Striving to build a better future for children through education in Lesotho
As the world marked the fourth International Day of Education on 24 January, we need a renewed engagement to transform education and build a better future for our children in line with the promises of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It is well established that the key to a better future for children in any country lies in quality education. It is no different for Lesotho, a demographically young lower-middle-income country where nearly 40 percent of the population is under 18.
However, the country faces many challenges. According to the 2016 Education Statistics Report of Lesotho's Bureau of Statistic, despite an impressive primary school enrolment rate of nearly 9 out of 10 children, the same cannot be said for secondary schools where the enrolment rate plummets to only 4 out of 10 children. The report also states that only 4 out of 10 children attend pre-primary education and enter schools better equipped to learn. The COVID-19 pandemic further exacerbated these gaps.
Indeed, as with many countries around the world, the pandemic led to school closures in Lesotho, leaving almost half a million children and adolescents without access to learning and an uncertain future. According to the World Bank Human Capital Index 2020 Update report, between March 2020 and April 2021 alone, children in Lesotho lost around 140 to 160 school days of learning.
Since the onset of the pandemic, the UN in Lesotho has been supporting the government in mitigating the impact of the crisis, including through the implementation of a COVID-19 Socio-Economic Response Plan developed under the leadership of the Resident Coordinator, with support from UNDP as technical lead, and in collaboration with the Lesotho UN Country Team (UNCT) and several other international organizations.
This included addressing the impact of school closures, with the UN providing remote learning support to 224,917 children, including 107,960 boys and 116,957 girls. Since many children also rely on school meal programmes to access a healthy nutrition, the UN also provided take-home rations to 273,008 pre-primary and primary school children, consisting of 137,250 boys and 135,758 girls, to ensure their food security.
The impact of the pandemic was further intensified because of the 2019 teacher strikes, which had already resulted in learning losses. The impact of these crises could have a long-lasting effect on children and communities across the country.
Shoeshoe Moroeng, a 12-year-old student Mohale’s Hoek, explained that catching up with learning has been the hardest challenge since schools reopened. Mpho Mathibeli, a 17-year-old from Makena High School in Mafeteng, shared the same sentiments and added:
“I am worried that I may not perform well in my exams, which may mean I have to choose another course not of my liking after graduating from high school.”
After the initial shock of sudden school closure in 2020, the Ministry of Education and Training put in place measures to ensure continuity of learning. Radio and television classes on math and science, reading and writing, awareness on COVID-19 prevention measures, and the importance of psychosocial well-being of children were important. But they were not enough. The subsequent work that the Ministry led to reopen, and keep schools open safely, is commendable.
The pandemic exposed the fragilities of the education system in Lesotho and we learned the hard lesson that the conventional school system is not shock-resistant; nor does it respond well to uncertainties.
However, the pandemic has also presented a huge opportunity for us to reimagine what learning could and should be.
“Schools must look beyond the confines of the classroom and adopt a blended approach that supports children and adolescents to face-to-face settings like in a classroom and remotely, at home, or in a community centre. This will enable a seamless switch to remote learning as necessary,” explains Anurita Bains, UNICEF Representative, on what needs to be done to turn the tide and enable a better future for children in Lesotho.
Other practical recommendations include the boosting of digital skills, which are crucial in the 21st century for learners to be able to navigate an increasingly digital world. As such, the Ministry of Education and Training has led the development of an online learning platform, the Learning Passport, with support from the United Nations. We must also ensure that investments in education are well-located and equitable.
As we are aiming to change course and transform our approach to education, let us commit to building back better so that all Basotho children and adolescents are able to contribute to the future of Lesotho and assume their role as active global citizens.
Written by Anurita Bains, UNICEF Representative in Lesotho, and Reitumetse Russell, Communication Officer at the Resident Coordinator Office in Lesotho, with editorial support from the Development Coordination Office (DCO) team.
For more information on the United Nations' work in Lesotho, please visit: Lesotho.UN.org.