According to another principal who spoke on condition of anonymity, all local public primary schools have been affected.
“In our school, our roll was over 600 last year - this year we are over 100 short of that number. Other schools have suffered even more,” he said.
In addition to private schools making a killing from government’s neglect of the public education system, remedial class centres have mushroomed all over the country - targeting mostly high school students who performed poorly at the end of last year’s final examinations.
Shrinking school rolls are going to hit the teachers the hardest. In a worst case scenario, if this trend of learners leaving public schools goes on unabated, many teachers will be transferred to remote areas far away from their homes or laid off as the learner-teacher ratio would not allow for bloated teachers’ roll. This would be ironic because most of the concerns that the teachers’ unions raised upon embarking on strike are genuine and valid.
In the case of free primary schools, the impact will be far-reaching. The number of people who are awarded school feeding tender each year is dependent on the size of the school roll per school - the bigger the number of learners, the bigger the number of people who will be employed.
When former Prime Minister Dr Pakalitha Mosisili and his government of the time rolled out free primary education in 2000, many people had hoped that the education system in Lesotho would have improved for better by the year 2020.
In fact, in one of the principal documents that had been guiding the Lesotho government for the past two decades, the Lesotho National Vision 2020, appear these words “By 2020…Basotho will have access to quality education fully responsive to the country’s needs, accessible at all levels and limited only by intellectual ability not by income or wealth. Lesotho will have the system of education that is closely linked and well researched to enhance the students’ talents and capabilities”.
Fast forward, this looks like a pipe dream. Without any doubt, free primary education has helped many orphans and vulnerable children who would otherwise get no education at all and many of them have since completed their tertiary studies.
In 2010, when school enrolments hit 82% all over the country and with birth of the Lesotho 2010 Education Act, education was made free and compulsory. However, over the years, it has always been evident that Lesotho’s public education system’s growth is stagnant despite the successive Lesotho governments dedicating largest chunks of the national budget on education each year.
For the past 20 years funding of free primary education had always been infamously sparse; barely enough to cover basic needs of each child in school coupled with dire shortage of school facilities. The annual subvention budget allocated to schools is usually small, the government allocates M20 per child for the whole year, and it is usually disbursed late. Governance for public schools also needs general overhaul as many of the board members need capacity to steer their schools into greener pastures and lack income generating skills to supplement government’s subvention.
The new curriculum, which has been lauded by many education experts as one of the best, is poorly funded - which is one of the key concerns by the teachers - and in some cases some teachers mentioned that they use their already meagre salaries to fund some of the class activities.
Failure by government over years to retain teachers especially those in the rural areas is due to government unwillingness to offer teachers attractive salary packages. There is renewed hope since the government released a new salary structure for teachers responding to one of the key demands by teachers concerning their remuneration. In 2016, the Ministry of Education and Training formulated the Educational Sector Strategic Plan 2016-2026, a 10 year blue print.
For the government to realise the full turnaround in the public education system, corruption within the Ministry has to be fought head-on: awarding of tenders to build schools and other infrastructure that are nowhere to be found, ghost teachers and many other irregularities have been diverting millions of Maloti that were meant to revive the system into secret, faceless hands.