Why did we start Seliba Sa Boithuto?

by Gerard Mathot, Chairperson of SSB Steering Committee

Gerard Mathot

1.         I thought it was criminal to force naturally active children to be bored in school

I decided to become a teacher, when I found that I enjoyed giving private tuition, to earn some pocket money as a university student. I was called mainly to help secondary school girls, who could not do mathematics. I found the main reason of their troubles was not that mathematics was too difficult for them, but that they feared the subject. I spent most of my time with them doing puzzles and playing with shapes and numbers, until they saw the fun of it and developed the confidence in solving problems themselves. It is only later that I read the book: Mr. God, this is Anna, by Fynn, in which the young girl Anna enjoyed playing with numbers, saying: Numbers are the toys of God, you always find something interesting and they never get dirty.

I taught physics in Ghana and worked in teacher education in Lesotho. I have, therefore, visited many schools and watched many teachers at work. But I spent more time looking at the pupils in class and found that they were bored and often confused.

On the other hand, when you look at young children, before they have been to school, learning is playing and playing is learning. Children are naturally curious; they want to find out how and why things (and people) work. They are not afraid of failure; they just try it in some other way. If the mother tongue were taught at school, most children would not be able to speak it.

Is it not cruel to force naturally active kids to sit still and destroy their interests by putting them in subject boxes and time-schedules?

Over the BBC I once heard a poem of a school child, which was appropriately called The Brown Rectangle. This referred to the desk, which symbolized the brown boring small space, to which exiting discoveries were reduced. Nobody listened to the child, who then committed suicide!

In one of the schools I visited I saw written on the blackboard: Study now, enjoy later, encouraging the pupils to work hard for their coming examinations. But would it not be better if it had said instead: Enjoy your study?

As a teacher I liked helping people to discover something and learn to think. There is nothing more beautiful than a child coming to you with shining eyes, saying: See what I have found out! I hated it being a policeman and forcing people to be quiet and do what they are not interested in. That is why discipline is a problem in schools.

My conclusion was, therefore, that schools are bad places to learn and that they destroy the joy of learning.

2.         I was not alone in my pain about schools

It always seems to happen that you find relevant information when you are ready for it. I started to discover many books expressing the same dissatisfaction, for example:

  • »John Holt, How Children Fail: They are afraid, bored and confused.
  • » Ivan Illich, Deschooling Society: Schooling is the new religion, with a hidden     syllabus.
  • »Paolo Freire: Pedagogy of the Oppressed, in which he contrasts banking and    liberating knowledge.

Studying the history of schools I discovered that popular schooling only started in the 18th and 19th century at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Industry needed skilled and obedient workers, who would do their job well and cause no trouble. Either through the state or directly the owners of the industries would pay for the schools (free schooling), decide their curricula and set up examination bodies to decide whether the students had learned enough to be employed. But the schools also had to install discipline and obedience, for if not, the graduates could bring about disturbances in the workplace later. That is why in schools insubordination is often punished more severely than failure to learn.

If education is guiding people beyond themselves then schools limit the learners. We have to start with where people are, what they are interested in and guide them to develop themselves. Guiding is not forcing, but exposing, offering and showing the way.

That this is possible shows the example from my experience in Ghana.

3.         After school I continued learning on my own

I started to look at my own learning history. I went to a good Roman Catholic Primary School, a Secondary School run by Jesuits and the University of Amsterdam. I succeeded with my examinations, but basically I was bored. The things, important to me, such as music and exploring my own environment (Amsterdam), happened on my own outside school.

In fact school destroyed some of the fun of learning. I still have no patience to read poetry, because a teacher did not agree with my interpretation of a poem, which I had liked very much.

Only after I finished my schooling, the real learning started. I reflected on my teaching and my experiences in life and found many things, which I wanted to find out or improve myself upon. I discovered that I love learning new things, playing with and exploring new ideas, discussing my new knowledge with friends and so testing the validity of my learning.

For example, I learned to use a computer on my own, trying out, reading handbooks and having a friend to ask when I was stuck. I never attended any course for computers.

As long as there are resources and people to talk to, one can study on your own. Course-outlines, timetables and examinations are not needed.

If we wish to help people to learn, we must base our approach on respect for the learner, respect as a person, as on intelligent person, as a person who can make decisions about his own fate. I once met a teacher who said: The day I stop learning from my pupils I will resign from teaching.

4.         The way to find an alternative to schooling

My friend Leuna Lechesa, who listened to many of my complaints about schools and the difference between schooling and real education, then said to me: Stop complaining, do something about it! That is when we developed the idea for Seliba Sa Boithuto.

Leuna and I were joined by a group of interested and committed friends Mr C Khoanyane, Mr J Mahooana, Mr O Makara from the Ministry of Education of Lesotho, Prof ZA Matšela from the National University of Lesotho, Mr T Mosoeu from Development for Peace Education, Mr K Pholosi from Lesotho News Agency and Sr. Monica from the Good Shepherd Sisters.

This Initial Steering Committee discussed the principles on which Seliba Sa Boithuto should be based:

Principles of Seliba Sa Boithuto:

  • §One of the main aims of life is to grow, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually:
  • ØNobody can grow for another; the individual himself must achieve this growth
  • §This implies that it impossible to teach somebody (pouring knowledge in an
        empty head), but that learning is an activity of the learner.
  • §If learners are responsible for their own learning, they will have learned to solve
        problems, think for themselves and be better prepared for the unexpected
        events of life. In other words they will be self-reliant.
  • §Yet, learners can be helped in this growth, as long as they are respected.
  • §Learners, who are respected, will also be responsible for the body, which tries
        to help them:
  • §Seliba Sa Boithuto should be democratic, owned by the learners.
  • §There should be decision-making meetings and the financial books should be
        open to all.
  • §The running cost should be covered by the contributions from the learners.
  • §Donors could be approached for capital expenditures, such that learners'
        contribution does not become a barrier to learning.
  • ØSeliba Sa Boithuto is not a school:
  • §Schools are characterised by syllabi, prescribed courses, timetables,
       instruction and examinations.
  • §Learners may come whenever they like, study whatever they like, in whatever
        way they like and decide for themselves, when they have learned sufficiently.
  • §There should be no entrance requirements: learners would find out soon
        enough, whether they are ready to deal with their studies.
  • §Learners could check their progress with tests with the answers provided.
  • §If learners wish to obtain certificates, they can register themselves as private
        candidates to any examination body.

5.         It is possible to help people learn in freedom towards self-reliance?

The Initial Steering Committee registered Seliba Sa Boithuto as a non- denominational, non-political, non-profit making society with its own constitution.

The rest is now a history.

It is so successful that we have now a bigger building: the Leuna Lechesa Building.

For all of us it is great to see a dream come true.

(See stories from learners and former learners.)

go to top

Design downloaded from free website templates.