Written by Manthoto Lephoto


Lesotho, like most countries in the developing world, embraced the concept of distance education after independence in order to address the high demand for education.  Although short term, non-formal programmes existed earlier as part of development projects, formal distance education only started in 1974 with the birth of Lesotho Distance Teaching Centre. However, many Basotho had long participated in distance education programmes beyond the borders of Lesotho, notably with the University of South Africa (UNISA).

Lesotho is a former British colony uniquely situated as land locked and entirely surrounded by the Republic of South Africa.  It is historically a labour reserve for the South African mines.  It has therefore been characterised by an absence of able-bodied men for extended periods, female-headed households, and girls being advantaged in terms of access to basic and high school education (including higher female literacy rate).  Although the advent of an independent South Africa has significantly reduced the numbers of migrant labourers from Lesotho, the legacy of the apartheid era has had long-term effects on the education pattern in Lesotho. 

 At the same time, the education paradigm into distance education has been precipitated by expansion in the basic, primary and secondary education especially after “Education for ALL,”  the unprecedented unemployment rate, and the opening of better job opportunities for post-secondary level graduants.  A number of institutions have emerged responding to this high demand and thirst for education. Most of the time, such response has been through non-formal/short-term distance education programmes.  However, in a few cases of some institutions, such as Lesotho Distance Teaching Centre (LDTC) and the Institutes of Extra Mural Studies (IEMS) and of Education (IE), both institutes of the National University of Lesotho, formal distance education programmes have been launched.  These cases will be explored at length later.

 Objectives of distance education 

There are many divergent reasons why non-formal distance education is in operation in Lesotho.  Granted that there is no unified policy guiding the operation of NFDE in Lesotho, the following can be the synthesized summary of the objectives across all such educational providers.

  •      To offer instruction as effective and as high in quality as the conventional classroom.  In essence, NFDE will supplement and complement the formal educational institution in making education available to everyone in the society but maintain quality assurance in the process.

  •      To give access of educational opportunities to more people than is possible with the current education system and therefore, to do so cost efficiently in terms of reduction in unit cost.

  •      To commercialise education, especially those offered by private individuals or business organizations, thus making it a source of regular income as a means of livelihood.

  •      To stimulate national economic growth by ensuring that every individual becomes literate and employable, thus breaking the yoke of ignorance and dependency syndromes, consequently contributing significantly to the national socio-economic and politico-cultural developments of Lesotho.

 Distance Education Modes in Lesotho 

Distance education has been defined in many instances and has also been coupled with open learning to represent a broader context including situations where learning happens outside of school situation, and also learning based on independent learner initiative (Harry and Perraton, 1999).  In the case of Lesotho, distance education started off as correspondence schooling, and has now been generally accepted as distance, part-time, part face-to-face.  This mode of operation has been very popular among adult learners wishing to upgrade their education levels through continuing distance learning.  However, recently, distance education accommodates high school dropouts, post-secondary graduants who cannot access conventional university placement and working adults seeking continuing education.

The print media is still the predominant medium for distance education in Lesotho. Despite the benefits to be derived from exploitation of modern information and communication technology, it has not been feasible to reach those at a distance using these technologies.  Most participants live in rural areas, where there is no supply of electricity. For some families, owning a cassette player, a television or video cassette recorder is a still a luxury.  Even in the capital city of Maseru, for those few individuals who might have computers, internet connectivity suffers from poor telephone infrastructure.  The use of satellite centres at regional or district levels would be the only hope of employing new technologies to reach participants at a distance in order to supplement the print and  face-to-face modes.  Such centres would have to be developed in terms of required infrastructure and be fully equipped with both the necessary technological facilities as well as human resource.

 Structure and Policy

Structurally, there is no visible dichotomy between the forms of educational provision in Lesotho across formal and non-formal sectors.  Although the former has physical facilities and human resources, the latter makes use of such facilities, hence the thin margin.  The structure of distance education could be delineated into governmental, private, and NGOs.  However, there has been no bold step until now on the part of the government to practically harness the activities of distance education agencies through any national policy formulation, in order to achieve standardization of programmes, maintain quality assurance, and validate the competence level of their products.  Furthermore, there are as yet no goal-oriented governmental mechanisms in place, to protect the innocent but desperate Basotho, who are daily yearning for educational acquisition, from economic exploitative acts by many of the mushroom NFE providers who are using distance education delivery modes.


