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Lesotho, officially known as the Kingdom of Lesotho, is an enclave and completely landlocked country in Africa, surrounded entirely by its only neighboring country, the Republic of South Africa. A relatively small country by African standards, Lesotho has a total geographic area of nearly 12,000 square miles. The country is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, and its capital and largest city is Maseru. The name Lesotho translates roughly into the “land of the people.”
The population of Lesotho is approximately 2.1 million, only a quarter of which lives in the country’s urban areas. The remainder of the population lives rurally, and over 40 percent of the total population lives below the international poverty line of $1.25 a day—a line established by the United Nations and international community. The Basotho people are the largest ethnic and linguistic group in Lesotho, a Bantu-speaking people who account for roughly 99.5 percent of the population. Other ethnic groups include people of various European heritages (0.4%) and a small group of ethnic Chinese (0.1%). The Basotho group is broken down ethnically into the Bakurena, Batloung, Baphathi, and Bafaking people.
Sesotho is considered the official language of Lesotho, and is the language spoken most commonly among the Basotho majority in the country. English is also often used in Lesotho’s administrative/government functions, and is taught as a second language in most Lesotho schools. Roughly 90 percent of Lesotho’s population is Christian, with an even distribution of those practicing the various Protestant religious denominations and those practicing Roman Catholicism. The remaining 10 percent of the population practices a number of different religions, including, but not limited to, Islam, Hindi and Buddhism.
Education in Lesotho
Education in Lesotho is overseen by the Ministry of Education and Training, which formulates educational policy and the curriculum at Lesotho schools. School is free and compulsory for students between the ages of 6 and 12, the seven years that comprise a student’s primary education. The education system is divided between five levels: early childhood or preschool education, primary education, junior secondary school, senior secondary school and post-secondary education.
Early childhood education, which serves children between the ages of 3 and 5, is not compulsory in Lesotho, but it is very important and many parents take advantage of this opportunity. Children in these preschools learn pre-reading and writing skills, basic counting, music and art. They also learn how to work and play cooperatively in structured settings, traits that are valuable to learn prior to their enrollment in primary school.
Primary school in Lesotho spans 7 years and serves students between the ages of 6 and 12. This is the lone compulsory level under the Lesotho education system, where students learn reading, writing and arithmetic in the early primary grades. Subjects such as science, history, geography, social and cultural studies, art, music and physical education are also added as students reach the latter few grades. Following completion of the seventh year, all students must sit for the Primary School Leaving Exam (PSLE) Certificate.
Secondary education in Lesotho consists of a three-year junior secondary level and a two-year senior secondary level, serving students aged 13-15 and 16-17 respectively. At both of these levels, students have the option of enrolling in either the “general” track—an academic program that helps prepare students for potential university admission—or the “technical/vocational” track, where students receive valuable occupational instruction and training in one of many career fields. Students choosing this program generally plan to pursue employment following the conclusion of their studies.
Post-secondary education in Lesotho is provided by three types of institutions: teacher training schools, technical institutions and universities. The first two types, teacher training colleges and technical institutions, offer both 2 and 3 year programs leading to employment in the various career fields important to the Lesotho economy. Universities offer both Junior Degrees and Master’s Degrees, spanning four and six years respectively, in a number of academic disciplines.
Due in large part to the quality of the education system—a system in which the government invests 12.5 percent of the country’s GDP—the adult literacy rate in Lesotho is an estimated 85 percent—one of the highest literacy rates in Africa.
Map of Lesotho