Typical school in Lesotho Mountains:
after a snowy winter, it is dangerous for the
class to be inside: the roof is fragile and
could collapse at any time. ©MoET of Lesotho
Putting Lesotho “On-Track” to EFA
Building sustainable capacity in Education Policy Analysis and Implementation
Interview with Moeti Lephoto, Chief Economic Planner; Thato Ntholeng, Senior Economic Planner and Desk Officer for Primary Education; and. Maselloane Sehlabi, Acting CEO-Primary Education at the Ministry of Education and Training (MoET) of Lesotho.
Lesotho is among the 33 countries, identified by the World Bank in 2010, still at risk of missing the major EFA goal of universal primary education by 2015. Its Free Primary Education (FPE) policy, initiated in 2000, eliminated the direct schooling costs for families (tuition fees, school meals, textbooks, and school supplies). This led to a significant increase in the net enrolment rate (NER) – from 60.2% in 1999 to 81% in 2000. However, there remained the problem of a high opportunity cost – as children sent to school could not work – which explained the stagnating enrolments, with around 20% of children out of school. Thanks in part to relevant research ("The Effects of Free Primary Education Policy in Lesotho”) undertaken in collaboration with IIEP in 2010, and the Institute’s policy advice based on this, primary education has been made legally compulsory in the country. This has been coupled with continuing MoET efforts focusing on improvements in school construction, maintenance, and infrastructure, as well as improved availability of textbooks and other school items in mountainous remote areas.
The following interview underlines the important role of IIEP’s research in enhancing the institutional capacity of Lesotho’s Ministry of Education.
What are the challenges the MoET faces in reaching the EFA objectives? And what efforts have been made to improve the FPE policy implementation over the past few years?
Our main concern is that, while the introduction of FPE increased considerably the net enrolment rate (NER), which reached 85% in 2003, the rate subseqently decreased to 80.9% (in 2009).
There are two types of opportunity costs for primary education in Lesotho. Various household costs that parents paid for schooling were largely offset by the FPE since 2000, with the increased funding by the MoET and development partners. But the issue of child labour, in particular for boys, as another major opportunity cost for the poorest of the poor, was not resolved. The other issue is the ever-increasing number of child-headed households and orphans, due to high prevalence rate of HIV and AIDS. Some children do not go to school despite it being free and compulsory because of early marriages in the rural and remote areas. Another problem is that, although the school uniform is not mandatory, for those needy children who cannot afford it, it psychologically affects them to be the only ones not wearing the uniform, and so they drop out. In the remote mountain areas, children still have to travel long distances to school, which leads to late school attendance. Though education is free and compulsory by law, the MoET strategy has been to encourage parents to take children to school and there is no penalty for those who do not. Capacity constraints have hindered full coverage in remote areas, where there is also a low level of awareness by parents. The MoET is also considering improving collaborative efforts with other key stakeholders, including ministries of youth and labour to bring the remaining 20% into the education system. Another area of research in demand is to ascertain how inclusive FPE is, and to assess whether compulsory education accommodates all children, including those with special needs.
The recent compulsory nature of the FPE means more responsibility for the stakeholders (from the Ministry and development partners at the central level to district offices and schools and families) to ensure progress towards meeting the 2015 goals. Hon. Minister Mosothoane has recently stressed the need to extend the opportunities of leaning to all students, including those with learning disabilities and those in remote schools. To make this approach sustainable, more focus is being given to school construction and infrastructure, a need pointed out by IIEP’s research and confirmed by other FPE evaluation studies. An ongoing project funded by the World Bank is expected to finance the construction and refurbishment of 330 new classrooms and 100 toilet blocks (corresponding to 64 schools) and to furnish the new classrooms while taking into account issues of gender and disability. Emphasis is being placed on the improvement of quality, efficiency, and effectiveness, as well as improving access.
Following the research study and its recommendations, did the delivery of supplies of school items improve? What is your opinion of school-feeding programmes? Are they motivating factors for families to send their children to school, instead of having them work?
Yes, prior to the introduction of FPE, trucks and donkeys were the only mode of transport, but now the MoET is collaborating with the Ministry of Defense to use helicopters to deliver textbooks and other teaching and learning materials to difficult-to-reach areas. The MoET learned valuable lessons from the past constraints and has more experience in dealing with suppliers and providers. The procedures and arrangements are put in place, the availability of many school items is improving – but this remains a matter of cost-effectiveness, accountability, and control. For example, by the end of the year principals, teachers, school boards, and the community at large were informed that the School Supply Unit (SSU) under the MOET was dispatching books and other school supplies for FPE throughout the country. The timely delivery of books enables teachers to manage their lesson plans effectively as they already have scheme books and notebooks to draw up their lesson plans. More importantly they have all the instructional materials to start effective teaching on the first day of classes. We are optimistic that, unlike in the past, we have overcome the challenges and delays; and we shall continuously sort out the necessary logistics with the Procurement Office well in advance.
School feeding programmes have a positive impact on both the attendance and the attention of pupils. They increase enrolments, improve learners’ health, create job opportunities for communities around schools through cooking and catering, and create markets for farmers who sell food to schools. The MoET is currently requesting the World Food Programme to administer school feeding so that it can focus on its core business of education and training. Irish Aid is successfully coordinating the efforts of multiple development partners active in the education sector.
What are your thoughts on the collaboration with IIEP? What are some of the benefits it brought you?
We highly value the collaboration between the MoET and IIEP. In terms of real impact, it has already influenced policy-making – in the decision to make primary education legally compulsory – and it is essential in terms of further sustainable capacity-building of the MoET in educational policy, planning, management, finance, monitoring and evaluation. While Lesotho is allocating considerable funds for primary education from the MoET budget and with the help of the development partners, the capacities for policy analysis and implementation need to be further strengthened. The MoET is currently undergoing a restructuring process, which will require training and capacity building. We are looking forward to more opportunities for collaboration with IIEP in the future to improve the access, equity, quality, relevance, and efficiency of the education system in the country.
This interview was conducted by E. Jopo, Senior economic planner, and M. Maema, national SACMEQ coordinator, members of IIEP national research team.