Students, parents beg govt to resolve teachers’ impasse
HIGH school learners, parents, taxi operators and the police have begged the government to speedily yield to the demands of teachers which have resulted in the ongoing strike to ensure that schools are reopened.
The pleas came out during a symposium organised by the Development for Peace Education (DPE) on the paralysis of the education sector at AME Hall in Maseru on Thursday.
The learners lamented that their future is at stake for they are losing time in their studies instead of moving ahead due to the industrial action while the parents said they feared that if some of their children remained idle in the homes unattended, this could increase the rate of teenage pregnancies. On the other hand, the Lesotho Police Staff Association (LEPOSA), warned that if the children remained idle, the burden of crimes which they may commit will increase while the Maseru Region Taxi Operators (MRTO) said that their business has suffered due to the reduced number of passengers.
The meeting was meant to collectively identify the challenges in the education sector and also make recommendations that will enable both the teachers and the government to find common ground in their discussions with the intention of resolving the issues that led to the current strike action.
Teachers embarked onto the job action on 18 February this year to press the government to award them salary increments and improve their working conditions.
Last Saturday, the teachers told a ministerial sub-committee that they would only engage in negotiations to halt the strike if the government committed to granting them an eight percent salary increment starting from the next financial year. They also demanded that those who were fired for striking should be reinstated and that the government withdraws all its legal battles against teachers.
The strike has affected learning in most of the 1800 government schools around the country with pupils being sent home as a result of the absence of their teachers.
Apart from salary increments, the teachers also want the government to hold regular training sessions for teachers to familiarise them with new curriculum. The teachers also want an adequate supply of teaching materials and text books for the learners.
They also want the government to reinstate the Lesotho Teachers’ Association (LAT) chairperson, Letsatsi Ntsibolane who was fired from his teaching duties at Lithabaneng High School in Maseru. Mr Ntsibolane was on 30 January this year fired for neglecting performing his duties by announcing an illegal teachers’ strike and absenting himself on the days of the illegal strike.
The teachers said they would down tools for three weeks and teach learners only for one week in a month until their grievances were addressed. They said the cycle would continue for a year unless the government yielded to their demands.
In an effort to avert the industrial action three weeks ago, the government set up a ministerial sub-committee to help the Minister of Education and Training, Professor Ntoi Rapapa to address the teachers’ complaints which include demands for the government to pay them salary arrears on their performance-based contracts dating back to 2009.
The committee is chaired by the Minister of Communications, Science and Technology, Thesele ‘Maseribane. Other members of the committee are Prof Rapapa; Public Service Minister, Semano Sekatle; Defence Minister, Tefo Mapesela; Minister of Energy, Tsukutlane Au, Minister of Finance, Moeketsi Majoro and the Minister of Home Affairs, Mokoto Hloaele.
In her remarks at the symposium, Pont?o Khakhane – a Form E student at Holy Cross High School – begged the government to yield to the teachers’ grievances saying to safeguard the learners’ future.
“When clashes started last year, teachers would at times come to class and occasionally tell us to learn on our own,” Khakhane said adding: “it became worse this year when the teachers completely stopped coming to class telling us that they were on a strike”.
“I personally understand why our teachers are on strike because as a Form E student, I have to share my books with a Form A student because the school does not have books for learners. This happens while I am preparing for my final exams before varsity and this affects my future negatively.
“I am from Maseru but attending school in Mohale’s Hoek which means I cannot study even during this period because of lack of books and I cannot even consult my teachers because they say they are not at work.
“Furthermore, there is a lot of peer pressure at home such that some may end up abusing substances like alcohol or drugs. We are at risk therefore we ask that the government solves the problems quickly for us to go back to school.”
On the parents’ side, ‘Manthabeleng Khojane said while they had already paid fees, they also fear leaving their children at home unattended.
“We sacrificed a lot as parents to pay fees for the first quarter and some of us had to borrow money but to our disappointment, a few days later our children started staying at home because their teachers are on strike.
“It is saddening to leave your child at home while going to work because we all know how naughty our children can be. Our greatest fear is that they may engage in unlawful acts or worse, fall pregnant,” Ms Khojane said.
LEPOSA on the other hand said if the children do not return to school, the police will soon be overwhelmed with work due to crimes which may be committed by the children.
Meanwhile, transport operators also said their families are on the verge of starvation as they rely on funds raised from transporting children for their survival.