While education is a crucial human development commodity that prepares individuals and economies to compete across markets, private schools are not affordable to an ordinary Motswana. Due to the cost factor perhaps, private schools are not only better resourced, they have a smaller teacher-learner ration and international teachers on their staff. They also boast of a number of fascinating extra-curricular activities. They are often multi-cultural and are known for high levels of parental involvement. They carry an image of 'elites' - that is how the public perceives them.
In neighbouring Namibia, private education at both primary and secondary schools differs in dramatic ways from both public institutions and private schools here as well. For example, as opposed to teaching English (which all government-funded public programmes do), Namibian private schools tend to teach in a native tongue like Afrikaans - at least for the first three years. By mid-level primary, English is integrated into studies and used for the rest of the student's educational experience. Another consideration for private education in the former Germany colony is of course the cost. Since government funding does not always extend to these institutions, it is difficult for many families to afford private education.
Cost for private schooling is also high in South Africa. However, recent media reports indicate that quasi-government schools (Model C) are also catching up with independent schools in terms of cost. So how do the two differ in fee structure, what justifies the difference and should it matter? It is a question Francistown legislator, Wynter Mmolotsi posed last August before Parliament passed a motion calling for the regulation of fees charged by private educational institutions. Mmolotsi called on government to develop, in consultation with stakeholders, a way to regulate fees charged by private schools.
Mmolotsi's argument was informed by the fact that each institution has its own fees, which increase annually regardless of inflation rates and the cost of living. He appealed to government to come up with a fee range for categories A, B and C schools, saying this would depend on the quality of education, the infrastructure and teachers' qualifications at the schools.He raised concerns that if private schools are not regulated, they will end up educating only foreigners since the majority of Batswana cannot afford to send their children there. Mmolotsi admitted that private schools play an important role of providing quality education and assisting government schools.
Private Secondary Schools Association president Stephen Sorinyane, who welcomed the motion, said private education in Botswana is very costly, as evidenced by complaints of non-payment of fees leading to drop-outs.
Currently touring the country to brief stakeholders about the impeding fees' regulation, he stated that private schools are against regulation because they are run privately under the Companies Act.He said all the English medium schools are against regulation except community private schools that charge lower fees and cater for the lower class. "Government has to call all stakeholders and there is a need for all independent schools to operate under the Education Act, unlike the current position where there are parallel systems - others are under the education ministry whereas the rest are under the ministry of labour," Sorinyane said.
That other countries in the region for instance South Africa and Namibia are experiencing soaring private school fees, he said, should not be a reason for Batswana to face exorbitant fees. He urged that private players in education should be cognisant of the fact that they are assisting government towards the realisation of a knowledge-based economy, and that could be achieved if prices are inclusive of all. "Fees have to be regulated nationally, regionally and internationally," he said, adding that this was bound to accentuate discrimination and class disparities.