates.
“Now they are getting away with laziness and the ministry should have thought long and hard and consulted us before introducing this curriculum which is taking our country backwards.”
The disgruntled parent further said what made matters worse under this new curriculum is teachers give learners “a lot of homework” without considering some guardians are illiterate and cannot help their children.
“I only did Standard Six and it pains me that I cannot help my child. I feel so helpless because I don’t want my child to end up like me. The other worry is that teachers are making parents do what they are paid to do, which is teach students and make sure they thoroughly understand the subject being taught,” she said.
Another parent also voiced similar concerns, insisting the new system had “devalued” the country’s education which was getting its fair share of criticism already due to its alleged failure to adequately prepare learners for university.
But another parent said she had nothing against the new system as it encouraged his child to work hard while also not feeling under too much pressure.
“My child no longer feels that pressure of having to perform wonders in class. She learns in a conducive environment that allows her to be herself, while we, as her parents, support her if she is finding any difficulties,” he said.
Lesotho Teachers’ Trade Union secretary general, Vuyani Tyhali, has also given the new syllabus the thumbs up, saying the country’s various teachers’ unions were part of processes leading up to the revamped curriculum.
“It is our baby; we were involved every single step of the way,” Mr Tyhali said. “Unlike in the past, all learners now have equal opportunity to study at the university.
“It is difficult to convince parents that this change is for their own children’s good. However, the parents’ anxiety is understandable because it takes time for people to accept change.”