There were seven presentations, all of which were to be followed by a question/comments session by the student-teachers. This session never materialised.
In a room packed with over 400 teachers-to-be, not even one attempted to ask a question or comment on any of the presentations. When none spoke after mine, which was the last for the day, I asked jokingly if this year we had the most brilliant group ever which understood everything with such ease that there was no need for questions or comments. I also hinted it could be that we had the opposite of a brilliant group!
It was the first time in the ten years that I have been part of these workshops for students not to comment or ask questions and it signalled a situation that makes many of us fear for the future of education, skills acquisition and rigorous debate. When the Ecol Registrar told me she would make her presentation brief to allow for questions I told her she shouldn’t be surprised if none were asked and indeed that’s what followed her highly informative talk: deafening silence!
Even with the added dynamics of the new syllabus being laid bare in front of such a large group of students, none of them felt like questioning its merits or demerits. They only murmured a collective sigh of relief when they learned that English Language would no longer determine passing or failure. Many colleagues I have interacted with at NUL have genuine concerns about the kind of product the institution has been receiving from the school system and then sending to the workplace in recent years.
While they (myself included) feel that the many years they spent teaching, reading and researching are gradually making them better teachers, it is in sharp contrast with the students they are getting in their classrooms; every new group is worse than the one before it. For most teaching staff, this is the worst turn-off in their profession; probably competing fiercely with miserable salaries. I don’t want to get into the blame-game and start pointing fingers because the secondary school teacher will inevitably also blame the primary school teacher.
Some will even accuse the parent who in some cases long ceased to exist or has not studied enough to be of any academic assistance; and the problem will simply remain unresolved. This is a national dilemma which needs to be addressed soberly. The current helplessness amongst us must soon be translated into urgent action. It is a fact that today, the students who enter the NUL gate to do first year are ill-prepared and only a shadow of what they should be.
The years they spend at university hardly change them for the better. Of course they cannot all be painted with the same brush but the majority leaves a lot to be desired. A disturbing factor in the equation is their obvious lack of interest to educate themselves. Many lack intrinsic motivation to study. They never stop complaining about too much work yet college is precisely about hard work and less loitering. I swear if I were to land from Thailand having discovered new learning methods and invite the entire student population for a one-hour lecture, less than a quarter would show up. But if I were to drive through the gate in the company of a lorry full of meat and alcohol and invite them to a party, almost the entire student body would turn up!
Even the sick ones will drag themselves out of bed and hobble towards the party venue. That’s how deplorable the situation is. During our student days, about twenty years ago, all student union meetings were held in English. Whoever tried to speak Sesotho would be shouted down. Today it is a direct opposite;
whoever attempts to speak in English during meetings is shouted down! Of course it was a more cosmopolitan campus then with students from many parts of Africa but we valued both debate and the medium of doing it. I am told by those who studied long before me that in fact English was the main language of communication among students anywhere on campus.
Now it is fairly common in all my classes for students to misspell even words which appear on a question paper that’s right in front of them. I once had one who misspelled even his own name! It is amazing how an “I don’t-care” attitude has taken such deep root among our students at different levels. Even secondary school teachers have the same complaint. For many of our NUL students, marks are far more important than the quest for serious knowledge. While the emerging scandals involving staff and students’ marks are a national embarrassment, they point to a new trend where students will do just about anything to graduate.
For many the certificate is not equivalent to the highest level of skills and knowledge.
It is a fact which far too many employers have complained about and all stakeholders need to come up with ways to address it. Otherwise our nation risks being bedevilled by a large pool of graduates with nothing meaningful to contribute in getting Lesotho out of the quagmire of poor service delivery. A serious turn-around is needed to make our education and graduates more credible. Every key stakeholder needs to contribute their fair share to improve the situation or we risk a vicious cycle with institutions admitting below-average minds and pumping the same into the workplace.
Mahao Mahao is a lecturer
in the Faculty of Education at the National University of