By Thoboloko Ntšonyane
MASERU – Swiss former professional tennis player, Roger Federer has invested $3 million (USD) approximately M58 million towards the Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) programme.
Federer, President of the Roger Federer Foundation and his family,were last week in the country on official visit to see the programmes in the School Readiness Initiative that his foundation is implementing in partnership with its local partner, the Network of Childhood Development of Lesotho (NECDOL) and in concert with the Ministry of Education and Training (MoET).
This initiative began in 2020, and it aims to give vulnerable children, mostly from rural communities, “a good start into formal schooling through equitable access to quality” Reception Class.
“I was eager to visit Lesotho as a country and also to see the School Readiness Initiative my foundation has been implementing since 2020 in partnership with you. The good reports about the positive results from our joint interventions and the excellent collaboration my team has experienced working with your government and other partners, has encouraged this urge to visit Lesotho.
“The Roger Federer Foundation is a professionally managed grant-making foundation. For 20 years, my foundation has been committed to enabling parents and communities to provide children with the opportunity for quality education. We firmly believe in the power of education as a means to [empower] people and [break] down the poverty cycle,” he said while addressing the government.
He highlighted that the important focus should be on early childhood care and education.
Federer continued: “It is decisive for any country’s economy and social development that all children have access to pre-primary education as this is the foundation for all learning. Investment in early education provides greater returns through increased enrolment, retention and completion of primary school education.”
Swiss tennis acclaimed player said they are focusing on school readiness adding that, the move is in line with and in support of Sustainable Development Goal 4.2, which aspires equal access for both boys and girls to pre-primary education.
The Foundation has presence in six countries in the Southern African region, and has reached 2.5 million children to date.
He said: “In Lesotho, the Roger Federer Foundation has committed to investing 60 million Maloti until 2025. We have a vision: We want to achieve school readiness in line with Sustainable Development Goals 4.2 targets, by making sure that all, or at least 70% of the children, get a good start into education.
“By 2025, our School Readiness Initiative would have reached 800 primary schools and early learning institutions across Lesotho, building stimulating early learning environments and enhancing the quality of learning for about 24,000 Basotho children.
“Our work seeks a systemic approach and joint responsibility: every stakeholder has to accept their responsibility for school readiness. And when it comes to training and resourcing teachers, we have embarked on innovative approaches. As a departure from traditional knowledge sharing and resourcing of teachers, through our programme, we introduced android applications and digital resources and soft copy materials on a tablet – a digital package that we call the Early Learning Kiosk.”
The Foundation boasts Early Learning Kiosk that utilizes self-guided peer-to-peer learning approaches, with minimal time spent in training.
These support kits are tailor-made and are in synch with the local context and the curriculum as they were developed in collaboration with the local implementing partners, MoET, Lesotho College of Education (LCE) and the National University of Lesotho (NUL).
The teachers’ tablets are said to work offline without the internet, and they function well even in the rural schools that are without electricity. He said where there is no electricity, the programme also provides solar charging units to charge the tablets.
The Foundation said the tablet package of digital resources and android applications includes an early learning teachers’ course that encourages teachers to work in learning groups with others.
The package also has an android application for monitoring children’s learning and development. These tablets have been installed with the resources and manuals that come in a toolbox, including manuals that help teachers improve indoor and outdoor play areas for play-based teaching and learning, which is the appropriate way of learning in pre-primary schooling and are available free of charge to the government of Lesotho and other non-profit organizations that want to use them.
“It is our ambition that the Early Learning Kiosk will be used by all your teachers in the long-term, and not just during the implementation of this initiative. The School Readiness Initiative is therefore your initiative to run with even after we are long gone,” he said.
Meanwhile, the ECCD curriculum has been revised and is now being tested together with
United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the MoET revised the 2016-2026 national Education Sector Plan.
In partnership with UNICEF and the Global Partnership for Education, the Better Early Learning and Development at Scale was launched in 2019 to enhance quality of early childhood education in Lesotho. In April this year, a sector review of ECCE in Lesotho was undertaken by MoET and its key stakeholders.
“Nevertheless, we are facing one huge obstacle. We cannot scale the School Readiness Initiative as planned, because currently, only 241 out of 1,486 public primary schools have reception class, a situation we were hoping would have improved by this time in our implementation since we started in 2020.
“The country is therefore progressing slower than hoped for on access to quality Reception Class. All children in Lesotho deserve access to equitable quality early education in public primary schools, yet the majority of ECCE is still being provided by the private sector,” he said.
He continued: “This results in children from economically marginalized families being left out of schooling. In 2019, only 36% of Basotho children had access to early childhood education and only 0.4% of the education budget was allocated to coordinate, manage and strengthen early childhood education.
“This is far short of globally agreed commitments to make sure that at least 10% of education sector budgets go to pre-primary education. The task at hand is therefore enormous and urgent if we are to avoid more generations of children missing out on quality foundational early learning.”
Feder said this “herculean task” cannot be accomplished by government alone, appealing for a joint effort, to accelerate progress in favor of quality equitable early childhood care and education in Lesotho.
Appreciating the Roger Federer Foundation’s gesture the Minister of Education and Training Prof Ntoi Rapapa thanked the President saying “to us, he is the father of our children”.
The Minister promised that the Ministry will do the “best” along with NECDOL to implementing the Foundation’s activities.
Prof Rapapa also promised to be accountable to the funds committed.
Federer met with key stakeholders in early childhood care and education, including His Majesty King Letsie III and Her Majesty Queen ’Masenate Mohato Seeiso, Prime Minister Sam Matekane and the Minister of Education and Training Honourable Prof. Rapapa, international and local donors as well as representatives from the corporate and non-profit sectors.