Due to lack of recognition generally accorded to adult non-formal and distance education practices in most developing countries of Africa and especially in Lesotho, perhaps as a result of ignorance among those in the corridors of governmental power, it is not therefore only treated with disdain and temerity but also without any reasonable financial allocation to propel the work of non-formal distance education programmes in Lesotho. Unfortunately, this group of officials forget merely that there is no legitimate human endeavour that is not punctuated by one form of adult education or the other.  More importantly during any social crisis, when a society finds itself at the crossroads of social dilemma, when values and orientations of human beings are lost, the only answer to integrate the already disintegrated social lives will be the organization of adult education programmes.  Such efforts will be geared towards the reformation, rehabilitation and reconstruction of the society, using education, indeed, adult education, in all its ramifications, as a weapon of reactivation, mobilization and awareness creation in the citizenry.

Clientele and Scope of Operation

 Essentially in Lesotho, the target audience of most of the non-formal distance education programmes across all the types of providers as they abound in Lesotho, comprise both the males and females (even though the latter is in the majority), the special feature of all such adult learners are the drop-outs from the formal school system, who are for age and other factors, could not possibly go back to complete their education process in the formal school setting.  Ultimately, this group of people enrol in the non-formal distance education, either of the governmental outfit, such as the LDTC or IEMS or private institutions, while they continue to earn a living by working.  The major scope of their operation is to improve their qualifications either for the purpose of further higher education or for professional advancement on their jobs.

Delivery Mode

Despite the global technological advancement in education, most African countries still strongly adhere to the print medium for the offering of non-formal distance education programmes to their heterogeneous clientele due to unavailability of and competence on the application of modern sophisticated technological hardware resources.  The cost of procurement of such technologies is prohibitive, and therefore not affordable to most of the poor African countries suffering from epileptic economies.   Kinyanjui (1998) stressed that if new technologies are to be successfully used in DE and Open Learning in Africa they need to be affordable, accessible and conveniently located for learners to utilize.  This is an unfortunate development though, as education is now being commercialised in terms of commodification because we now live in the age of “knowledge industry” and therefore, it is the global industries responsible for the manufacturing of equipment that facilitate educational delivery that determine prices with regard to education and training as their most important market.  However, in Lesotho, the print course materials are mainly in vogue for the delivery of knowledge among most of the operating DE institutions.  Some governmental institutions also have access to the use of Radio Lesotho, but its receptivity is highly localized and may therefore not be all that effective.  This is in addition to the fact that per capita income is low in Lesotho, apart from the fact that not all people have access to electricity supply in their respective places of abode to facilitate the reception of radio educational programmes.

To supplement the printed course materials, most DE institutions discussed in this paper make use of occasion face-to-face (F2F) for tutorial sessions, either during the residential periods or at weekends.  While we are not pessimistic about the adoption of New Educational Technologies (NETs) for the purpose of educational delivery in Lesotho, it is not out of place that even computer mediated delivery of educational content, either as email, or on-line, still makes use of printed materials.  The printed course materials with occasional f2f sessions seem to be generally adopted, embraced and effectively utilized by both the DE tutors and learners.

Human Resource utilization for DE programmes

There is no doubt that there is a dearth of qualified personnel in the areas of adult and non-formal education in Lesotho.  At best, majority of the facilitators are either from the government ministries or high schools including the university lecturers.  They are academically qualified with least number holding Masters’ degrees and many PhDs, with no experience in distance education methods.  The net effect of that is that most of them apply pedagogical approach to teaching and learning process.  Perhaps the only way to remediate this situation in a bid to achieve excellence, is to organize regular training workshops to impact skills to the part-time tutors.


Maybe as a result of the global economic recession, in which majority of African countries are hard hit, they are merely struggling to service their debts or at best look on to donor agencies to assist with the funding of many of the educational programmes, which as it were, also must be in consonance with the philosophy of the funders.  In essence, to engage in some technological distance education programmes operation, it will require initial gigantic capital outlay to procure sophisticated equipment while a high number of competent technical personnel will be required.  For most of the operating regional centers in the ten districts of Lesotho, it becomes even a hazardous task for the governmental DE institutions to have vehicles and motorcycles provided to make regular trips to such far rural areas.  The best strategy to operate such regional centers would have been the establishment of telecentres and telelearning outfits in addition to the production of radio cassettes to go along with the printed course materials.  It will be over-ambitious for now, to talk about the use of teleconferencing, CD ROMs and the computers including video facilities, when not everyone has access to such facilities, even in the urban and semi-urban districts, let alone those in the remote mountainous areas.

