New LCE boss op­ti­mistic

Lesotho Times - - Big Interview -

THE sit­u­a­tion has been calm at the Le­sotho Col­lege of Ed­u­ca­tion (LCE) since the ap­point­ment of Dr Karabo Mokobo­cho-mohlakoana as Rec­tor in Jan­uary this year.

The teach­ers’ train­ing col­lege has been rocked by in­ces­sant strikes in the past with both stu­dents and staff protest­ing over a host of is­sues re­volv­ing around al­leged mis­man­age­ment.

Dr Mokobo­cho-mohlakoana, who took over from Dr John Oliphant, speaks with Le­sotho Times ( LT) re­porter, Lekhetho Nt­sukun­yane, about her vi­sion for the col­lege in this wide-rang­ing in­ter­view.

LT: The Le­sotho Col­lege of Ed­u­ca­tion has been in the news for the wrong rea­sons over re­cent years with strikes by both teach­ers and stu­dents the or­der of the day. How have you dealt with such chal­lenges since you came into of­fice at the be­gin­ning of this year?

Mokobo­cho-mohlakoana: Since I came into of­fice, there was only one threat of a strike from stu­dents be­cause their funds had not been dis­bursed by the Na­tional Man­power De­vel­op­ment Sec­re­tariat ( NMDS). How­ever, the strike did not hap­pen and we haven’t had any staff strike ei­ther. First of all, chal­lenges at any in­sti­tu­tion come in dif­fer­ent forms. Ob­vi­ously, man­age­ment will plan and each is­sue will be dealt with on its merit. I am aware of those chal­lenges.

LT: You say the work­ers have not gone on strike since you be­came Rec­tor in Jan­uary. Does that mean the work­ers are sat­is­fied now?

Mokobo­cho-mohlakoana: I have only been here three months. I don’t know if they are sat­is­fied now or not. I wouldn’t an­swer that ques­tion for them. Per­son­ally, I be­lieve three months is too short a time to con­clude that there are no more strikes at LCE. And be­cause there has been a change of man­age­ment, peo­ple can have ex­pec­ta­tions and some hope. But I wouldn’t an­swer on be­half of the staff as to why there hasn’t been any strikes since Jan­uary. How­ever, I do hope and pray that if ever there are is­sues, we need to sit down to­gether and talk about them so that we can reach am­i­ca­ble so­lu­tions. Strikes can­not give us the so­lu­tions we need. We need to have a plat­form to dis­cuss what­ever prob­lems we might have. Con­struc­tive com­mu­ni­ca­tion can solve what­ever chal­lenges we have. So I hope and pray that we com­mu­ni­cate than for the staff and stu­dents to re­sort to strikes. I try us much as I can to en­gage the work­ers in reg­u­lar talks. They should feel free to voice their con­cerns and ask ques­tions where they need clar­i­fi­ca­tion. Prob­lems will al­ways be there, es­pe­cially where peo­ple live to­gether in larger num­bers, but we should al­ways strive to work things out to­gether and in har­mony.

LT: Two lec­tur­ers, who were also ex­ec­u­tive mem­bers of the Le­sotho Col­lege of Ed­u­ca­tion Staff Union (LECESU), were ac­cused of lead­ing the strikes and sus­pended last year. What’s the lat­est de­vel­op­ment about this is­sue? Have they been fi­nally dis­missed?

Mokobo­cho-mohlakoana: I will not en­gage my­self into that is­sue be­cause it is cur­rently be­ing dealt with by the Direc­torate on Dis­pute Pre­ven­tion and Res­o­lu­tion. It is a mat­ter of the court and I wouldn’t want to in­ter­fere in it. You will re­alise that this mat­ter was al­ready in court when I came in. It is still pend­ing there even now.

LT: The LCE was said to be in a fi­nan­cial cri­sis last year, which was one of the rea­sons there were strikes at the col­lege. What’s the col­lege’s fi­nan­cial sit­u­a­tion now?

Mokobo­cho-mohlakoana: We still have fi­nan­cial prob­lems. I should men­tion that it is not only this in­sti­tu­tion that has fi­nan­cial prob­lems. Monies dis­bursed to in­sti­tu­tions by govern­ments in the form of sub­ven­tions, are never enough. As LCE, we would be happy to have some­one or a com­pany that can fund our oper­a­tions. Re­sources are scarce even as we speak. I am try­ing all my best to over­come this chal­lenge, but it seems at the end of the day, we are able to se­cure very lit­tle re­sources that are al­most noth­ing. For in­stance, if the in­sti­tu­tion needs mil­lions of mal­oti for its oper­a­tions, and all you can se­cure is a few mal­oti, it’s as if you are do­ing noth­ing. None­the­less, we still man­age to pay some of our debts through this fund­ing. But there are still huge out­stand­ing debts which we are still faced with. The sit­u­a­tion has not re­ally changed from what was ear­lier an­nounced by my pre­de­ces­sor con­cern­ing the col­lege’s fi­nan­cial cri­sis.

