A tale of two schools

Lesotho Times - - Feature - Makatleho Mo­hapi

MO­HALE’S HOEK — The beauty of Ke­tane in Mo­hale’s Hoek is en­chant­ing as it is an em­bod­i­ment of this rolling dis­trict.

Springs keep the en­vi­ron­ment nour­ished and Telle Pri­mary School stu­dents, their teach­ers, and in­deed the rest of the com­mu­nity, happy.

Even in these hard times of the El Niño-re­lated drought, this is one of the few lo­cal schools which kept its pots filled with a va­ri­ety of fresh veg­eta­bles and its stu­dents wellfed.

Telle Pri­mary School, which is sit­u­ated just above Ke­tane River, is a unique in­sti­tu­tion which has demon­strated that with an agri­cul­ture-in­clined man­age­ment sys­tem, learn­ing fa­cil­i­ties could grow their own food, de­velop and sig­nif­i­cantly com­ple­ment diet pro­vided by gov­ern­ment in partnership with the World Food Pro­gramme (WFP).

The school of­fers ed­u­ca­tion with a dif­fer­ence as demon­strated by mas­sive vegetable pro­duc­tion since 42-year-old Mot­latsi Mothae took over as prin­ci­pal in 2004.

His pas­sion for food pro­duc­tion has seen the eight teach­ers at Telle im­part­ing agri­cul­tural knowl­edge to their stu­dents and en­sur­ing they play a lead­ing role in grow­ing beet­root, car­rots, cab­bages, spinach, toma­toes, leek onions, but­ter­nuts, fruits and maize.

Telle Pri­mary School has a lot to brag about — the stu­dents eat two vegetable meals per week and at the end of each term, still find them­selves with some sur­plus. Two months af­ter the first term com­menced in Jan­uary, stu­dents at the school are still eat­ing fish they re­ceived from WFP in 2015.

Through in­ter­ac­tion with the school au­thor­i­ties, WFP re­alised Telle Pri­mary had much more to of­fer its stu­dents apart from the reg­u­lar syl­labus, and in 2011, the hu­man­i­tar­ian or­gan­i­sa­tion do­nated two green­houses and ir­ri­ga­tion equip­ment through the glob­ally com­mem­o­rated Walk the World Against Hunger fundrais­ing ac­tiv­i­ties held each year in June.

Mr Mothae says fol­low­ing the do­na­tion, life has never been the same at the school. Apart from be­ing a school of choice in the dis­trict, the green­houses have made Telle a leader in teach­ing stu­dents pro­tected food pro­duc­tion and ir­ri­ga­tion tech­nolo­gies, in ad­di­tion to boost­ing the pro­duc­tion of high qual­ity veg­eta­bles.

“The stu­dents are learn­ing a lot from the pro­duc­tion in the green­house. We have em­ployed a gar­dener to work full­time in the green­house while the stu­dents con­cen­trate on pro­duc­tion out­side the con­ser­va­tory,” says Mr Mothae.

While the green­house pro­duce is ir­ri­gated by spring wa­ter through drip-ir­ri­ga­tion tech­nol­ogy, the stu­dents fetch wa­ter from the same spring to ir­ri­gate the other gar­dens in dif­fer­ent parts of the school.

The school is us­ing the trench con­ser­va­tion tech­nique that al­lows deep fur­rows to har­vest wa­ter for later ir­ri­ga­tion of the rich gar­dens.

“We have the ca­pac­ity to in­crease our pro­duc­tion and can even sup­ply some neigh­bour­ing schools and also sell in Mo­hale’s Hoek town pro­vided we are as­sisted with trans­port. The soil here is rich and there is plenty of wa­ter,” says Mr Mothae.

He ex­plains the im­por­tance of help­ing chil­dren un­der­stand food comes from the soil and peo­ple have to work in or­der to eat.

“For me, there is noth­ing as em­pow­er­ing as the abil­ity to pro­duce your own food and be­com­ing self­suf­fi­cient.”

Mr Mothae says plenty of food also en­cour­ages cooks at the school to be­come in­no­va­tive. This year the school em­ployed four cooks — three women and one man.

“I have seen that they are go­ing all the way to make the school meals ap­peal­ing,” says Mr Mothae.

Af­ter cook­ing peas, they also pre­pare tomato and leek soup to make the pulses tastier. Beet­root is also added to the green vegetable dishes in­clud­ing the pump­kin rel­ish. The 306 stu­dents who in­clude 109 or­phans and vul­ner­a­ble chil­dren also eat ap­ples, peaches, but­ter­nuts and corn when they are in sea­son, mak­ing Telle the envy of stu­dents from neigh­bour­ing schools. And af­ter feed­ing them­selves, they still have plenty of food to sell to the lo­cal com­mu­nity.

Over the years the school has gen­er­ated enough money to con­struct five ac­com­mo­da­tion fa­cil­i­ties for the teach­ers. Lack of ac­com­mo­da­tion is one of the chal­lenges dis­cour­ag­ing qual­i­fied teach­ers from work­ing in some re­mote parts of Le­sotho.

