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Vocational curriculum and employment



In 2015 the Central Bank of Lesotho and the government said there were over 4 000 unemployed graduates in Lesotho. The national headcount poverty rate was 57.1 % in 2011. Lesotho’s highest unemployment rate was 28.2% in 2010. In 2019 it was 23.5%. Unemployment was highest in the 20 – 24 age group. The International Labour Organisation estimated the youth unemployment rate was at 32.8 % in 2020 even though most employed people are in the age group 25 – 29, 32% did clerical work. They blame unemployment and lack of jobs for the high prevalence of poverty and inequality in Lesotho. These data have implications for the country’s school curriculum.

Scholars blame Lesotho’s inherited colonial higher education system for lack of jobs. The government is the primary employer in the domestic economy’s formal sector while the largest informal employer is the manufacturing sector. The colonial education system prepared graduates to be employees, particularly in the civil service. But this assertion presupposes that jobs exist and absorb graduates and that only the graduates do not perform.

Scholars praise the German vocational education system for providing vocational skills geared to current practices in specific occupations. Lesotho has had glimpses of the system at Lerotholi Polytechnic (LP). My peers challenged me to contrast the German education system with Lesotho’s. I must, however, guard against comparing apples with oranges, contrasting the Developing to the Developed World. This article contrasts the German secondary school education to the 2008 Ministry of Education Policy.

The policy sought to achieve what the German secondary school education has obtained. It aimed to develop work-related competencies. I strive to understand why the 2008 MoET policy failed to alleviate unemployment and poverty.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) reports that in 2012 Germany had a youth unemployment rate of 8.1%, the lowest, which was second to Japan worldwide. At the same time, the United States had a youth unemployment rate of 16.2%. Scholars credit the low youth unemployment rate to the German educational system.

Higher education institutions (HEI) do not create jobs but prepare people to solve real-life problems. They prepare students for the world of work. The Council on Higher Education (CHE) dictates that HEIs must offer a transformative and responsive curriculum. Their curriculum must address Lesotho’s developmental needs by generating relevant skills and knowledge. The government, together with the private sector, must create job opportunities. HEIs must work closely with the industry.

The MoET introduced the Lesotho Qualification Network (LQF) to guide curriculum application. The LQF comprises the academic and Technical, and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) tracks. TVET schools seek to ensure that there is an adequate supply of well-trained artisans. The 2018 MoET Education Statistics Bulletin shows that Lesotho’s secondary schools’ total enrolment was 138 894. There were 4 584 (or 3.3%) students registered in technical and vocational schools.

Ts’eane probed the relevance of Lesotho secondary schools’ TVET curriculum. She found that the curriculum was not aligned with Lesotho’s unemployment and poverty alleviation demands. School leavers did not have the relevant practical skills and experience required by the industry. She recommended that the MoET must make workplace apprenticeship compulsory. As a result of the current practices, graduates cannot translate theory into practice.

TVET institutions award certificates and diplomas in various study fields from agriculture, basic handicrafts, home economics, hospitality, construction, engineering, business, management and IT. Courses offered range from a period of one year to 36 months. However, the challenge is that the TVET curriculum is stagnant, with very minimum improvements, and is lagging behind Lesotho’s developmental needs. The curriculum needs to look into incorporating job creation skills.

Scholars propose that the solution to graduates’ unemployment is in HEIs, making entrepreneurship the core of the curriculum. It is essential to highlight that while knowledge is a critical aspect of education, its application is vital in TVET. Accordingly, a necessary component of TVET is comprehensively structured on-the-job training programmes. Work placement is indispensable for TVET.

Lesotho has already incorporated entrepreneurship in their school education curriculum. Yet, today, unemployment is still rampant in the country. The key lies in the graduates’ ability to use knowledge and skills in their possession. One cannot overemphasise the contribution of work-integrated-learning to vocational education.

The circumstances in Lesotho may seem to confirm the assertion that Lesotho’s HEIs ‘mis-curriculate’ and misteach. Education authorities in Lesotho must take Mashinini’s claim about curriculum reconstruction at the National University of Lesotho (NUL) seriously. NUL thumb-sucked and hashed curriculum in departments for reaccreditation. Departments did not consult stakeholders but regurgitated identical curriculum for their programmes.

Despite everything, the prevailing evidence does not uphold the assertion that HEIs teach wrong skills. If the reports were correct, there would be jobs available that cannot be filled. The number of unemployed graduates and the general public flocking for work at Government offices, Ha Thetsane and Ha Nyenye factories suggests otherwise. There are no jobs in Lesotho. Job creation is Lesotho’s primary challenge.

Readers must not misunderstand my argument here. Lesotho is a developing country. There is so much work, socioeconomically, that needs to be done to take the country forward. Graduates and all job-seekers look in the wrong places. In the agriculture sector, for instance, many fields lie fallow. Their owners flock to Maseru seeking employment. In the meantime, Lesotho produces agriculture graduates annually. Yet Lesotho continues to import over 80% of its food requirement.

The CHE observes that local HEIs offer varied programmes but the programmes are not sufficiently specialised. Ts’eane agrees with CHE that most HEIs register at diploma and undergraduate degree levels, yet skills shortages are at masters and doctoral levels. Ts’eane adds that the TVET curriculum must put more emphasis on job creation and preparedness skills.

This article shows that available jobs in Lesotho are at clerical and clothing factories. Lesotho provides TVET at school and higher education levels. According to the MoET, secondary education prepares students for the world of work or further studies. But both school and higher education graduates cannot find employment in Lesotho. Ts’eane observes that the secondary education curriculum only prepares students for further education and training and not for the world of work.

