For as long as the language-in-education policy recognises only English and Setswana and disregards all other indigenous languages, Basarwa and other non-Setswana speaking groupings will lag behind.
This, according to Maitseo Bolaane, the director of UB for San Research Centre, who is arguing for recognition and use of all other indigenous languages.
The UB San Research Centre is a multidisciplinary research centre which welcomes participation from researchers with demonstrated interest in San research within the institution, SADC region and internationally.
The professor said there is a lot that still needs to be done as regards Basarwa education.
“The Botswana government still has some work to do as regards Basarwa (San) education. There are problems that have been identified by researchers and are still prevalent, they say. As long as we have a language-in-education policy that recognises only two languages: Setswana and English and leaves out the indigenous languages, we still have a long way to go. Basarwa children are still learning in unfamiliar languages - languages that some learners hear for the first time at school,” Bolaane told Mmegi.
He said this is a disadvantage as the learners grapple with understanding the structure of the two languages and the content. “Important to note is that the linguistic characters used in Setswana and English are used differently in San languages. In brief, the morphological sound and syntax of San languages is distinct from that of Setswana and English.”
One other problem is that the Basarwa are taught by teachers who do not understand their languages and culture. Therefore there is no reflection of their cultural background in the school curriculum. In most cases, they learn foreign concepts that they cannot relate their lives with. “Some non-San bring their negative attitudes, perceptions and perspectives when they relate with San learners.
All these issues drive the San learners away from school because they are not familiar with them. It is not that the San are not intelligent, they have the potential like other young people in the country. The only problem is that they experience some communication barrier once they enter the school gates.”
While some Basarwa children drop out of school early they become helpless and have to go back to their remote areas where there is little or no development and access to information is a challenge. They remain victims of an unresponsive education system in the rural areas.
“Although the government is making efforts the high school dropout is also attributed to the fact that Botswana has not yet achieved all the international educational goals,” he noted.
Bolaane advised that the government needs to reflect on Basarwa education and consider reviewing its educational policy and put relevant measures in place to ensure implementation. More research on the indigenous languages, training teachers in indigenous languages, printing relevant materials on indigenous languages among others should be
To date, he said, the government has not yet fully complied with its international treaty obligations and norms for ensuring provision of education using the mother tongue. This has been noted as critical for early childhood and breakthrough in the education of Basarwa; probably explaining the high drop rates and failure of the Basarwa children in the nation school system.
The government, he adviced, should be more proactive by taking the Naro Language Project (NLP) as a model for the other San communities. “Through the NLP the Naro language has not only been developed, but also used in literacy, youth education, community development and tourist industry. This has in turn brought a lot of confidence and self–esteem among the Naro people. Such an approach is urgently needed in the other San communities. Bolaane proposed that all this should start with change of the language policy and positive political will.
Bolaane is also of the view that a lot has been done in the area of socio-economic rights as evidenced by the developments for various Basarwa communities in settlements and villages. “However the impact of development would have promoted self-determination and use of indigenous knowledge for own preservation and perpetuation of cultural identity and heritage of the Basarwa as a distinct population in the nation state of Botswana.” This would have promoted self-dependence and enhanced dignity by the Basarwa communities as opposed to over reliance on government support for day-to-day livelihoods.
“If the Government could have embarked on people centered development programmes as opposed to assimilative developmental interventions which are short termed and results in spiral of dependency, the greater and meaningful development would have accrued to the Basarwa communities across Botswana, more especially those in the settlements.”
Bolaane said the land rights issue is contestable and by and large remains unsettled more especially for communities who previously resided in the rich habitat areas for natural resources such as those in national parks and game reserves. He said Basarwa civic and political rights in these areas have continued to rank lowest as compared to other Basarwa living in more settled national communities. Those who have settled in national communities have fully assimilated and lost all their language and cultural heritage as a distinct people. Just as with language, Bolaane believes a lot needs to be done in this area and development partners could assist the government to push the frontier of development to where Basarwa want to see themselves in the future.