Yet de­spite the joy on the foot of the moun­tains, all is not well on top of one of the many moun­tains sur­round­ing Telle Pri­mary School.

Stu­dents at Ntamaha Pri­mary School ap­pear to be in a world of their own. A to­tal of 33 stu­dents trans­ferred from the school this year, leav­ing the in­sti­tu­tion with only 12 learn­ers and one teacher. In fact, the school used to have two teach­ers but one of them re­signed last year.

The Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion and Train­ing es­tab­lished the school in 2003 to cater for chil­dren liv­ing on top of this moun­tain who used to strug­gle to ac­cess ed­u­ca­tion. A sec­ondary school was sub­se­quently es- tab­lished at the same premises in 2007. Un­like Telle Pri­mary School, there is no gar­den and mouth­wa­ter­ing vegetable dishes served at Ntamaha Pri­mary School. The only teacher at the school, who is also Act­ing Prin­ci­pal, Matsa Mon­a­heng, says they can­not es­tab­lish a gar­den due to the live­stock which oc­ca­sion­ally graze in the school­yard.

“It is for that rea­son that I do not get along with the lo­cal com­mu­nity and can’t also stay in ac­com­mo­da­tion fa­cil­i­ties pro­vided by the school,” says Mr Mon­a­heng.

Lessons start at 9am and each morn­ing, Mr Mon­a­heng walks about 15 kilo­me­tres to school from his home be­low the moun­tains in Ha Nt­seene vil­lage. The stu­dents, who are in classes one, three and four, then sit ac­cord­ing to their classes, ready to be taught by one teacher. A class four stu­dent says she is plead­ing with her par­ents to trans­fer her to an­other school where there are enough teach­ers. “We are only two in my class and be­ing taught the same things the class three stu­dents are taught. I feel cheated and know that I am wast­ing my time com­ing to this school,” she said.

Mr Mon­a­heng con­fesses the qual­ity of ed­u­ca­tion is se­ri­ously com­pro­mised as he is not trained to teach more than one class at the same time. “The slow learn­ers are bear­ing the brunt of this un­for­tu­nate situation be­cause there is no time to give them much at­ten­tion,” says Mr Mon­a­heng. The fa­ther-ofeight says he is do­ing his best to help the stu­dents while he waits for the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion to de­ploy some teach­ers to the school.

Some of the vil­lagers say they had to trans­fer their chil­dren be­cause they were un­happy with the way the school was be­ing run.

“We asked for a school to be built here but are dis­ap­pointed that the pri­or­ity has never been ed­u­ca­tion but power-strug­gles be­tween the teach­ers to the ex­tent that the other teacher had to re­sign,” one of the par­ents said.

“We know that when Mr Mon­a­heng is at­tend­ing meet­ings or work­shops, the poor stu­dents only come to school to play and eat,” an­other par­ent added.

But the cook, Tsi­etsi Tsoeu, has a dif­fer­ent con­cern.

“If this school runs out of food, these re­main­ing stu­dents might also leave. And if that hap­pens then it means los­ing the lit­tle salary I am get­ting,” says Mr Tsoeu.

The vil­lagers, who used to col­lect WFP food us­ing their don­keys for a fee from Telle Pri­mary School, are yet to col­lect the con­sign­ment for the first quar­ter and Mr Mon­a­heng says this is in re­ac­tion to the late pay­ment of their claims sub­mit­ted last year.

An Ed­u­ca­tion Of­fi­cer based in Mo­hale’s Hoek, Ms Palesa Ra­monate, con­firms re­ceiv­ing com­plaints re­gard­ing the situation at Ntamaha Pri­mary School early this year.

“We will soon take ac­tion aimed at re­solv­ing the chal­lenges, in­clud­ing de­ploy­ing at least two teach­ers to the school,” says Ms Ra­monate warn­ing that find­ing teach­ers will­ing to work in hard-to-reach ar­eas is not easy.

She ex­plains it is un­for­tu­nate stu­dents re­main­ing at the school are not re­ceiv­ing qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion while oth­ers were forced to trans­fer due to man­age­ment chal­lenges.

“There are other pri­mary schools in the re­mote parts of the dis­trict which are also be­ing run by sin­gle teach­ers. This is an un­for­tu­nate situation which also wor­ries us. A school should at least have three teach­ers,” she said.

She ex­plains start­ing this year, the dis­trict ed­u­ca­tion of­fice would in­ten­sify the mon­i­tor­ing schools in the re­mote ar­eas to en­sure their man­age­ment is above board.

“We would like to pre­vent chal­lenges that may lead to mas­sive stu­dent trans­fers or loss of teach­ers the way things hap­pened at Ntamaha Pri­mary School,” she said.

THE only teacher at Ntamaha Pri­mary School, Matsa Mon­a­heng as­sists one of the class one pupils while the other stu­dents con­cen­trate on their work.

TELLE school prin­ci­pal Mot­latsi Mothae (left) and school gar­dener Tsi­etsi Phafoli har­vest some toma­toes grown in one of the green­houses do­nated by WFP.

TELLE Pri­mary School stu­dents work in one of the flour­ish­ing gar­dens.

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