Moving forward in the mountain kingdom: Maseru English Medium Preparatory School joins ISASA

Rob Bruce has served as head at several schools in the state and independent sectors in both South Africa and Swaziland.

More recently, however, he ventured further afield. “I spent the past seven years leading an International School in Moscow, Russia, and starting an International School in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.” Such exotic – and often challenging – experiences have readied Bruce for anything, but it was to the mountain kingdom of Lesotho that he returned, to lead a school fondly known as Maseru Prep. In tracing the history of ISASA’s first Lesotho-based member, Bruce recounts that the Anglican Diocese of Bloemfontein helped to establish a school for the children of European officials, traders and missionaries active in the Maseru area of the British colony of Basutoland in about 1890, in addition to their other missionary work. Fascinatingly, it was a redoubtable lady of the cloth/explorer who led the way into unknown territory. “Deaconess Maria Burton1 was the first teacher to be identified with the school. She travelled from Bloemfontein in 1893, changing from the post cart at Ladybrand to a ‘spider’ carriage for the journey to Maseru via horse-drawn ferry over the Caledon River,” says Bruce.

Imbued with history

Over the next 15 years, Burton raised funds for the establishment of the first Anglican Church (St James) and the Basotho Anglican Girls School (St Catherine’s). Bruce elaborates: “Sir Godfrey Lagden (the resident commissioner from 1890 to 1901) sent his children to ‘The European School of Maseru’, writing that he paid Sister Maria £1.10 for six weeks schooling. E.B. Sargant’s Report on Education in Basutoland 1905–6 2 also mentioned the school, by now housed in ‘a small iron building’ located close to the site of the present Maseru United Church. It was thought to have been one of the prefabricated buildings brought to South Africa by the British Army during the Anglo-Boer war. The so-called ‘tin tabernacle’ was sold to the forerunner of the Maseru United Church when the government built a small sandstone school on what is now called Old School Road. In 1932, the school changed its name to Maseru Preparatory School. This continued to the mid- 1950s, when the present title of Maseru English Medium Preparatory School was adopted; the Colonial Development Fund having financed a ‘handsome new European school’ on the Caldwell Road site. However, even today, the school is still most frequently referred to as Maseru Prep!”

The school was always to be caught up in the path of history, says Bruce. Great excitement heralded, for example, the British royal visit of 1947, the 1962 ‘Winds of Change’ visit of Harold Macmillan and Lesotho’s independence in 1966. “The first Basotho children were admitted to the school in 1962 and they now form the largest single group at Maseru Prep, although 26 other nationalities are also represented. When apartheid ended, many embassies relocated to South Africa which, to a certain extent, diluted the international component of the school.” Still, Bruce is able to describe Maseru Prep as “a modern accredited Cambridge International school where technology is used extensively in the classroom. Parents who send their children to our school want an international British style of education. We attempt to accommodate these needs.”

Modern it may be, but the school is situated in an area described by Bruce as “the older, colonial part of Maseru, somewhere between the Royal Palace and the Prime Minister’s residence”. The 500 pupils, however, come from all over. Children from middle-class families learn comfortably side-by-side with the royal family’s and cabinet ministers’ offspring.

Close ties and a sound approach

They’re all lucky to be there. “Public education,” observes Bruce, “as in most African countries, is under-resourced and quality teaching is a concern. The needs of Lesotho are great. Non-governmental organisations are increasingly involved in developing schools and assisting with the development of state education in Lesotho.”

Maseru Prep does its part too, says Bruce, adding that the school also has firm ties with the American School and Machabeng College, both independent institutions. “Many of our pupils go on to study at Machabeng,” he explains. Their firm grounding in a Cambridge Primary School Curriculum, adapted to the local context, is bound to ensure their success. Bruce explain Maseru’s academic approach: “ Our 35 teachers – sourced from South Africa and the United Kingdom – carefully design their learning programmes with the aim of giving children the skills, values and knowledge that they need.

This should lead to:

  • raising self-esteem and selfresponsibility, inspiring them to develop a lifetime enthusiasm for learning
  • developing their positive social skills
  • developing their critical thinking and decision-making skills
  • training them to protect themselves from harmful influences
  • empowering them to take charge of themselves and our planet’s future.