LT: What ini­tia­tives have you put in place to gen­er­ate funds?

Mokobo­cho-mohlakoana: We started small projects that in­clude agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tion, rear­ing pigs, chick­ens et cetera. We re­cently even started ex­tend­ing and mod­i­fy­ing our carpark for rent­ing pur­poses, so that we can gen­er­ate some more in­come. We are try­ing every­thing we be­lieve can gen­er­ate money for the in­sti­tu­tion. Some peo­ple might sug­gest that we build a shop­ping mall to gen­er­ate a sub­stan­tial in­come, but where are we go­ing to get the money to build a mall? We don’t have cap­i­tal for such a project. I sat down with the teams I am work­ing with on this in­come-gen­er­at­ing ini­tia­tive and we agreed that our fi­nan­cial sit­u­a­tion was re­ally bad. To­gether we came up with ideas that could partly as­sist us in this sit­u­a­tion. I can­not be the only one cred­ited for the ini­tia­tives, it has been a col­lec­tive ef­fort.

LT: The Coun­sel on Higher Ed­u­ca­tion (CHE) re­cently re­leased a re­port ti­tled, ‘The State of Higher Ed­u­ca­tion Re­port of 2013/14’, which high­lights the de­te­ri­o­rat­ing ad­mis­sion rate at in­sti­tu­tions. The re­port cov­ers 14 in­sti­tu­tions, LCE in­cluded. What can you say about this re­port?

Mokobo­cho-mohlakoana: I am aware of the re­port. And if you read it care­fully, you will even re­alise the ac­tual fig­ures in­di­cat­ing this de­cline. We have just talked about the is­sue of limited re­sources. You can have as many qual­i­fy­ing stu­dents as you can, but if the re­sources that you have can­not en­able you to give them qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion, then it be­comes use­less to ad­mit them. But as for LCE, our ad­mis­sion rate has not de­clined. What is fac­tual is we have not been able to ad­mit all qual­i­fy­ing stu­dents be­cause of the mea­gre re­sources we have. Class­rooms are not enough. We would also have to in­crease lec­tur­ers. We have hos­tels we wish could ac­com­mo­date all our stu­dents. We have a chal­lenge of stu­dents who have to rush home im­me­di­ately af­ter classes be­cause they stay far away from the col­lege. Th­ese stu­dents can­not ac­cess other ma­te­ri­als to as­sist them in their learn­ing once they leave the col­lege premises. And the ex­pec­ta­tion, con­sid­er­ing the mod­ern ways of study, is they should ac­cess learn­ing ma­te­ri­als, in­clud­ing Wi-fi for in­ter­net ac­cess, to keep learn­ing even out­side the class­room. But un­for­tu­nately they go home where there is no li­brary and Wi-fi. The sit­u­a­tion could even be worse at home be­cause we don’t even know whether there is elec­tric­ity or enough light for them to do their as­sign­ments. This chal­lenge can only be ad­dressed with enough fund­ing for the in­sti­tu­tion. There is no other way we can re­solve it.

LT: The re­port fur­ther high­lights that peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties face chal­lenges as far as ad­mis­sion into col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties is con­cerned. Does this also ap­ply to LCE?

Mokobo­cho-mohlakoana: Un­for­tu­nately, our in­sti­tu­tions are not built in such a way that we can cater for peo­ple with cer­tain dis­abil­i­ties. Our build­ings were de­signed a long time ago be­fore the is­sue of peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties was high on the agenda. You will re­alise, as you walk within our premises, that peo­ple with cer­tain dis­abil­i­ties can­not ac­cess cer­tain build­ings with­out as­sis­tance. We don’t have ramps what­so­ever for their wheelchairs, for in­stance. How­ever, it’s not all doom. We have stu­dents with vis­ual im­pair­ment as we speak. They are train­ing to be­come teach­ers like every­body else. For­tu­nately we have brail learn­ing ma­te­rial to as­sist them.

This re­ally is a mile­stone for us. We are proud to pro­duce such teach­ers. We re­cently even part­nered with Metropoli­tan Le­sotho, with the com­pany pledg­ing its con­tri­bu­tion to­wards as­sist­ing us in this area. We are also mind­ful of our stu­dents who, at times, in­cur tem­po­rary dis­abil­i­ties through in­juries, and they are not able to gain ac­cess on their own to cer­tain fa­cil­i­ties of the col­lege. It is sad to ob­serve this. How­ever, there are plans in the pipe­line to up­grade the build­ings to make sure they are ac­ces­si­ble to ev­ery­one re­gard­less of their state.

