MASERU — The unceremonious suspension of the Distance Teacher Education Programme (DTEP) offered by Lesotho College of Education (LCE) was inconvenient for teachers enrolled for the course, teachers’ unions said this week.
The Sunday Express understands that last weekend student teachers enrolled for the course were turned away by the LCE after they were informed that the course had been scrapped “due to the lack of funds”.
An estimated 400 DTEP first year students who arrived at the college for orientation on January 17 were reportedly turned away the next day on the advice that they should return home because the programme was suspended “until further notice”.
The LCE also heaped blame on the Ministry of Education and Training for introducing the programme only to later suspend it on the grounds that “it should be subjected to evaluation”.
But the ministry has also shot back, saying the LCE had been told in advance about the lack of funds and the evaluation process.
The ministry added that the LCE was also aware that the cut-off period for the programme was June 2013.
But the Lesotho Teachers’ Trade Union (LTTU) and Progressive Association of Lesotho Teachers (PALT) have joined the fray in defence of the teachers, lashing out at the ministry of education for acting unilaterally and failing to communicate matters pertaining to the public openly “rather than being radical in implementing policy changes”.
LTTU secretary general Vuyani Tyhali told this paper this week that the teachers were “abandoned” after having their hopes raised “only to quash them later”.
“They should have been granted the opportunity to complete the course because they had high expectations,” Tyhali said.
“Right now what is vital and pressing is students must be given chance to complete the programme.”
Accordind to Tyhali, the onus was on government to source funds to assist the students since it had known for a while when the programme would end.
“If the government really needs quality education there should be funds to help the student,” Tyhali said.
Instead of allocating a significant portion of the annual budget to the Ministry of Defence and National Security, Tyhali said, government ought to have prioritised education because “no one except for South Africa can attack Lesotho”.
PALT President Letsatsi Ntsibolane also told this paper that since the government and LCE had raised expectations of DTEP students “radical change was unnecessary”.
Instead, Ntsibolane said, a gradual change of the system would harmonise the situation to “avoid controversy on policy change”.
“We rather recommend that the college ensures that those who were admitted are absorbed in other different programmes as they had legitimate expectation of studying,” Ntsibolane said.
He added: “Education is a national issue so it would be beneficial if government and the LCE had communicated with the concerned parties (students) about the suspension of the programme.”
Furthermore, Ntsibolane said it was shocking for the ministry to act as if it did not know that the programme “would not have funding”.
“It would be downright stupid for the government to handle the matter as if it did not know about the sponsorship problem,” Ntsibolane said.
Meanwhile LCE Rector Dr John Oliphant told this paper that the 2014 candidates had been informed of the state of affairs on DTEP, that it could not be continued.
Oliphant said the programme was introduced by the ministry of education and training in 2002 and was sponsored by the Irish Aid and World Bank.
“Students were mainly paying fees to cover some administrative costs of processing their applications, registration and enrolment, so practically the programme was free for them,” Oliphant said.
However, Oliphant firmly said since the sponsorship had “dried out” the programme can therefore not be sustained in its current form.
Oliphant also stressed that there were thousands of qualified teachers who had been produced by the college but remain unemployed adding “it’s only fair to absorb those who have the necessary qualifications first”.
Oliphant again emphasised that in 2009 when new Teachers’ Career Structure was introduced, the education ministry advised that untrained ‘teachers’ upgraded their qualifications so that by 2014 they would have “obtained the qualified teacher status”.
“This year, 2014, is the cut-off year by which all untrained teachers in schools will have to make way for qualified teachers,” Oliphant said.
He further said that the programme had been suspended as the ministry of education and training was evaluating it and that after the evaluation they would be informed “on the way forward”.
A seemingly defiant Oliphant said that under the circumstances the college had no choice but to “turn the students back”.
“To convey our empathy for the students, the college will reimburse those who have already paid,” Oliphant said.
He added: “The college is aware that some candidates qualify for direct entry into the full-time primary programme, so such candidates will be given admission in the college as a matter of priority during the next intake.”
This paper spoke to some of the affected students this week to seek their opinion on the suspension of the DTEP.
Nthunya ‘Miri, a teacher at Pitseng Primary School in Leribe said they would be glad if they could be assisted because being admitted for the course had “raised our expectations”.
“We are expecting help from government because we had planned to do the course,” ‘Miri said.
Another student teacher, Nthole Mohloai from Botšela Primary School in Mafeteng, also expressed concern saying he was surprised that they were admitted only to be turned down just after enrolling and incurring costs in the process.
“We were admitted in January 2013 and told not to report to school and we spend the whole year waiting,” Mohloai said.
“It was just last year December that we were called to report to school for our course,” Mohloai said.
“But then, to our surprise we are now told of the suspension without details. We are appealing to the public for help.”
Meanwhile, in a press statement, the Ministry of Education and Training confirmed the suspension of the programme.
“In 2002, the ministry launched the four-year diploma programme (DTEP) as a donor financed project meant to address the plight of unqualified primary school teachers that were recruited following the introduction of the free primary education in 2000,” reads the statement.
The statement states that the initial target was to train and upgrade qualifications of about 2 000 teachers representing 25 percent of the teaching force then.
It further notes that the last cohort of teachers trained under that phase of the project completed in 2008 before the new teachers’ career structure was introduced.
It adds: “By this time, 1 300 primary school diploma teachers had been trained and graduated.”
The statement says the second phase of the DTEP project was supposed to have started in June 2010 and expected to end in June 2013.
“That phase two was meant to contribute to improvements in the quality of basic education specifically to upgrade unqualified teachers working in designated 540 hard-to-reach ‘difficult’ schools”, it reads.
The implementation of that project was delayed and it only started in 2012, covering students from both 2011 and 2012, the statement states.
“The delay caused the ministry to request project extension which was granted up to November 2014, and the implication is that the last cohort will complete its studies one year beyond the official extended closing date of November 2014”, the statement read.
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