Inquiry-based learning at Maseru Prep

Bruce is equally enthusiastic about the teaching methods employed at Maseru Prep. “The prevalent teaching style is inquiry-based learning. Inquiry involves asking questions about the world around us and what it entails, and finding the answers to those questions.

Furthermore:

  • Inquiry-based learning implies that the pupils are actively responsible for their own learning. The teacher’s role increasingly becomes that of facilitator. A passive model of pupil learning is not valued.
  • Inquiry-based learning implies that the pupils are able to develop and demonstrate their abilities in a variety of ways. The way in which the answer is sought is open. Pupils may apply a variety of methods and means.
  • Inquiry-based assessment methods are not merely based on the right or wrong answer or a body of knowledge, but rather on the growing abilities of the pupils to formulate hypotheses, design and experiment with and analyse the results.
  • Inquiry teaching is integrated across the curriculum. This implies the value not only of knowledge but equally importantly skills and values.
  • Inquiry-based learning is a social learning process. No child learns in isolation but with his or her peers and from competent facilitators such as teachers, parents and other capable people. An additional benefit of the inquiry-based method is the development of good communication skills, facilitated by the frequent exchange of ideas, interactions with each other and the sharing of the findings and the answers.”

Moving forward

Getting an effective curriculum and learning approach in place is a major achievement. It’s allowed Bruce to turn his attention to other challenges. “In recent years, the leadership of the school was affected by many personnel changes. This resulted in diminished structure, a lack of adherence to policy and good practice, sliding academic standards and a lack of maintenance in terms of buildings and grounds. “The whole community – parents, teachers and class representatives – has been involved in drawing up a strategic plan, which is presently being implemented. We have made a start on upgrading facilities and bringing up-to-date technology such as interactive whiteboards into the classrooms. Our library has been renovated and updated, and the whole community was invited to the reopening. This proved to be a wonderful celebration of progress and renewal.”

Collegiality and contact

A further aspect of the renewal process was joining ISASA. Says Bruce: “I had worked previously at independent schools in southern Africa that belonged to ISASA and I was previously a member of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC). I valued the collegiality and the support and, on arriving at Maseru Prep, I recommended to the school board that we apply to join. “As an independent school in a small country, we have limited contact with other like-minded institutions. Belonging to ISASA broadens our teachers’ sphere of reference, provides opportunities to interact with colleagues and to participate in teacher development activities. It is important for us to have quality assurance, and being part of the ISASA brand ensures that we provide our community with the level of education and development they deserve.”

The application process was relatively effortless, recalls Bruce. “After making application, I was contacted by the appropriate ISASA head office representatives, who kindly and efficiently guided me through the process. Fortunately, I had most of the policies and paperwork in place.” The positive experience prevails, adds Bruce. “It has been good to meet up with colleagues from the past. While we have all moved on and our roles have changed somewhat, it is good to see that passion for education is still of such importance to all ISASA members.

“Our teachers are delighted to be able to participate in the ISASA Proudly Primary conference in July 2013. They are looking forward to the refreshing topics and to sharing ideas and experiences with colleagues. As a school leader, I love being kept up to date with what is happening in education as a whole. It is interesting and informative to hear about other schools in the ISASA network and to learn from their experiences.”

The community counts Bruce might have braved the wilds of Kyrgyzstan, but it’s clear he’s perfectly at home in Maseru. “Perhaps the most beneficial aspect of leading a school such as Maseru Prep,” he reflects, “is the freedom to follow our own curriculum and make adjustments without the need to adhere to the foibles and officiousness of the state. Our school is highly valued in Lesotho, and there is a desire in the community to contribute to the development process. “In our case, being independent means that the community is able to have input into their children’s education; and that reality is priceless.”

References:

1. Burton, Maria S.B. (1902) Happy Days and Happy Work in Basutoland. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.

2. Sargant, E.B. (2012) Report on Education in Basutoland, 1905-6. Hong Kong: Forgotten Books.

Category: Featured Articles, Winter 2013

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