 Distance education and human resourse development 

Distance education has become so popular and attractive because of its significant contribution to human resource development.  It is very obvious that no single institution can solely handle the assignment of professional development across the different occupations.  At the same time, the higher institutions of learning in the country – the National University of Lesotho, the Lesotho College of Education (formerly the National Teachers Training College (NTTC), and the Lesotho Polytechnic, cannot adequately address the high demand for higher education in their fields of expertise in their present conventional arrangements.  All of these institutions are heavily subsidised by the Lesotho Government to produce the human resource required.  However, as the table below reflects, the enrolments in these institutions speak for themselves in terms of addressing the expected needs.

 This situation is against a background where in 1999 the population of Lesotho was estimated at 2.09 million and where roughly 29% of the population that is, 608,890 was between 15 to 30 years of age.  If we take that this figure represents the part of the population that should be enrolled at post secondary level, this is a far cry from the total of roughly 4,700 registered in 1998.  This also says that there is a need to revolutionarise higher education offering for democratisation and for proper human resource development.

Table 1:            Enrolment in Post Secondary Institutions:


National University of Lesotho

National Teacher Training College











































Source:            Department of Population and Manpower Planning (1999)

1999 Lesotho Population Data Sheet:  Ministry of Development

Planning, Maseru, Lesotho.

Braimoh, Adeola and Lephoto (1999) have summarised some of the perennial problems facing the education system in Lesotho.  Among these are lack of infrastructure, ineffective teaching and learning process and “fewer number of tertiary institutions in Lesotho which are grippled by limited absorptive capacity to cope adequately with the unending demands of those seeking admission into higher institutions of learning to improve their skills and qualities.” (p. 152) 

The foregoing picture forms the background to the explosion of distance education enrolments in Lesotho today.  The government of Lesotho has realised the potential to respond to the education needs of the Basotho and to develop human resource through distance education programmes.  Although participants in distance education programmes were left to fend for themselves in terms of financing their studies, since 1997/98 session, the government through the National Manpower Development Secretariat started awarding bursaries to them.  At the same time, there is now more recognition for graduants of the distance education programmes through mobility to more challenging work, promotion, vacancies for employment requesting certificates from the programmes and so on.

At the same time, the government of Lesotho through the Ministry of Education has committed itself to implementing the SADC Education Protocol.  Government of Lesotho is represented in the SADC Technical Committee on Distance Education by its distance education department – LDTC.  One of the critical issues that Lesotho is faced with is the formulation of the distance education policy.  The LDTC coordinates the task force working on this major assignment.

The Government of Lesotho is also embarking on a countrywide programme to train in-service teachers through distance education.  Early in March 2001, the Ministry of Education organized a two-day consultative workshop on “The Distance Teacher Education Programme.”  At this workshop, the Honourable Minister of Education affirmed government’s commitment to distance education to improve human resource development.  He indicated that this diploma programme was a priority of government to produce a greater number of teachers especially to service the Free Primary Education programme.  It was also seen to have a direct leaning on the government poverty reduction policy.  Distance education potential to improve access, to produce more teachers at a quicker and more cost effective manner than the conventional NTTC programmes was recognised.  However, the workshop also recognised the need to ensure that this programme works on producing better and higher quality products.  This programme is in the final preparation stages and should be launched in the new NTTC academic year.

 Case studies of distance education institutions 

This section will present case studies of three Lesotho institutions that offer distance education on a moderately large scale.  These are the Lesotho Distance Teaching Centre, a government department, the Institute of Education and the Institute of Extra Mural Studies – both are the institutes of the National University of Lesotho.