Let us contrast the Lesotho education system with her German counterpart. German scholars, like Petrosky and authorities, show that their education system has five levels. Early Childhood Education; Primary Education; Secondary Education; Tertiary Education; and Continuing Education. Children enter early childhood education, preschool education at age three until they graduate at six. They continue into primary school. Children stay in the primary school phase for four years, grade 1 – 4 (ages 6 – 9).

Primary school education provides educational foundations and acquaints children with homework. Students must obtain a satisfactory mark to continue to the next grade. Unsuccessful pupils repeat a class. At Grade 4, the school and the parents decide where to place children in differential secondary school education according to their academic ability.

Germany uses a highly differentiated secondary education system. There are three types of secondary education, with the fourth being a combination of the three. German premises their education system on the value of early selection and children’s placement according to their natural ability into their secondary schools. The types of secondary schools are: The first secondary school type is the gymnasium which offers a rigorous academic education that prepares students for university-level education.

They lead to a diploma called Abitur. The phase begins from grade 5 – 13 (ages 10 – 18). At grade 11, students start to rigorously prepare for the final examinations to qualify them for progress into university studies. The second type is the Realschule. Realschule is the most common secondary school in Germany (grades 5-10 or ages 10 – 15). The school provides a high-quality academic environment. Realschule offers a slightly more advanced academic theory. Knowledge and skills that students acquire prepare them for mid-level jobs in business and industry.

Students take the secondary school diploma (Realschulabschluss diploma) after six years. About 23% of the population above the age of 15 finished secondary schools with a diploma. The successful student may take a vocational qualification apprenticeship in commercial trade or enter a university of applied sciences. Also, students may transfer to the gymnasium and take up examinations that would lead them into university education.

The general secondary school (Hauptschule), grades 5-9 (ages 10 – 15) is the third. It provides basic general education for students geared towards completing a vocational qualification. Enrolments into Hauptschule are declining while that in the other forms of secondary education are on the rise. At the end of Grade 9, students take a public school certificate (Erster allgemeinbildender Schulabschluss). Students may begin apprenticeship programmes starting at age 16. This qualification allows students to enter upper secondary education and training, technical college (Berufsfachschule). About 30% of all people above the age of 15 in 2017 had finished high school with a Hauptschulabschluss.

Technical upper secondary school (Fachoberschule) covers grades 11 – 12 (ages 16 – 17). This qualification requires students to have a Realschulabschluss. Students are equipped with general and specialised theoretical and practical knowledge and skills, leading to a university entrance qualification called a Fachhochschulreife. This qualification guarantees entry into university education.

Technical colleges introduce students to one or several occupations over one to three years. Simultaneously, they undertake part-time vocational education and training, leading to a qualification in a specific field. According to Petrosky, there is a partnership between the government, companies and the students themselves. Germans invest heavily in their apprenticeship programmes where banks play a significant role. While the government pays for school tuition, companies, on their part, bear the cost of an apprenticeship and work placement. Apprentices receive a minimal stipend.

Lastly, hybrid or amalgamation secondary schools combine all secondary education types into one comprehensive school. This is called Gesamtschule. These schools allow students to migrate from one stream to the other, depending on their progress. Germany provides university education to qualifying secondary education certificate holders. German universities offer a wide range of study courses.

There are several equivalent institutions to universities that offer several study courses such as natural and engineering sciences, theology or pedagogy. Higher education in Germany consists of a variety of institutions and schools. Germany’s traditional universities focus mainly on theoretical studies. Germany has other higher education schools and institutions.

German universities of applied sciences “Fachhochschulen” are higher education institutions providing practically oriented teaching and research programmes inclined towards labour market needs. German teacher education reflects the level, primary or secondary, that teachers are preparing for. Also, teacher training distinctly mirrors the type of secondary schools that they are preparing to teach. Teacher training has two phases. The first phase is the academic phase that takes place at the university for 3 – 5 years. The second in-service training phase (1.5–2 years).

In summary, over 95% of Lesotho enrolment pursue the academic track on the LQF. The TVET curriculum is stagnant with minimal updates and improvements. It is outdated. Tšeane and CHE argue that HEIs may make TVET prestigious by designing degrees and higher qualifications. Also, many stigmatise TVET as a curriculum for less able students.

Germany’s differentiated system places children by ability in secondary schools. Teachers work closely with parents to identify a suitable secondary type for students. Apart from students in the highly academic gymnasium secondary schools track, all secondary school completers possess one vocational trade or another. Also, German higher education provides multiple pathways into postgraduate studies for vocational qualifications. The differential secondary education system directly affects teaching and learning at all school levels in Germany. Quality teaching in schools implies quality teachers and teacher education. Primary school teachers carry enough authority to decide on their pupils’ future as early as when the children are nine-years-old.

Petrosky estimated that in 1989, 75% of Germans between the ages of 15 and 25 underwent initial training as apprentices. About 3% of Basotho secondary school students enrol in TVET schools. Worse, TVET denies students the opportunity to practice the requisite skills and experiences. The MoET has to forge partnerships with industry, business and finance institutions to salvage the TVET. In short, fully financed structured work-integrated-learning is the way out of joblessness and poverty.

Understandably, the success of the German education system attracts attention internationally. But evidence shows that success in one context may not be transferred into another. Irrespective of this fact, Lesotho could improve the quality of her labour by examining this highly successful system.

In conclusion, looking at the German education system and the low unemployment rates, especially for youths, Lesotho may have to revisit her school and higher education systems. The most important aspect of their education is in the early differentiation of students and teaching them accordingly.

Dr Tholang Maqutu

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