Although he did not come to Lesotho for sports-related matters, Swiss international tennis superstar, Roger Federer, this week paid a surprise visit to young aspiring local tennis players in Maseru.
Federer arrived in Lesotho last week to assess progress made on development programmes he supports in the country, but he stopped at the Lesotho National Lawn Tennis Courts in Maseru where he had a chance to engage with some of the young tennis players.
Through his RF (Roger Federer) Foundation, Federer has donated an estimated M60 million to the Network for Early Childhood Development of Lesotho (NECDOL), through the Ministry of Education and Training (MOET) in support of the countryâ€™s early childhood care and development sub-sector.
NECDOL is an implementing partner for the School Readiness Initiative in Lesotho following widespread interest by different personnel providing services to young children aged zero to five years.
The network is a non-profit voluntary association of individuals, organisations and institutions who have come together to pursue the same objectives aimed at the overall well-being of young children.
The initiative is targeting vulnerable children in 800 reception class (Grade R) institutions nationwide by 2025.
So far 166 primary schools with reception classes and six ECCDs have already been reached.
Federerâ€™s official visit is for a firsthand assessment of the progress made by the School Readiness Initiative, which his foundation is implementing in partnership with NECDOL and MOET.
The initiative commenced in 2020 to give vulnerable children, mostly from rural communities, a good start into formal schooling through equitable access to quality reception classes.
â€œThis is my first time to visit Lesotho and I have been eager to make it here to see progress by the School Readiness Initiative my foundation has been implementing since 2020,â€ Federer said during his visit.
â€œFor the past 20 years, my foundation has been committed to enabling parents and communities to provide children with the opportunity for quality education. We finally believe in the power of education as a means to empowering people and breaking down the poverty cycle.â€
â€œMost of the public schools in Lesotho we are working with do not have reception classes, so we cannot scale the initiative as planned because currently, only 241 out 1,486 public primary schools in Lesotho have reception classes which is a situation we hoped would improve since the beginning,â€ Federer stated.
He further said all reception class stakeholders would be capacitated to fulfil their roles and responsibilities in ensuring quality equitable reception classes in 800 institutions by 2025.
Federer further said they are going to ensure that reception class teachers have appropriate knowledge and competencies to facilitate play-based teaching and learning that is appropriate for reception class, and ensures that children are ready for their first grade of primary school.
MOET and RF Foundation have a memorandum of understanding to establish the School Readiness Initiative, whose aim is to advance Sustainable Development Goal 4.2 and the national education policies, whereby Lesotho committed to ensuring that all children can participate in quality, equitable organised learning before they start the first grade of primary school, through reception class.
This comprehensive programme is establishing processes for joint responsibility for immediate improvements for early learners.
This programme has taken advantage of innovative information and technology approaches that provide teachers with a tablet that contains digital resources and Android applications, including a course that fosters peer-to-peer learning among early grade teachers, which results in training cost savings which do not need internet while in use so teachers get solar units to keep their tablets charged if they do not have access to electricity.
During his visit, Federer met with key stakeholders in early childhood care and education, His Majesty King Letsie III, Her Majesty Queen â€™Masenate Mohato Seeiso, representatives from the government including the Prime Minister Samuel Matekane, along with the Minister of Education and Training, Ntoi Rapapa, international and local donors and representatives from corporates and civil society.
He also visited primary schools to learn more about the impact of the School Readiness Initiative by interacting with children in the programme, their parents and local community leaders.
His foundation believes that investing in the early education of Basotho children is investing in a better future for the country. Investment in early childhood education should be prioritised to improve the childrenâ€™s academic performance in later years, which has a positive ripple effect.
RF Foundation operates in six countries in Lesotho, Malawi, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe and the foundation has its headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland and a regional office in Johannesburg, South Africa.
The Swiss established his foundation in 2003 shortly after embarking on his professional career.
The Roger Federer Foundation enhances a world where children living in poverty can take control of their future and actively shape it. There is sufficient evidence that proves that education is a prerequisite for reducing poverty, improving preventive healthcare and creating a committed civil society.
Federer retired from playing professional tennis in 2022 after a career spanning over two decades.