By Thandiwe Kubere

The need for a different strategy and a new way of learning is visible in Lesotho, where the rate of unemployment is ever increasing. With the current change of the curriculum and realising how much other students struggle academically, ‘Mabathoana High school came up with an initiative to help students fend for themselves should life challenges force them out of school.

Education plays a significant role because it helps shape one’s mind and future. Due to the realising that completing high school is difficult for some and finding employment after completing studies even harder, ‘Mabathoana High School introduces entrepreneurship studies to grade 8 learners. This means right after getting enrolled in the school, they are already equipped with critical skills which include decision making, problem solving and creativity. This in turn does not only equip them with a business mind-set but also the financial understanding of how to apply those skills in the outside world.

Commercial teachers also have a strategy of enhancing the knowledge of students through practical projects. Students are assigned with tasks to come up with fresh and vibrant business ideas, problem solving and identifying their market. Thereafter, teachers guide them on how to go about their different projects and how to find solutions where they come across challenges. This is where students gain valuable lessons of handling and managing finances thus preparing them for future endeavours.

The principal, Sr. Bathilda Heqoa emphasized that ‘Mabathoana was initially a commercial school. “We prepare these kids for the workplace and how to come up with their own businesses. Commercial teachers became aware that some students are unable to complete their high school or get admitted into tertiary institutions.” She explained regardless of that, they have skills and potential to make a positive change with the knowledge they acquire from school.  In addition, some students are assumed to be bad performers in class but when thoroughly accessed they are found to be from hostile backgrounds which cause psychological trauma and hinders them from coping or reaching their best capabilities.  Commercial teachers therefore saw a need to groom them from a young age.

One of the commercial teachers, Moleboheng Reletoane said that the ultimate goal is to help the students become independent and know how to properly relate with people. “All of this initiatives are for a similar purpose which is to help and prepare these children for the future, whether as academics or non-academics, to reach their dreams. This is to bring hope even to slow learners, that it is possible to meet their goals”, she said. The basis of starting a business helps them to have a positive outlook on life and believe that they can be business owners outside of school. Equipping them with that at their level also helps them with financial survival skills should they drop out of school due to unforeseen circumstances.

Students are taught that a business idea can come from different sources such as; experience, hobbies, people’s problems, exhibitions and more. “We do not limit students with defining which angles they should perceive when exploring business.” Raletoane underlined that those who have interest in music are encouraged to make a living out of that, those who have interest in cooking are encouraged to take that direction, and more. “We want them to achieve so much but what remains a barrier is the lack of resources. We hope to get assisted with the necessary resources either in a form of money or the essential material.

Right after laying the business education and projects foundation, Sr. Heqoa said the school then came up with a leadership and mentorship program in 2021 for those who have progressed in their studies- Grade 11s, so as to empower and prepare them for different careers. The leader of the program invites experts from different fields to psychologically evaluate students, help them find their different strengths and weaknesses and how they can use them to their advantage. They also hold different presentations and workshops to equip students with different skills. Here they are trained on how to make proper decisions and stand-up for themselves so as to not easily be led astray and know that actions have consequences, either good or dire.

The program has proven to be beneficial and effective because after completing high school, some would previously get confused of the right life direction to take or courses to enrol in tertiary. Therefore, with this program in place, students become exposed to a lot of things, search within and know exactly what they want, in consideration with their strengths. The school also gives them opportunities to put what they have learned into practise while they are still waiting to apply for university or in school. “We have an alumni who is currently studying at one of the high learning institutions and due to the ongoing strike, she has been coming here. She is so mature and creative. You show her the concept once and she is able to carry it out neatly.”

One of the program graduates, Nthatisi Letela indicated the importance of the program and how it has inspired her to make better life choices. “The program has taught me quite a number of things. It has taught me patience and perseverance because engaging in the program was not easy at all some gave up along the way. This is because there were other commitments as well including school work, tasks and assignments in the program as well as my duties as head prefect. With that, I was able to perform under pressure and it trained me on how to handle things professionally even outside of school”.

Letela emphasized that the program helped her gain good communication skills, how to approach people as well as not be judgemental towards others. “We used to share extremely confidential information, so one had to handle it just like a leader and be able to keep such information as heavy as it may.” She said the program also assisted them with problem-solving skills and has nurtured them to be ready for the future. She is also an intern volunteer and said she is now able to apply the lessons she gained from the leadership and mentorship program such as public speaking and presenting.

Sr. Heqoa revealed that educating students goes beyond just giving them information. It goes as far as helping them with even their day to day needs. “You will find that with such students who are often regarded as dumb or slow learners, they do very well when you help them with things like food. Background also contributes a lot in the learning process. There are a lot of other factors that make it seem like a child is struggling academically. We offer them a hand in every way we can even though we cannot say we have enough means yet.” The school hopes these initiatives would be supported and adopted thus empowering the young generation as well as improving the economy of the country.