Lesotho, 17 June: Prime Minister launches UNICEF-supported free and compulsory education campaign
By Tsitsi Singizi
MASERU, Lesotho, 17 June 2011 – Lesotho Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili and UNICEF Representative in Lesotho Ahmed Magan have been backing a new nationwide campaign to boost school enrolment in the African nation.
Challenge to stay in schoolTo demonstrate their commitment, Mr. Mosisili and Dr. Magan braved a chilly morning to visit the home of Buang Mokhobo in Mabote on the outskirts of Maseru, the capital of the Mountain Kingdom, to hear first-hand the challenges the young woman faces in keeping the six orphaned and vulnerable children she looks after in education.
“Keeping these children in school is a constant struggle,” said Ms. Mokhobo. “We barely manage to put food on the table and I cannot afford to purchase school uniforms and other things that are required for school.”
An estimated 18 percent of children in Lesotho are not currently in school. About 29 percent of these children are not enrolled because of the costs associated with education, while 26 percent cited lack of transportation to schools as a hindrance.
Despite education initiatives – the ground-breaking 2010 Education Act made primary education in Lesotho free and compulsory for children between the ages of 6 and 13 years old – and remarkable progress, which has seen an increase in primary school enrolment to 80 percent, families still struggle with education supplementary costs such as school levies, uniforms and learning materials.
The official drop-out rate is about 6 percent and the net completion rate at primary level is 62.8 percent. Lesotho also continues to grapple with lower levels of boys being enrolled in school as they remain home to herd cattle and later migrate to work in South African mines.
“We intend to reach the Millennium Development Goal on Universal Primary Education and this campaign is a huge step towards attaining this goal,” said Mr. Mosisili.
The national campaign is being led by the 200 community dialogue facilitators drawn from Lesotho’s ten districts. They are supported by the Ministry of Education and Training in collaboration with UNICEF.
To boost primary net enrolment and reduce drop out and repetition rates, the facilitators will mobilize communities to make door-to-door visits, identifying children who are falling between the cracks and encouraging a child-friendly environment in schools.
Lesotho has one of the highest budgetary allocations for education, committing more than a quarter – at 26.9 percent – of its national resources to the education sector over the past few years.
“A significant number of Lesotho’s children are still not in school, whether as herd boys or as girls forced to care for sick parents or siblings,” said Dr. Magan. “Communities know these children and their support and watchdog role in getting these children back in the classroom is crucial.”
Communities take the leadThe community dialogue facilitators will use a range of strategies to reach out to their constituencies. A UNICEF package of four pamphlets and two booklets targeting parents, children, teachers and community leaders has been developed and disseminated. In addition, messages on compulsory education will be aired on all local radio stations as part of the campaign.
UNICEF has prioritized education assistance in Lesotho and is currently supporting the development of an integrated early childhood care and development policy.
“Education remains the most realistic social protection measure for Lesotho’s children who are often made vulnerable by growing poverty, food insecurity and an unrelenting HIV/AIDS epidemic,” said Dr. Magan.
UNICEF is also supporting thousands of orphaned and vulnerable children with preschool bursaries. Nearly 5,000 have so far been provided with school uniforms in order return to primary school.
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