Educational Challenges in Lesotho

Written by Priscilla Thindwa

An Overview of Education

The significance of education in driving development and as a tool in reducing  poverty is undeniable. Education should be regarded as a human right, and every individual should have access to and be fully included. According to the World Bank, on an individual level, education has the impact of promoting employment, increasing earnings, and reducing poverty (World Bank, 2023). On the societal level, education has the potential to drive long-term economic growth, strengthen institutions and foster social cohesion (World Bank, 2023). For this reason, Sustainable Development Goal 4 envisages a world with inclusive and equitable quality education and promotes lifelong learning opportunities for everyone. However, the challenge in most African countries is not the accessibility but the quality of education and exclusion. According to reports by the United Nations (UN), sub-Saharan Africa has the highest rates of education exclusion globally, with approximately 60% of youth between the ages of 15 and 17 not in school (Kaledzi, 2022). Several factors contribute to such challenges.

Lesotho College of Education. Photo by OER Africa on Flickr.

The Landscape of Education in Lesotho

Lesotho, a country in sub-Saharan Africa, is not an exception to the persistent challenges of education faced by other countries in the region. Even though the country has had some challenges, its literacy rate is considered one of the highest in Africa. With an adult literacy rate of 81% in 2021, the World Bank datasets note a decline of 5.3% from 2000. Such a decline is worrisome because education is considered a fundamental human right for all individuals in the world. The primary school in Lesotho is free, and most primary schools and secondary schools are owned by churches (Bitso, 2006: 37). The Ministry of Education and Training is considered the mouthpiece of education whose main responsibilities include formulating and monitoring the implementation of educational policies, passing legislation and regulations governing schools (Bitso, 2006: 37).


Overcrowding in Classrooms

One of the main challenges facing education in Lesotho is classroom overcrowding. This is mostly in Primary schools. In 2009 when the government of Lesotho implemented a free education policy, this put a strain on the existing “physical infrastructure, educational material and human resources” (Mukurunge, T., Tlali, N. and Bhila, T., 2019:29). Even though the policy’s aim was for everyone to have free access to education, quality of education was compromised. As pointed out by World Data on Education, Lesotho’s poor quality of primary education is a matter of concern (UNESCO, 2006:2). Citing overcrowding as the main cause of such low quality in education, which is exacerbated by shortages of teachers, classrooms as well as high repetition levels (UNESCO, 2006:2). Supporting the literature study by Seotsanyana and Matheolane, Francina Moloi, Nomusic Morobe, and Urwick, James, assert that introduction of free primary school education led to an increase of students per teacher ratio. This resulted in teachers resorting to ineffective teaching methods (Moloi, F., Morobe, N. and Urwick, 2007). For instance, the latest World Bank Data on the pupil-teacher ratio in Primary schools was 1:23 in 2018. Consequently, affecting the levels of pupil concentration and increasing drop-outs.

Shortage of Qualified Teachers

In addition to overcrowded classrooms, the shortage of qualified teachers is another challenge that limits the education system in Lesotho. This shortage is compounded by the lack of opportunities for teachers to undergo proper professional training to revamp their skills. The shortage of qualified teachers and overcrowding in classrooms continue to contribute to low-quality education and efficiency, especially at the primary level. Moreover, as indicated by the World Data on Education on Lesotho, the low quality of teachers is owed to the “absence of regular in-service training opportunities for teachers” (UNESCO, 2006:2). This is exacerbated by inexperienced headteachers, inadequate inspection and teachers who are not certified.

Qoaling is a village/suburb of Maseru. It has a built in infrastructure for most part but hand pumps are still evident in some sections. Maimoeketsi Community Primary School. The Standard 7 class during lessons. Photo by John Hogg. World Bank on Flickr.
Shortage of Furniture and Learning Materials

Shortage of furniture and inadequate learning material are other challenges that hinder most Basotho from enjoying their right to quality education thoroughly. Quality infrastructure and learning materials are imperative for education to be effective and efficient. However, this is not the case for most schools in Lesotho. Even though education is free in primary schools, insufficient learning materials such as textbooks, teachers’ guide materials, and desks hinder the provision of a good education. To make matters worse, some schools do not have enough classroom blocks, so they must learn outside under trees. For those with school blocks, they are poorly maintained, and pupils shiver in cold weather. For some, such unfavourable environments continue to deter pupils in Lesotho schools from accessing quality education.

Socio-economic Factors Leading to Poor Performance

Another challenge that most Basotho face concerning education is related to the socio-economic factors, which place a significant role in the performance of the pupils in school. According to the World Bank data on the collection of development indicators, 70.06% of Lesotho’s population is based in rural areas (Trading Economics, 2022). The 2021 UNICEF Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS) findings on Lesotho indicated that approximately 80% of children complete primary education (UNICEF Lesotho 2021:15). The report observed a steep decline in the rate for lower and upper secondary education (UNICEF Lesotho, 2021:15). The report continues to note that children from the “poorest quintile and those in rural areas” had lower rates of completion and performing below the national average (UNICEF Lesotho, 2021:15). On the other hand, those from urban and wealthiest families, was noted to complete at “a level higher than the national average” (UNICEF Lesotho, 2021:15). Some contend that the disparities in the level performance are owed to lack of motivation for children from poor households whose parents are usually less educated (Help Lesotho, 2018). Most children from such households are not convinced that education’s impact is changing one’s economic status. Also, some children from poor households go to school hungry, making it difficult for them to concentrate and, as such, negatively affecting their performance. Thus, even though primary school is free, it remains inaccessible to certain groups of society in Lesotho.

Some Recommendations and Conclusion

Since education is considered a fundamental human right, one should expect it to benefit all groups of society regardless of their socio-economic status. However, this is not entirely the case in some schools in Lesotho. As discussed above, several challenges within the education system continue to hinder Basotho’s ability to enjoy fundamental human rights entirely. Firstly, classroom overcrowding can be tackled by constructing more schools and employing more teachers. Doing so will reduce the pressure on the limited resources. The employed teachers should be professionally trained and allow them opportunities to upgrade their knowledge to adapt to the changing world.

Moreover, the government and non-governmental organisations should ensure the provision of required learning and teaching materials to both students and teachers, respectively. Lastly, regarding tackling the challenge associated with socio-economic factors, children from poor and rural areas should be given more incentives to stay in school, and scholarships should be awarded to the best performers to continue their education to secondary school and tertiary education. Doing so will indeed ensure that education is accessible to all groups of society regardless of their socio-economic background.