"Teachers can make or break the system", cautioned Ponatshego Kedikilwe in 1993 and subsequently in the government Revised National Policy on Education (RNPE) of 1994.
The RNPE states "The quality of instruction is one of the most important determinants of the level of learning achievement. Teachers as agents of curriculum implementation are therefore central to the education system and can make or break the system. The enhancement of the status and motivation of teachers to enable them to discharge this role effectively cannot be over-emphasised".
The current poor results can be traced to this RNPE statement as teacher morale and motivation are at the lowest levels. It is the morale and motivation that drives Teachers to be productive and the then Minister, who is now the Vice President of this country, long saw this coming and cautioned. RNPE proposed a package of incentives to be created for teachers so that their morale and motivation is raised. The RNPE states " Government intends to embark on a number of measures aimed at raising the status and morale of teachers so that they can perform their tasks more effectively. Such measures will include both improved pre-service and in-service training, a package of incentives and improvements in the conditions of service". Almost 20 years later, the government is still to deliver on this policy issue. And what Kedikilwe and his commission had feared and cautioned the nation about has now come to spook and haunt us.
The Minister of Education and Skills Development, Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi should therefore be working round the clock to ensure that what Kedikilwe wrote down in the government white paper should be implemented without fail. The history of Botswana teachers' poor working and living conditions is well documented. There was the pre-independence 1965 Hutton Report, a product of a Commission which studied teachers salaries and conditions of service. Unfortunately the recommendations were never implemented though they showed the poor state of the teaching profession. In 1976, there was the Education Commission led by Professor Torsten Husen. In 1977, he presented his report to President SIr Seretse Khama. The President had commissioned this important undertaking to improve the status of the teaching profession. And then followed the current 1994 RNPE which is now overdue for review. This needs to be done urgently so that our education is aligned with social, political and economic aspirations of our modern society and new generation.
It is worth noting that a combination of factors actually led to the poor examination results of 2012. Chief amongst the factors is the Hours of Work which Cabinet has been attending since 2010. Teachers contact time with students has been drastically reduced and Cabinet does not see anything wrong with expediting its conclusion. In addition, Cabinet is sitting on the levels of operation which Teachers have complained about for years now. Cabinet has therefore contributed to students failure and are responsible for these poor results.
Going forward, Cabinet should stop holding the nation to ransom but expeditiously resolve Hours of Work, Levels of Operation and all other pending issues before them. The gross irony is that Cabinet is and has been dominated by former teachers who should be influencing education policy in a positive way. Can former Teachers in Cabinet please raise their hands!
While the RNPE is a very good policy, it lacked proper implementation, monitoring and evaluation. It has become stale and should be reviewed and a coordinator be appointed to see to its proper implementation, monitoring and evaluation. The Ministry has an outdated policy direction and hence the continuous poor results.
The Ministry should also re-introduce the in-service workshops so that both experienced and new teachers are upskilled and coached in the latest teaching pedagogies, methodologies and content materials. With the introduction of the new syllabus, grading system and mixed ability students, in service workshops cannot be brushed aside under the pretext of lack of funds.
With the Ministers' latest remarks in The Monitor of 28 January 2013, titled "Venson Threatens Teachers" on the basis of their alleged unprofessional conduct in the classroom, the Botswana Sectors of Educators Trade Union (BOSETU) has long proposed that there be a Teaching Council. The union has gone ahead to make tremendous input on the policy document which is now gathering dust in Government Enclave. The government claims that there is no money to have this professional body set up. If therefore its true the Minister made such threatening remarks, they will only exacerbate the problem of low morale, motivation and subsequently poor results.
The European Union promised Botswana government millions of Pula if she came up with a package of incentives for teachers, especially those in rural areas, where national examination results are worse. Apparently the ministry has failed to come up with such incentives.
With the education crisis being so glaringly pronounced BOSETU expects to hear some positive intervention statements from the Minister of Finance and Development Planning in his forthcoming Budget Speech in this financial year. This will demonstrate government seriousness and commitment in education and hopefully bring an end to the national crisis.
With the increasing Teachers' low morale and motivation, Honourable Kedikilwe was right to caution the nation almost 20 years ago: Teachers Can Make or Break the System. The government should therefore help Teachers make the system, not through threats.
And when all is said and done, the buck stops with the Minister of Education and she knows it. The blame cannot be shifted to any other party!
*Justin Hunyepa is BOSETU Executive Secretary