Soofia scores a first

...Butha-buthe school be­comes first in­sti­tu­tion to of­fer Ad­vanced Level qual­i­fi­ca­tion in Le­sotho

Lesotho Times - - Feature - Pas­cali­nah Kabi

BUTHA-BUTHE — Soofia English Medium School has made his­tory by be­com­ing the first in­sti­tu­tion in Le­sotho to of­fer the Cam­bridge In­ter­na­tional Gen­eral Cer­tifi­cate of Education Ad­vanced Level qual­i­fi­ca­tion — one of the most widely ac­cepted qual­i­fi­ca­tion for univer­sity en­try along­side the In­ter­na­tional Bac­calau­re­ate (IB) diploma.

Both are two-year post-cam­bridge In­ter­na­tional Gen­eral Cer­tifi­cate of Sec­ondary Education (IGCSE) or Le­sotho Gen­eral School Cer­tifi­cate of Education ( LGSCE) pro­grammes but un­til Soofia’s ac­cred­i­ta­tion for A-level stud­ies this year, the coun­try only of­fered IB qual­i­fi­ca­tion through Mach­abeng Col­lege.

One of the four pi­o­neers of Soofia’s A-level pro­gramme is 18-year-old Najm-us-sa­har Fa­reed, whose prospects of study­ing out­side the coun­try had ap­peared bleak be­cause she did not have an A-level or IB qual­i­fi­ca­tion.

Fa­reed could still have en­rolled at the Na­tional Univer­sity of Le­sotho af­ter ob­tain­ing her IGCSE, but be­lieved she was not yet ready for ter­tiary education.

Now armed with an Ad­vanced Sub­sidiary Level (AS Level) cer­tifi­cate from Soofia writ­ten af­ter the first year of the A-level pro­gramme en­dorsed by United King­dom­based Cam­bridge Univer­sity, Fa­reed and her three fel­low pi­o­neers of the pro­gramme have all been pro­vi­sion­ally ad­mit­ted at the Univer­sity of Pre­to­ria in South Africa pend­ing their re­sults to be re­leased in Jan­uary next year.

Speak­ing at the pro­gramme’s of­fi­cial launch on Mon­day this week, Fa­reed thanked both her school and Min­istry of Education and Train­ing for help­ing her re­alise her dream of univer­sity education in South Africa with­out hav­ing to un­dergo ‘bridg­ing classes’.

With­out A-level or IB qual­i­fi­ca­tions, LGSCE hold­ers need to un­dergo fur­ther oneyear ‘bridg­ing’ stud­ies in South Africa to qual­ify for univer­sity en­trance in that coun­try.

“Af­ter writ­ing my Form E ex­am­i­na­tions, I was wor­ried be­cause I didn’t know what I would be do­ing next,” Fa­reed told the Le­sotho Times.

“Al­though I had an op­tion of go­ing straight to the Na­tional Univer­sity of Le­sotho, I didn’t want to be like some of the stu­dents who were here be­fore me. They went to the univer­sity but couldn’t even make it past the first year be­cause they found the go­ing tough. Their Form E Or­di­nary Level qual­i­fi­ca­tion was not good enough for them to un­der­take the pro­grammes they had cho­sen so I didn’t want to find my­self in that dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tion.”

In fact, Fa­reed said her pre­ferred choice had al­ways been a South African univer­sity.

“The prob­lem is South African univer­si­ties don’t ac­cept our LGSCE or Cam­bridge Over­seas School Cer­tifi­cate ( COSC). We ei­ther have to have Ma­tric, IB or AS Level qual­i­fi­ca­tions but I couldn’t do any of them in South Africa or Mach­abeng be­cause it was too ex­pen­sive,” Fa­reed said.

“But when Soofia an­nounced that it was in­tro­duc­ing A-level stud­ies this year, I grabbed the chance be­cause it was af­ford­able; I paid a third of the money I would have spent in South Africa for the same qual­i­fi­ca­tion.”

Fa­reed said orig­i­nally, the stu­dents were sup­posed to write their ex­am­i­na­tions at one of the Univer­sity of Cam­bridge-ac­cred­ited schools in La­dy­brand.

“It was hard imag­in­ing our­selves sit­ting in a big room with so many strange faces in La­dy­brand. It was go­ing to be even tougher for us to write the ex­ams in such strange sur­round­ings in South Africa and luck­ily for us, Soofia and the Min­istry of Education worked hard to make sure our school was ac­cred­ited by Cam­bridge Univer­sity.”

