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Lighting up dreams



BEREA – A cattle herder from Ha-Makujoe, Thabiso Monokoa, is atop Berea Plateau on voting day. The nearest polling station is two kilometres away and is about to close. He is unlikely to make it, even though he wishes he could cast his ballot and help secure the change he desperately yearns for.

Clad in a worn-out Lefitori (Victorian) blanket of blue and black colours with white stripes, a pair of jeans and gumboots, Monokoa is looking after 12 head of cattle in Berea. He doesn’t wish to be here, but he has little choice.

Dreams of becoming a respected professional vanished in 2008 when the 26-year-old failed to proceed to secondary school after completing primary education because his parents couldn’t afford it.

Although his dreams are up in smoke, he still harbours some hope for his siblings-only if the electorate could vote for a government that can extend the provision of free education to secondary education for poor families like his.

“I have many wishes but the most urgent among them is free secondary education so that my siblings can go to school,” Monokoa told thepost last Friday, on Election Day.

As the All Basotho Convention (ABC) party vacates the seat of power to make way for a coalition government led by businessman Sam Matekane’s Revolution for Prosperity (RFP), some dreams are getting reignited.

Chief among them is a chance at getting an education for thousands of Basotho who can’t afford to pursue their dreams due to poverty.

“The incoming government must extend free education to secondary schools,” said Monokoa.

“Had the government done so in 2008 when the first batch of pupils who received free and compulsory primary education passed to secondary school, I would not be where I am today,” said the 26-year-old.

“Had the government introduced free secondary education at that time, I could have gone to school like other children,” he said.

He said before the election, several parties promised to extend free education to secondary schools.

“May they keep their promises, whichever party wins,” said Monokoa.

The RFP is setting up a coalition government with the Movement for Economic Change (MEC) and the Alliance of Democrats (AD), whom it says it shares a common understanding on economic development.

Monokoa said his parents are surviving on piece jobs and struggle to feed their family of five, let alone save enough money to pay for secondary education.

Annual fees for secondary education in public schools, whether state-owned, church-owned or community-owned, range from M1 500 to M3 000, excluding registration and other costs. Uniforms and stationery are paid for separately.

“I was 18 years old when I dropped out of school and out of no choice I had to find a job. I got a temporary job at a construction company as a labourer and after that I have always looked after cattle,” he said.

“I don’t want any child of this country to drop out of school because their parents cannot afford to pay school fees. I know how it hurts. I felt it.”
Monokoa’s experience is not isolated.

A 15-year-old boy we will call Tseko to protect his identity was forced to drop out of school last year to make the sojourn to the capital from Mafeteng, about 80 kilometres away.

The boy said abject poverty and hunger drove him to seek employment.

His grandfather was looking after him and his younger sister because the parents were too poor to take care of them.

‘‘I had no uniform and my parents were unable to pay my fees. Going to school without uniform made me feel like an outcast and I also hated being expelled due to lack of fees. It affected my school work and I dropped out,” he said.

His grandfather gave him his last M300 to buy fruits and vegetables stock.

He said he later opted to sell motoho (a traditional Sesotho sour porridge) as competition was too stiff in the fruits and vegetable business.

“The motoho business is promising as I now have people who I supply weekly,” he said.

“With the little that I make, I have to pay M1 200 yearly for my younger sister’s education to ensure that she doesn’t endure the same pain I did,’’ said Tseko.

A local group, ≠bachashutdown has been campaigning for free secondary education for the past three years.

“Lesotho is experiencing high level of secondary and high school drop-outs students because most families are poor and cannot afford to pay the fees,” the group said in a letter to the incoming government this week.

The group cautioned that failure to implement this measure would result in increased youth unemployment “and the worst part is that they end up in the streets committing crimes”.

The group warned that failure to ensure access to education for children from poor families would promote drug and alcohol abuse and gangsterism.

“Young people are becoming increasingly impatient with the lack of progress towards eradicating unemployment and cannot wait any longer when government continues to pay lip service,” the letter reads. “We will be watching and listening to you with eagerness and hope.”

Lesotho introduced free primary education in 2000 as a strategy towards achieving the Education for All (EFA) goals, and made it universal and compulsory.

As a result, thousands of children enrolled in primary schools but failed to proceed to secondary level because their parents could not afford the fees and other costs.

Experts have noted that failure to make secondary education free has made access to secondary education skewed towards urban areas and higher income groups.

A situational analysis published in the Education Sector Plan 2016 – 2026 says the drop-out rate is a source of concern as it hovers around 25 percent and 21 percent at junior and secondary levels respectively.

The analysis states that it is internationally recognised that repetition is a driving factor for dropping out, “especially at school levels where opportunity costs gain weight”.

“These features describe a secondary sub-sector that does not succeed to promote students efficiently through the schooling process,” states the analysis. “As a consequence, significant amount of resources are also wasted at junior and senior secondary levels.”

Other studies have revealed that barely 30 percent of parents whose children pass primary education are able to afford tertiary education fees.

A recent World Bank report, titled Kingdom of Lesotho: Education Public Expenditure Review, shows that education spending in Lesotho is in favour of the rich and mostly urban residents as opposed to those in rural areas.

The World Bank showed that Lesotho spends more on education compared to all countries in the world as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

It states that for every M1 000, Lesotho spends M165 per student in secondary education and M326 per student in tertiary education.

Education spending, according to the World Bank report, is highly regressive and unequal, considering that only a small number of students reach tertiary education.

The institution states that among the lowest income people, the net attendance ratio of 13 to 17-year-olds in secondary education was only 15 percent, while this was 72 percent amongst the richest.

“For instance, for every 100 students that complete their primary education, only 36 complete their secondary education and five complete their tertiary education. This strongly favours the richest quintiles,” the report reads.

Caswell Tlali

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