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Long way to go before free secondary education

Business

Nthatuoa Koeshe

The Ministry of Education say there is still a long way to go before the implementation of free secondary education as there is still more work to be done to make that a reality.

The Ministry’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO) in Secondary Education Mabakubung Seutloali spelled it out to this Newspaper during an interview this week that the initiative will pinch the penniless government’s last cents and that there are numerous factors to consider. 

She said more work has to be covered and a matter of setting a timeframe on when will the ministry commence the initiative is still an obscure situation.

She however mentioned that Lesotho has made great strides in meeting parents halfway and sponsoring some students in secondary education.

“We cannot put a timeframe as to when we will introduce free secondary education in Lesotho because unlike free primary education which was implemented in 2000, secondary is more costly and there are many factors we are yet to consider before the implementation.

Seutloali said the government has however introduced policies such as secondary school fees rationalisation policy which was made in 2012 and amended in 2013 while some students are getting sponsorships through Social Development.

She said there are also students who are getting sponsorships from the National Manpower Development Secretariat (NMDS) who are in secondary school.

In July 2021, Lesotho was among the countries who signed on to champion the Education Plus initiative with a wide range of commitments that will tackle the urgency of effectively addressing the alarming numbers of adolescent girls and young women acquiring HIV and dying from AIDS-related illnesses, among other threats to their survival, well-being, human rights and freedoms, including sexual and gender-based violence and teenage pregnancy.  

Education Plus, which was launched at the Generation Equality Forum in Paris, France, is an ambitious five-year high-level drive to accelerate action and investments to expand access to secondary education for all young people and to advance adolescent girls and young women’s health, education and rights in sub-Saharan Africa.

In presenting the Prime Minister of Lesotho’s Education Plus commitment at the launch, Dr Dira Khama, the Principal Secretary for Education, pledged that the country would expand secondary education, with a focus on rural areas, strengthen the implementation of comprehensive sexuality education, introduce vocational and technical streams to strengthen school-to-work transitions and work with parents and communities to reduce sexual and gender-based violence against adolescent girls and young women.

The Prime Minister also committed, “To review and implement secondary school fees rationalization policy to reduce the amounts of school fees paid by individual households,” within the next six months to a year.

Speaking of the secondary school fees rationalization policy, Seutloali told this paper that they are yet to reinforce the regulations because they realised that there are some schools which are not abiding by the policy when charging school fees.

She said they are also waiting on the 2022/2023 fiscal year budget which is set to be presented next Wednesday in the National Assembly by the Minister of Finance Thabo Sofonea so that they start the enforcement.

“We are yet to embark on this because we are waiting on the budget and after that progress might be seen,” Seutloali said.

She said they are expecting to at least make progress in 2023 to 2025 because there is still a lot to be done.

Before COVID-19 struck, around 34 million secondary school-aged girls in sub-Saharan Africa were being denied a full education and an estimated 24% of adolescent girls and young women (15–24 years) in the region were not in education, training or employed, compared to 14.6% of young men. 

One in four young people in sub-Saharan Africa aged 15–24 years are illiterate and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimates that in 2020 school closures due to Covid-19 impacted around 250 million students in the region, millions of whom may never return to the classroom.

“We know that keeping girls in secondary school can reduce their risk of HIV infection by a third or more in places where HIV is common. It reduces their risk of child marriage, teenage pregnancy and gender-based and sexual violence and it can provide girls with the important skills and competencies for their economic empowerment,” said Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of UNAIDS at the launch last year.

She said bold and consistent political leadership is needed to ensure all children can complete a full round of secondary education in sub-Saharan Africa.”

The co-founders of Education Plus, UNAIDS, UN Women, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, the United Nations Population Fund and UNICEF, are urging countries to use education systems as an entry point to provide a holistic “plus” package of essential elements that adolescent girls and young women need as they become adults.

These include comprehensive sexuality education, sexual and reproductive health and rights, including HIV prevention, freedom from gender-based violence and economic empowerment through school-to-work transitions.

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