Lesotho Distance Teaching Centre (LDTC)

The Lesotho Distance Teaching Centre (LDTC), a department in the Ministry of Education of the Government of Lesotho, was established in February 1974, with the assistance of the International Extension College (IEC), which is based in the United Kingdom.  The main challenges of LDTC were to provide continuing education to those large number of people who could not enjoy full secondary education benefit because of various reasons.  The other task emanated from an increasing number of people who were studying privately with commercial correspondence colleges in South Africa, whose courses were not only expensive but were also designed for a curriculum that did not have direct relevance to Lesotho’s needs. Thus, LDTC was established primarily to extend educational opportunities to the above-mentioned groups of learners and that was to be done by employing distance education methods.  With time, another group of clientele were added to the list of the earlier target audience and these are the herdboys and the rural populace who needed literacy and occupational skills necessary to improve their lives.

LDTC’s clientele are mostly dropout adults from the formal institutions, with an average age of 30, majority of whom are females.  They are also working adults either in the teaching, clerical or secretarial profession and they live in urban or semi-urban centres.

The educational delivery modes adopted for all the above-mentioned continuing education programmes are a combination of self-instructional printed materials, radio broadcasts and face-face tutorials.  The literacy programme of LDTC is a success story to a point in the rural villages where they maintain literacy learning posts.  The reason for an incomplete success story is because of the bureaucratic bottlenecks where they operate the teaching process based on volunteers with little or no impressive payment of honoraria.  Monitoring of the activities is limited while radio facility is not too effective because not every clientele has access to radios.  The following are some LDTC’s functions:

  •            provision of correspondence courses for Junior Certificate (JC), Cambridge Overseas School Certificate (COSC) and teachers who intend to upgrade their professional qualifications;

  •            provision of educational materials and workbooks for candidates who want to develop their literacy and numeracy skills;

  •             production of booklets in Sesotho on practical topics as well as running of village-based workshops to train rural groups and individuals; and

  •            acting as service agency for other organizations by supplying them with a variety of services that are related to rural development.

Enrolments for LDTC distance programmes in 1999 was 3,037 and in 2000 was

3,083. These figures represent enrolments for basic, junior certificate as well as Cambridge Overseas School Certificate.  At the time of preparation of this paper, enrolments for 2001 were not yet available.

The Institute of Education – IE:

Although IE was established in 1961, the B.Ed. Primary programme by distance mode was launched in 2000/01 academic year.  This has been a joint venture between the Institute and the Faculty of Education.  IE, whose mandate is the promotion of teacher education, embarked on this programme at the height of outcry from the primary teacher population for the degree level continuing education programme.  The programme also coincided with the government launching of the “Free Primary Education” programme and was therefore a direct complement to this laudable policy.  As a distance education programme, this programme has generated a lot of interest and is very attractive to the teachers, who are able to learn as they teach, to be able to implement/test what they learn and therefore contribute immediately to the improvement of the teaching – learning process.

The programme opened doors with an intake of 247 teachers.  These were coming from schools all over Lesotho and could mostly be able to access the programme from its face-to-face meetings in Roma, Maseru and Mahobong Regional Centres.  The programme runs for a period of five years, with six-week residential session during June/July and another 3 weeks in January, during primary schools holidays.  Bi-weekly weekend meetings at the regional centres complement these residential meetings.  It is hoped that these meetings will be reduced once required materials are in place.  The programme is yet to move into the second year, but it already promise to be popular – addressing a dire need for high calibre teachers.  At the same time, one observes the enthusiasm as well as dedication among the distance learners and the facilitators.

Among the challenges facing this programme is the lack of teaching and learning materials.  The printed medium is the main mode of teaching – learning, but at the moment, the institute is busy trying to prepare as well as adapt materials from elsewhere.

Institute of Extra-Mural Studies (IEMS):

The Institute of Extra-Mural Studies is one of the institutes of the National University of Lesotho, which is located in the capital city of Maseru.  Its general mission is to bring the University to the people.  It is an example of organisations that focus on continuing education.  The objectives of the institute include:

  •             organising courses and classes for part-time students who are interested in obtaining university degrees, diplomas and certificates;

  •             organising courses, seminars, workshops and conferences for specific interest groups, associations, professions etc;

  •             providing training in general community;

  •             promoting research in non-formal education programmes;

  •             educating and organising local business people.

  IEMS   has organised its activities under four divisions:

i)         The Adult Education division that organises distance education programmes at the certificate, diploma and degree levels;

ii)         The Business Management and Development division that offers a three-year diploma in business management (a successor of certificate and diploma in business studies);

iii)        The Non-Formal and Continuing Education division – organising short-term non-formal education programmes and

iv)         Research, Evaluation and Media (REM), which among other things organises a three-year diploma in Mass Communication on a distance basis.

