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Patrick van Rensburg

METHAETSILE LEEPILE
Van Rensburg
As is already public knowledge, the founder of Mmegi, of the Brigades and driver of the concept of Education with Production in Botswana, Patrick van Rensburg, passed away Tuesday morning. In this tribute, we have pulled from the files a paper by his longtime friend, and protégée, METHAETSILE LEEPILE who is also the chairman of the Mmegi Investment Holdings, on the importance of promoting Education with Production i(EwP) in a competitive, knowledge-based economy. This is an edited version of the presentation he made to a Vision 2016 workshop last year

l The legend bows out

This paper attempts to do three things: address the theory and application of the EwP model in Botswana from an historical perspective, assess challenges and constraints; and conjure the role EwP can play within a knowledge-based economy. The author is a product of the model, having been educated in Swaneng Hill School in Serowe during the heyday of the model, and being a protégé of the master, Patrick van Rensburg, better known as PvR by friends, with whom he worked at the Foundation of Education with Production (FEP) and Mmegi wa Dikgang newspaper in the 1980s. This is a reflection on PvR’s ideas to the extent possible, and how these can be applied within the context of the national vision.

 

The EwP Model

Van Rensburg’s earlier flirtation with EwP was influenced by the conditions that were prevalent in the Bechuanaland of the 1960s; an economic backwater which was one of the poorest countries in the world.

The Swaneng model was inspired by the Swedish folk school, which promotes technical, on-the-job training for pupils from secondary school level. His ideas later evolved to embrace those of the Brazilian educationist and social activist, Paul Frere, which saw education as a teaching for the under-privileged, and was applied in socialist countries such as  Guinea and Tanzania. The model has also been applied in Nicaragua, China, the United States and the former USSR.  

In the sixties and early seventies, Serowe was a hub of economic activity. In PvR’s words, “Swaneng Hill School and the Brigades in particular, not only educated and trained thousands of people and created capital assets like classrooms, workshops, factories and farms, but they provided a very considerable range of goods and services which were much in demand in their communities and the sale of which generated very substantial resources, which meant that the institutions were able for quite some time to survive with very limited Government support”.

By the early eighties, Swaneng as we knew it, had changed and had been incorporated into the  formal education system that promotes the acquisition of diplomas geared toward white-collar jobs. The brigades had also collapsed, in part due to a lack of political will, as they were perceived by the new elite as pursuing a socialist ethos.

Ironically, it was the wealth emanating from the discovery of diamonds that contributed to the flirtation with elitist education subsidised by the State. PvR would later lament: “It is the loss of the valuable and substantial number of jobs created by the Brigades that was regretted, as much as the loss of training facilities”.

Swaneng, the Brigades, Boiteko and the cooperatives they gave rise to, demonstrated  that marginalisation could be overcome by applying selective principles of alternative  development in EwP, by using available local capital, skills and resources and creatively applying coincidence and appropriate technology to production and development.

Schools he posited, “tend to be isolated from the real life activities of communities – rural and urban. Their objective seems to be to channel young people out of villages, into the urban formal sector, even if a few actually find jobs”.

 

The positive attributes of EwP

Productive activities. The purpose of EwP theory and practice is to expose students to knowledge, skills and sustained experience in such areas as mathematical understandings and applications, accounting and record keeping, economics, human relations – all supportive of a cultural framework, physical and financial infrastructure.

Dynamism.

EwP creates jobs, builds one’s confidence through sustained experience, imparts skills and knowledge and creates economically worthwhile self-employment opportunities. This has been aptly demonstrated by the Brigades movement which provided such opportunities to communities in situ.

Awareness creation among students. EwP views education as a lifelong process that should commit everyone to continue post-school learning by distance education, in-service training and extension services – all linked to production and development.

Promotion of entrepreneurship. EwP thrives in an environment where producer groups run their enterprises. Members of a group, which participated in the generation of wealth, collectively decide on the use of surpluses. FEP supported the Serowe Printers Cooperative (which has been around for over 40 years) and Tshwaragano Enterprises, an urban co-op, which existed for over 20 years. Both these enterprises strived to maximise earnings to improve the livelihoods of group members. Other examples of group enterprises include thrift and loan societies, which mobilise capital for productive activities, as well as school cooperatives promoted by the International Cooperative Alliance, which strive to bring school coops within the school time-table. Production course work is undertaken along co-operative lines.

 

Challenges and Constraints

Implementation of EwP has had its own share of challenges and constraints. Some of these include:

- Cultural practices or hangovers, such as feudal practices, sorcery, patriarchy – all of which retard the economic, social and political development of individuals;

- Illiteracy, which retards thinking and one’s capacity to innovate.

- Elitism, which is perpetuated by the school system and the forces that support it.  Political, business and educational elites here in Botswana and in other countries where the model has been tried, have shown a deep and underlying resistance to the propagation of the model. They have personal interests in perpetuating theoretical education that they have graduated through, or has brought them to power, and are thus prone to invest in its perpetuation.

- Stigmatisation. A perception that EwP, which has been embraced by socialist countries on the main, seeks to indoctrinate Batswana into becoming commies. But even in countries like SA and Zimbabwe, whose liberation movements practised EwP (EwP was official education policy in Zimbabwe), the model could not hold its own against formal education.

- Language Barrier. Popular education is not taught in indigenous languages that are spoken by common people. Access to information and knowledge to the majority of citizens is limited. The advancement of these languages as a mediums of communication/instruction in the modern era, has invariably been retarded.

