EDUCATION and Training Minister, Motlalentoa Letsosa says Lesotho needs to urgently address issues of schools administration if the country’s education system is to be among the best in the region.
Appointed as Education minister during the November 2016 cabinet reshuffle, the former Tšakholo High School deputy principal spoke of his aim of ensuring his ministry fulfilled its mandate of moulding people who will help improve Lesotho holistically in this interview with Lesotho Times (LT) reporter, Pascalinah Kabi.
LT: As a teacher, do you feel any pressure to address issues affecting local teachers?
Letsosa: Yes, everyone expects me to quickly address issues affecting teachers simply because I have worked as a teacher. But what my fellow teachers do not understand is the fact that there are procedures that need to be followed to address those pertinent issues affecting the fraternity. However, the most important thing for me as I try to address these issues is to find a balance between their expectations and realities on the ground.
I must however admit that there are some key issues affecting teachers which I fully understand. As a former teacher, I think I understand their situation better than anyone else and there are those things that urgently need improvement to ensure that our level of education improves drastically.
It is against this background that I am doing my best to try and do right by our teachers.
LT: You say there are pertinent issues that need to be addressed urgently, what are these issues?
Letsosa: There are a lot of things that need attention but the most urgent and important one is the administration of schools. Administration is the backbone of any school. If you want to judge the school’s administration, look at the discipline, performance and the general behaviour of the school.
If there is a problem with administration, we will always have problems with school’s performance. Teachers will not be committed to their job as stipulated in the contract, learners will not pay attention to their education and parents will always complain about this and that.
If a school’s administration is handled well, our education system stands a better chance of being one of the best in the region.
Speaking from experience, I have seen two neighbouring schools, with similarly qualified teachers, classrooms and learners’ level of intelligence, perform differently due to the administration.
If we manage to get a handle on this and ensure that each and every school’s administration understands their responsibilities and how important their role is in giving learners quality education, we would have laid a solid foundation for our education system.
The other issue lies with the ministry in terms of Teaching Service Department (TSD) and Teaching Servicing Commission (TSC) handling the hiring, firing, promotion and retirement of teachers. There is need for a serious overhaul to ensure that teachers’ needs are handled with care and that they are happy with their employment conditions.
LT: How are you going to ensure that all schools, be they private, government or church owned, beef up their administration to improve the standards of education?
Letsosa: I have made it clear to civil servants that this would be impossible if we do not work closely with different school owners to improve their administration. It must be understood that as government we have little influence on how schools are run, school boards have all the powers to deteriorate education standards or improve them.
It is however, very unfortunate that the same board members, who hold the key to the administration, do not know their duties as they are elected into these positions during parents’ meetings. I have had an opportunity to have a chat with many board members and if you ask them why they are not taking anyone to task for maladministration or poor performance, you will be amazed to realise how little they know about their duties.
The 2010 Education Act gives the board powers to hire, fire or discipline underperforming teachers but you find that board members are just happy to hold such positions without exercising their powers.
We have schools showing poor performance, for instance in the Lesotho General Certificate of Secondary Education (LGCSE), because board members are sleeping on the job while the administration does as it pleases knowing that they do not have anyone to answer to.
LT: You were appointed the Education Minister in November 2016, at the time when there were numerous problems in the teaching service. Is it true that you have promised to deal with these problems by end of March?
Letsosa: While I cannot go into details as this is a thorny issue that must be handled with care, I must say that we never set a timeframe. I do not know where that came from.
However, one issue teachers are raising is that of the performance contract. At the time when I was appointed the minister, they had already lodged a court case against the ministry but our lawyers have agreed that they need to withdraw the court case to give negotiations a chance.
The performance contract is in three categories. There are those who are on permanent and pensionable contract, those at the time of engagement were not serving teachers but were employed on performance contracts ending either in October 2016 and February 2017.
Lastly, there were those in-service teachers who were employed as principals signing performance contracts, ending in October and February.
Of the last two categories, there are slightly over 100 principals and it was agreed that once their contracts expire, those who were already serving as teachers would assume their past posts while those not in the system would not be retained.
The agreement was that once their contracts expire, they would be paid their gratuities immediately. It is however unfortunate that there was a mishap from the ministry’s side as we failed to budget and ensure that their money was readily available for payments at the end of each contract.
We are working hard to raise these money and ensure that such principals get what is due to them.
LT: What is your reaction to a school of thought that the disappearance of some teachers who sought employment in the 2016 census negatively affected the external results?
Letsosa: That had a huge negative bearing on this year’s external results. This is one of the reasons the performance level dropped because whether we like it or not, a day or two in class without a teacher affects a learner’s performance because such learners would have missed two days of learning opportunities which would never be recovered.
The other negative factor is that of teachers missing classes for a minimum of one week attending part classes as you might be aware that some teachers make arrangements with principals to enroll for part-time courses, without putting any measures in place to fill the gap.
This issue again goes back to administration because if we had proper, vigilant boards they would ensure that principals are punished for it and in return they will put strict measures on their subordinates. Our plea to school boards is that they must exercise their powers and ensure that children get quality education.
LT: What are you aiming to achieve in the ministry?
Letsosa: The primary mandate of this ministry is to produce and mould people who will be able to help improve this country holistically. So my dream is to see this ministry living up to its mandate by giving people much needed quality education to become better citizens and help better this country.
LT: Lastly, as a former teacher of one of the best schools in the country, Tšakholo High School, what is your advice to teachers eager to produce good results?
Letsosa: The most important thing is discipline. If a teacher has a problem with disciplining their learners, no matter how good they are as teachers, they will not be able to properly impart much-needed knowledge to learners.
The second thing is to ensure that there is a learner-centred approach as learners are the most important people in our education system. It is first about learners and everyone else follows.