Speak­ing at Mon­day’s event graced by scores of dig­ni­taries from var­i­ous sec­tors of Le­sotho so­ci­ety, the school’s prin­ci­pal, Vijayakumar Bhaskaran, said it was not easy to even­tu­ally have A-level stud­ies at Soofia. The Buthe-buthe-based school also of­fers preschool, pri­mary, Ju­nior Cer­tifi­cate, and COSC/IGCE/LGSCE education.

“This A-level pro­gramme is aimed at putting a stop to the peren­nial strug­gle our chil­dren have to en­dure to en­ter univer­si­ties out­side the coun­try with­out first be­ing sub­jected to a bridg­ing pro­gramme,” he said.

“Soofia will give the chil­dren di­rect ac­cess to any course in any univer­sity any­where in the world at very min­i­mal cost and at their doorstep.”

How­ever, Mr Bhaskaran said the school man­age­ment had to over­come many hur­dles to fi­nally be­come Le­sotho’s first for­mal school to of­fer an A-level qual­i­fi­ca­tion.

“With the co­op­er­a­tion of man­age­ment and the school’s found­ing fa­thers, Soofia first aligned it­self with Cam­bridge Univer­sity’s re­quire­ments to en­able our Or­di­nary Level stu­dents to sit for IGSCE ex­am­i­na­tions,” he said.

“How­ever, we did not only make sure our stu­dents wrote IGSCE ex­am­i­na­tions, they also had to study at a school meet­ing Cam­bridge stan­dards, and we man­aged to make sure Soofia met th­ese re­quire­ments.

“The upgrade also goes down to pri­mary school where stu­dents will write ex­am­i­na­tions in their sixth year and then go to sec­ondary school.”

Mr Bhaskaran also pleaded with the Butha-buthe busi­ness com­mu­nity to es­tab­lish a trust that would help fund the education of stu­dents from poor back­grounds.

“I would like to pro­pose a schol­ar­ship fund specif­i­cally to sup­port needy chil­dren who wish to en­rol for A-level stud­ies at this school,” Mr Bhaskaran said.

Speak­ing to the Le­sotho Times dur­ing the cel­e­bra­tion, Mr Bhaskaran said the four pi­o­neer stu­dents each paid M23 000 for the en­tire year, in­clu­sive of a M7 000 ex­am­i­na­tion fee.

“The school is not a profit-mak­ing or­gan­i­sa­tion and we are try­ing as a much as pos­si­ble to en­sure that we charge fees that will only help us run the school, and not put par- ents un­der un­due stress,” he said.

“Next year’s fees have not been agreed upon yet but we are hop­ing to charge be­tween M30 000 and 35 000 for each stu­dent. This money is for the en­tire year. We are ex­pect­ing 20 stu­dents for next year’s in­take, all day-schol­ars be­cause we don’t have board­ing fa­cil­i­ties here.”

Education and Train­ing Min­is­ter Dr Ma­hali Phamotse, on her part, said Mon­day marked a mile­stone in Le­sotho’s education sys­tem.

“As a na­tion, we have to be very proud of Soofia. Look­ing at the proud his­tory of this school, one comes to the con­clu­sion that all the stake­hold­ers here are ded­i­cated to­wards qual­ity education,” Dr Phamotse said.

“I also want to specif­i­cally talk to the learn­ers. Your par­ents have given you a life­time op­por­tu­nity by bring­ing you to this school so you should not waste their money and time by com­ing here to play.”

The min­is­ter fur­ther noted Soofia had per­formed con­sis­tently well in Pri­mary School Leav­ing Ex­am­i­na­tions, Ju­nior Cer­tifi­cate and COSC level.

Be­cause of this ex­cel­lent track record, Dr Phamotse said it was not sur­pris­ing her min­istry saw it fit to fa­cil­i­tate the in­tro­duc­tion of A-level stud­ies at the school. How­ever, the min­is­ter cau­tioned the man­age­ment against com­pla­cency.

“Please don’t make us re­gret hav­ing en­trusted this pro­gramme into your hands. I would per­son­ally feel ag­grieved as both this school and the whole district have a spe­cial place in my heart,” Dr Phamotse said.

EDUCATION and Train­ing Min­is­ter Ma­hali Phamotse of­fi­cially launches Soofia’s com­puter lab­o­ra­tory on Mon­day.

SOOFIA’S Liphotha Group en­ter­tains the crowd dur­ing Mon­day’s cer­e­mony.

SOOFIA English Medium School Prin­ci­pal Vijayakumar Bhaskaran at the launch.

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