LT: There is also the is­sue of staff at­tri­tion raised in the re­port. What are you do­ing to re­tain the staff?

Mokobo­cho-mohlakoana: My opin­ion on the is­sue of staff at­tri­tion may dif­fer slightly from oth­ers. For in­stance, I wasn’t ed­u­cated by this in­sti­tu­tion my­self. But I am here work­ing for it. If you ex­pect pro­fes­sion­als not to move, you would be ex­pect­ing a mir­a­cle. Pro­fes­sion­als will move. What would worry me is if the rate at which they are mov­ing be­comes alarm­ing. We can­not af­ford to have peo­ple who are in­dis­pens­able – some­one who, if he or she leaves the col­lege, then we are doomed. No. We have a lot of skilled peo­ple in our pop­u­la­tion. We should be able to use them flex­i­bly. Teach­ers al­ways ma­jor in at least two sub­jects even at uni­ver­si­ties. One lec­turer could spe­cialise in teach­ing Math­e­mat­ics, but where need arises the same per­son can also teach Physics. This is­sue also de­pends on how we man­age our hu­man re­sources – do we know the skills we pos­sess within the in­sti­tu­tions such that if there is a gap, be­cause gaps will al­ways be there, we are ready to fill it up? Re­mem­ber gaps are not only there be­cause pro­fes­sion­als are mov­ing, but there are also un­avoid­able is­sues of na­ture that cause peo­ple to leave this world with­out warn­ing. We should al­ways be on the look­out. Why should we ex­pect other in­sti­tu­tions to lose staff to us and not ex­pect the same to hap­pen to us? I am say­ing this be­cause some pro­fes­sion­als we now have here were once at other in­sti­tu­tions.

LT: Does that mean mem­bers of staff are not leav­ing LCE in large num­bers?

Mokobo­cho-mohlakoana: They are not. I know the is­sue of staff at­tri­tion could be a prob­lem in other in­sti­tu­tions, but it is not the case at LCE. Yes, peo­ple are leav­ing but it is not at an alarm­ing rate.

LT: The other is­sue of con­cern by CHE is that in­sti­tu­tions of higher learn­ing, in­clud­ing LCE, mainly seem to be of­fer­ing sub-de­gree pro­grammes. How am­bi­tious are you to im­prove the col­lege from of­fer­ing di­ploma and cer­tifi­cate qual­i­fi­ca­tions only to pro­vid­ing de­grees?

Mokobo­cho-mohlakoana: Very am­bi­tious. But we should be mind­ful of the fact that we pro­duce teach­ers for the man­power needs of the country. I don’t just wake up one morn­ing hop­ing we can do things as we want. I was party to CHE when this re­port was be­ing dis­cussed and the em­pha­sis was our re­search, gen­er­ally as in­sti­tu­tions of higher learn­ing, is very low be­cause we of­fer pro­grammes of low qual­i­fi­ca­tion. Th­ese stu­dents, ob­vi­ously, would not be en­gaged in deeper re­search. What comes to my mind is that the Na­tional Univer­sity of Le­sotho (NUL) is al­ready pro­duc­ing de­gree-qual­i­fied teach­ers. Botho Univer­sity, on the other hand, has sur­passed us; it of­fers de­gree pro­grammes.

I then asked my­self, which mar­ket is go­ing to ab­sorb all th­ese many de­gree and master’s qual­i­fied teach­ers? Which mar­ket are we pro­duc­ing for? To me it’s a chal­lenge. But it doesn’t mean I don’t have as­pi­ra­tions to grow the col­lege to that level. My point is, we should re­or­ga­nize our­selves to­gether as stake­hold­ers so that the mar­ket is equally ready to ab­sorb our prod­ucts. Al­ready we have qual­i­fied teach­ers out there, who strug­gle to find em­ploy­ment de­spite hav­ing grad­u­ated many years ago. My ad­vice is let us not rush into this with­out lay­ing a good foun­da­tion for it to be sus­tain­able and fruit­ful.

LT: Fi­nally, what’s your vi­sion for this in­sti­tu­tion?

Mokobo­cho-mohlakoana: When I leave this in­sti­tu­tion, I hope it would have grown to unimag­in­able lev­els. I be­lieve I will be re­tir­ing from for­mal em­ploy­ment when I leave this col­lege, and as I look back, I would then want to see it as an in­sti­tu­tion I put all the ex­pe­ri­ence I had to im­prove it. Gov­er­nance – I want to see this in­sti­tu­tion be­ing ad­min­is­tered in a very pro­fes­sional man­ner. When you ar­rive at this col­lege, you should see state-of-the-art equip­ment. Qual­ity is­sues, as stip­u­lated by CHE guide­lines, should all be ad­dressed.

LCE Rec­tor Dr Karabo Mokobo­cho-mohlakoana

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