- Funding Barriers. The EwP initiative as practised in Botswana, was initially funded through self-help efforts, with a dose of donor funding  as the model began to prove its mettle. It also received substantial Government support, especially during the  time when Gaositwe Chiepe was the Minister of Education. A lack of sustainable funding contributed in part to its eventual collapse. PvR’s Thuto le Tiro (TlT) project, for which a curriculum was developed in the late nineties, which curriculum was accepted for piloting by the Ministry of Education, did not

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see the light of day for lack of funding.

 - Networking Barriers. EwP in Botswana has been identified with the person of PvR.  Although he made great strides in the 1980s to 1990s in popularising the model nationally and internationally through FEP, which, other than promoting the production ethos through groups such as Tshwaragano Enterprises  and the Serowe Printers’ Brigade, published the  journal ‘Education with Production’ and popularised, through Mmegi wa Dikgang newspaper his ideas, this was not sufficient. The movement never really succeeded in creating an environment which facilitated greater replication, in part because it was not sufficiently networked. Its support base lacked the political power or financial wherewithal necessary for greater diffusion.

The model also failed due to poor organisation or a lack of proper systems and controls. The Brigade and the cooperative movements were community-led   initiatives, which on occasion became hotspots for party political contestation. They were also avenues for corruption, often attracting  characters who  were motivated by reasons of personal aggrandisement, as opposed to a heartfelt desire to serve their communities. The laws guiding the management of cooperatives were also undemocratic as they gave too much powers to the political establishment, which was prone to interfering in the management of their affairs. In contrast, interference in the affairs of privately owned companies by the State was minimal.

Information Communication Technology (ICT). Although there have been strides in the development of the ICT infrastructure since deregulation of radio and telecommunications in 1997, access to internet, radio and television is not universal. Issues of cost (internet) affordability and reach (TV, radio and print media) impact negatively on public debate. The Government of the day is especially deeply suspicious of community radio, which has been used successfully in other  jurisdictions in the region (Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Mozambique and SA) to promote community participation in development, knowledge and skills at the community level.

 

EWP – What Role in a Knowledge-based Economy?

The world that PvR lived in  back in the sixties has moved on. Then, emphasis in the workplace was on producing goods and services to create job opportunities. Since the nineties, the world has become one big village. Globalisation respects no borders: which means that despite the good intentions of EwP, goods and services produced in Swaneng, Shashe  or the Brigades could not compete in terms of quality and even price compared to similar goods produced in China today. This is because advances in knowledge has made it possible for man to produce goods and services better over the years.

According to the World Bank, that scion of capitalism, knowledge has become a driver of growth in the global economy. Other opportunities, which also represent threats, include: the ICT revolution, a worldwide labour market and global socio-political transformations. The world itself has moved towards what is commonly referred to as the “knowledge society”

The renowned sociologist Peter Drucker, says that knowledge has become something of a destabiliser in the “post capitalist” era. It has destabilised the old way of doing things. This requires that education in all its tenets, be re-organised, if a country like Botswana is to become competitive in the global village. Drucker  talks of a Management Revolution where “knowledge is fast becoming one factor, sidelining both capital and labour of production.”

Botswana’s education policy environment has undergone major changes since 1994, with the introduction of the Revised National Policy on Education (RNPE). The environment is more streamlined, and seeks to promote quality and adherence to standards.

This is done through such bodies as the Human Resource Development Council (HDRC) and the Botswana Qualifications Authority (BQA) at tertiary level. The Tertiary Education Policy – Towards a Knowledge Society (No. 37 of 2008), calls for a three-level structure that embraces research, innovation and teaching, specialised teaching and open and distance education. The policy is currently being reviewed to accommodate the needs of learners in the formal school system to choose a career path that suits their interest. For instance, students who prefer practical-oriented courses will be allowed to do so progressively.

EwP as postulated by PvR, is education for work and a better life for all. It does not lay down precise rules as how it should operate in both formal and informal education; but offers guidelines for achieving its goals.

PvR was of course deeply suspicious of formal education., which he saw as a hangover from colonialism, perpetuating dependency and being “at the root of Africa’s underdevelopment, especially in creating an elite with little knowledge, and even less practical experience, of production, technology and development”.

PvR was, in the same vein, opposed to what he described as “memetism”, the tendency of the developing world’s elites to copy, wholesale, everything from the developed countries without question.

Despite this, it would be wrong to label him as an “ideologue”.

If anything, his convictions on the viability of this model was premised on the earlier successes in Swaneng and the Serowe Brigades. In his own words,  these institutions “which at some stage offered education with production of a kind, provided opportunities for many of those who were rejects of the educational mainstream  of the time.”

PvR saw EwP as “alternative strategy to development” and was not necessarily wedded to the model. He once wrote, in answer to a critic: “The notion that the brightest and best should rule in terms of the ‘natural order’ – and be highly paid and be looked up to by the rest of us – is part of the confidence trick, and in order to maintain a fundamentally unjust social system and a corresponding education system, the notion of equality of opportunity is put about. ...

What is needed is not EwP’s integrated approach; but to provide formal schools while at the same time reforming the agrarian structure directly by appropriate bodies that exist outside education to create jobs and generally to improve rural lives.”

EwP as practised in this country benefitted pupils who had done their basic education (in particular, junior secondary and non-formal education), but within the revised policy environment, would also benefit tertiary level students within the ‘specialised teaching’ bracket, which promotes vocational, non-university tertiary-type of education.

However, like in everything else, a successful curriculum for EwP needs to be researched and piloted on a continuous basis if it is to meet the challenges of a knowledge-based economy. This requires both political commitment and allocation of financial resources.



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