QUTHING – ‘MAHLAELE Khabo sits in her living room, shoulders slouched and worry written all over her face. It has been a typically long day at Sebapala Primary School in Quthing, a district which has over the years, earned the dubious distinction of having the worst results for primary and secondary education.
Ms Khabo is a veteran who has seen it all- she has been in the noblest profession for 41 years and tried everything but the results will just not improve. And there is no way they can improve when many schools in the district have only one qualified teacher to oversee the learning process.
She is in a slightly better position with two qualified teachers at her school.
The rest are either relief or in-service teachers still undergoing training.
Although some of the in-service teachers have demonstrated commitment, Ms Khabo says hard work and passion are not a substitute for qualifications.
Some of these teachers find themselves having to teach subjects which they failed with often tragic consequences where learners are not given the proper educational foundation.
As a result, some learners still cannot write their names or do simple arithmetic.
The passionate Ms Khabo also recalls a time in the not-too-distant past when she had to take care of the whole school all by herself, a feat that was so stressful that she soon found herself on the verge of depression and hypertension.
Although the situation has improved at her school, the conditions are still far from adequate to ensure effective learning. Due to staff shortages, most teachers are required to teach more than one class.
And it is not just the shortage of teachers as Quthing still has to contend with a myriad challenges ranging from the shortage of learning materials, staff motivation, lack of teacher supervision as well as the generally negative attitudes of the learners and the local communities towards education.
According to Ms Khabo, school inspections are few and far between. Even if school inspectors come, they are rarely follow-up visits to enforce standards.
It is even worse for remote schools where the inspectors never visit at all.
This was confirmed by the senior educator in Quthing district, Motlatsi Mosoang, who told the Lesotho Times that they had to use helicopters to reach some parts of the district.
“The remote areas are not accessible by road and having to use helicopters means we cannot visit as often as we would want to,” Mr Mosoang said.
The communal attitudes towards education have also proven to be a stumbling block to the attainment of good results.
Quthing borders the Eastern Cape province of South Africa. A significant number of people trek from Quthing to provide unskilled manual labour on farms in the Eastern Cape and further afield in South Africa’s Western Cape Province.
It is a practice that is more than century old. It poses a real challenge to teachers who struggle to impress upon learners the value of education when all they can imagine is growing up and going to work in the Eastern Cape like their parents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles and cousins did before them.
“Unfortunately, manual labourers do not make the best role models to motivate young learners to understand the importance of education,” said another teacher who spoke to this publication on condition of anonymity.
Another challenge, Ms Khabo explains, is posed by the impact of the traditions of the local communities where circumcision and other rites of passage are considered so important that they often impact on the learning time particularly for male pupils.
Boys look forward to going to the traditional schools where they are taught survival skills including hunting for food, taking care of the family and slaughtering animals.
Thereafter, they undergo circumcision which confirms their passage into adulthood and enables them to participate in the decision-making processes in their communities.
While such skills may be useful, they are however woefully inadequate given the demands of the modern world where skills acquired through the formal education system are a prerequisite for gainful and dignified employment.
“Young learners place a high value on traditional initiation ceremonies to the detriment of their formal education. You can be a circumcised and highly skilled hunter fully equipped to survive in the bush but modern life requires that you handle computers, do the maths and work in offices among other things. And the best preparation for all that is the classroom and not some traditional school in the bush. The sooner learners and their parents appreciate this the better,” said another teacher.
Ms Khabo concurred, saying, “It is an undeniable fact that most boys come back (from traditional schools) with changed behaviour and the self-entitlement ideology that they are ‘men’ and they will not listen to any female or an uninitiated man.
“They come back from the mountains very disrespectful and fail to absorb anything they are taught at school.”
The parents are also to blame.
Although parents are important stakeholders in the education of their children, Ms Khabo decried their tendency to have learners babysit their younger siblings- something which cost them valuable learning time.
She said this often occurred when parents participated in poverty alleviation projects which usually last a month or more.
“A learner misses a lot by being absent from school for a month while baby-sitting. The damage that this does is immense as most learners are deprived of the necessary educational foundation that would enable them to do well in future,” Ms Khabo said.
She also said some parents just do not care at all about their children’s education to the extent that they will not even help them with their homework.
“Last year, the World Vision tried to assist us to have reading programmes in which parents were supposed to help their children at home. But some parents refused saying they were not paid to teach. Some parents will not even read their own children’s reports.
“They do not take responsibility of their children’s work, we give homework as part of assessing their children’s capacity, but they do not get involved and they can’t even cover their children’s books,” Ms Khabo said.
Teachers like Ms Khabo will most likely continue giving their best but the odds stacked against successful learning in Quthing are huge.
They may be vast challenges but they are not insurmountable. It will however, take the concerted efforts of all stakeholders- from government to learners and their communities- to ensure that Quthing eventually sheds its unenviable tag as the district that always brings up the rear whenever pass rates are announced.