Published on Africa Can End Poverty

Bridging the Educational Divide in Lesotho to Improve Learner Outcomes

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Addressing students at Morapeli High School, part of our work aims to support students to become healthy, educated, and productive individuals. Photo: Cheryl Khuphe / World Bank Addressing students at Morapeli High School, part of our work aims to support students to become healthy, educated, and productive individuals. Photo: Cheryl Khuphe / World Bank

At Morapeli High School in Lesotho, the atmosphere was buoyant as young adults in smart uniforms welcomed me and my team with song and dance. I explained that our visit, and a major part of our mission at the World Bank, is centered on supporting governments to ensure that students like themselves have every opportunity to become healthy, educated, and productive  individuals.

Lesotho, a landlocked, mountainous kingdom with a population of 2.3 million people, faces an education crisis. While primary education is free and all children enroll in primary education (grades 1-7), many don’t complete primary school. In lower secondary education (grades 8-10), there is a steep drop off in attendance with children unable to pursue their education. Poorer students are less likely to reach Grade 10 than those from better off households (32% compared to 66% in 2018), and boys are less likely to reach Grade 10 compared to girls (34% compared to 58% in 2018). The gender gap in enrolment in secondary education was apparent in my visit, as most students in Morapeli High School are girls.

Reasons for school dropouts in Lesotho are varied but two key factors are poverty and orphanhood.  Estimates suggest that there were 110,000 children orphaned because of HIV/AIDS in 2021. Many do not have sufficient support to attend school. Children from poor and rural households face significant barriers to stay in and complete school as their families cannot afford indirect costs such as uniforms and transport.

Gender norms around masculinity place a strong emphasis on boys becoming “men”. Boys are expected to financially contribute to households. Many drop out of school to become herders. The dropout rate for girls, while lower than for boys, is also high. Many girls leave school due to poverty and teenage pregnancy, which is estimated at 17.8% among 15–19-year-olds nationally and is higher amongst girls from poor families (25%).

Getting children enrolled and supporting them to remain in school is only half of the challenge. The other half is ensuring they develop and learn so they become more productive individuals who can contribute to their communities and the economy.  Learning levels in Lesotho are concerning and have deteriorated. In 2014, only 39% of children in Grade 4 were proficient in foundational Sesotho (Lesotho’s main language). This percentage increased to almost 50% in 2016 but decreased to 44% in 2021 following the COVID pandemic and related school closures. In secondary education, 81% of Grade 9 students were not proficient in science, and 92% were not proficient in mathematics.

However, there is hope and a great deal of effort underway to address the education crisis. The World Bank, the Government of Lesotho and development partners are collaborating on a combination of targeted interventions to improve retention of students in schools—particularly for poor children —and scaling up proven methods to improve the quality of teaching and learning.

The government has committed to improving access to quality basic education, reflected in the significant public investment into the sector which stands at about 8.7% of GDP in 2022. The bulk of this goes to teachers’ salaries in basic education and a scholarship program for students in tertiary education.

The World Bank funded Lesotho Basic Education Strengthening Project supports the Ministry of Education and Training’s (MoET) efforts to improve student retention and the quality of teaching and learning in three ways.

The first way is by supporting children from low-income households to access the Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC) Education grant, which covers school fees for secondary school. The grant assists parents to cover indirect fees such as school uniforms, books and transportation. The second way is by improving the quality of science and math education for students in lower secondary education. The government supports an online internationally accredited digital teaching training program that is adapted to Lesotho’s context. Teachers will be empowered and trained to become more comfortable with using technology. The third way is through scaling up existing youth clubs to support young adolescents with access to information, services, career guidance, and mentorship. This government-led intervention aims to support young people facing challenges including orphanhood, HIV/AIDS, gender-based violence and substance abuse.

MoET’s huge effort to address the learning crisis is complemented by several government-led initiatives to build human capital.  The Lesotho Health and Nutrition Project aims to provide children the right start in life. Lesotho has a high malnutrition rate and stunting rates were 34.5% in 2018. The government is also expanding access to early childhood care and development services.  There are also interventions supporting youth who may have dropped out of school and cannot find work. The Economic Inclusion Program under the Pathways to Sustainable Livelihoods Project provides opportunities to move out of poverty through a package of financial support, training, coaching and mentoring, and linkages to markets. 

Carried by the optimism of the young Basotho I met at Morapeli High School, and the efforts of Lesotho’s government, I look forward to increasing our support to improving human capital outcomes in Lesotho. Educated, capable, and well-equipped young people are the bedrock of economic transformation and increased prosperity for all.

Looking ahead, I invite you to join me and Finance Minister Retšelisitsoe Matlanyane on International Women’s Day on March 7th as we discuss deepening the World Bank’s support to Lesotho for girls’ education and inclusion, on Facebook Live.


Victoria Kwakwa

Vice President, Eastern and Southern Africa

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