 As an extension arm of the university, IEMS has employed the correspondence distance learning through the use of printed course materials,  to extend university programmes to the rest of Lesotho and beyond.  IEMS  started offering its programme on a part-time face-to-face basis.  However, this arrangement is limiting in that availability of space becomes a constraint.  The vision of the institute is to move into full-blown distance education for all programmes in order to meet the challenges of access, flexibility as well as to guarantee affordability.  IEMS has plans to embark on a B.Comm degree at a distance at the beginning of 2002/2003 academic year.  For now, the B.Ed Adult Education is offered on a part-time distance mode, with residential sessions of four weeks once every semester, supplemented by one weekend a month of face to face tutorials and utilizes the print media.

 The following are the enrolment figures for the three IEMS programmes for the academic year 2001/2002.  although a lot still needs to be done to make these programmes more accessible, the part-time distance mode in place has offered more educational opportunities to the Basotho.  The total enrolment for this year is 1,025 for all the programmes.

IEMS Enrolment Figures for 2001/2002

Adult Education

Diploma in Business


Diploma in Mass Communication

Certificate I & II – 146

Diploma I & II – 137

B.Ed. I & II – 140

Year I       210

Year II        192        

Year III          41

Year I      85

Year II      74

Total     243



  Source:            IEMS (August, 2001).  Executive Committee Report.  Maseru.

IEMS is now exploring with some electronic devices to supplement the print media.  The long-term plan is to utilize the radio station as well as the regional centres to make programmes more accessible.

 The future of distance education in Lesotho 

Harbison (1973) stressed that human resources, not capital or income, nor material resources, constitute the ultimate basis for the wealth of nations.  Therefore, a country that treats its human resources with temerity will certainly find it difficult to make any form of development, because investment in education has a far reaching dividend in the final analysis.

Since from the discussions in this paper, we have come to the inevitable conclusion that the formal institutions alone do not possess the absorptive capacity to meet the explosive demand for formal education by the entire Basotho, therefore, non-formal distance education, must be brought on board to assist with educational delivery.  Considering the fact that Lesotho is small, the national economy is not that buoyant and the technological development is still at low ebbs, we need to channel a way for revolutionizing education industry so as to achieve equity and massification of products beneficiaries for the purpose of balanced development.

(I)                  Governmental Involvement

 The government should not sit on the fence but take lead role in making education free and accessible to all and sundry.  It can play the champion role in many respects, which include, general policy development for non-formal and distance education, huge financial investment on the different levels of education and the effective coordination of educational provision to the Basotho people.  

(II)             Collaboration Process

It is obvious that education requires a heavy continuous expenditure, therefore, it is necessary for the government to work out viable mechanisms where funding of education including the procurement of necessary technological hardware resources could become a joint venture between the state and the business sector.  This is because, the business sector has a direct benefit of the utilization of the human resources produced from the tertiary institutions on which the government has made a substantial investment.  Most of the tertiary distance education institutions in Lesotho should be encouraged to collaborate with similar institutions with common vision, orientation and goal, within the sub-region to offer joint shared courses for the advantage of cost reduction.

(III)       Tele-learning Centres
It is an indisputable fact that because of the topography of Lesotho, it is too difficult to have radio reception at all the corners of the country, not even in the face of less powerful satellite technology.  All hands must be on deck, to committedly invest on the establishment of technologically vibrant learning centres, which should be managed by competent technicians and effectively run by distance educators throughout the ten districts of Lesotho.

The list of areas for improvement is inexhaustive as far as adopting distance education for educational delivery is concerned in Lesotho.  This is with a view to achieving greater accessibility.  Nonetheless, we cannot blindly adopt such technologies, which from all ramifications may not be appropriate for our social, economic, political, religious and cultural developments.  It is however, pertinent that those strategies of delivering educational provision could be effectively implemented if better conditions of service including good pay, can be accorded to the “manufacturers” of the needed human resources in Lesotho, that is, the educators at all levels of education industry.  With this deliberate plan on the priority list of the government, a lot can be achieved within the shortest possible time, without necessarily compromising standard and restricting people’s access to education.


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