The Botswana National Front (BNF) is extremely concerned by the current poor state of the education system across all the sectors – primary, secondary and tertiary.
The lack of policy direction has lowered the status of the education system from bad to worse.
The sad state is the dismal failure by the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP)-led government to implement the Revised National Policy on Education (RNPE). The RNPE is a well written policy which could have made Botswana one of the best in socio-economic development if implemented. The policy holds most answers to the current educational crisis.
As schools open, public secondary schools especially in urban and semi-urban areas are experiencing huge class sizes. Some classes are said to be having as many as 70 students, with only one teacher. The teacher-student ratio issue has been raised for years now, by teacher trade unions and the general public, including opposition parties.
As usual, the government has ignored the public and professional outcry to reduce the class sizes, resulting in poor education results. Just like in the past, the next national examination results are bound to be poor again. With the increasing corruption almost everywhere, we hope the national results will not be cooked to give the public an impression that all is well in education.
A few years back, Cabinet Ministers went on a money wasting exercise to visit public schools after a dismal performance. The Cabinet has since kept their embarrassing findings a top secret and refused to share with the public because they discovered that teacher trade unions have been proven right that the BDP-led government has made a mess of the education system.
The Cabinet were confronted with high teacher-student ratio; acute shortage of classrooms and students taught under trees; acute shortage of books; shortage of chairs and tables; dysfunctional laboratories which are now base rooms for normal classes and no experiments conducted therein; broken doors and windows; precariously hanging and collapsing ceilings;spewing drains; bare electrical wires in classrooms; dead classroom lights;reduced teaching time (Hours of Work); acute shortage of teacher accommodation; highly demoralised teaching forceand a general school disrepair.
The BDP Cabinet was advised several times by Botswana Sectors of Educators Trade Union (BOSETU) on many issues, but it stubbornly refused to listen; leading to loss of students’ lives, high volume of students drop out and misuse of public funds.
BOSETU is on record advising against use of open trucks and even providing solutions, but government only conceded after several deaths. BOSETU is on record advising against the Double Shift policy, but the BDP Cabinet refused to listen, only to accede after thousands of student failures.
Both Botswana Teachers Union (BTU) and BOSETU have complained about hours of work and even provided solutions, the Cabinet cannot have that, and prefers students to fail. The trade unions have and still advise about the poor status of the teaching profession and the low morale, and BDP-led government still stubbornly refuses to listen. The trade unions have long called for the proper implementation of the RNPE and even review the 24-years-old policy, to no avail.
Teachers’ morale is very low as their conditions have worsened over the years. Thousands of teachers are stuck in junior positions for years with some going over 20 years. The majority of teachers will retire into poverty as lack of progression has a direct negative financial impact on their pension, which pension has been lately rocked by allegations of fraud.
The RNPE recommended a package
The enhancement of the status and motivation of teachers to enable them to discharge this role effectively cannot be overemphasised. 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”, (page 11).
Instead of bringing a package of incentives, the BDP-led government has instead introduced a package of disincentives like increased class sizes; lack of teacher progression; shared accommodation; lack of further studies opportunities; dysfunctional transfer policy; secretive promotions; low salaries; amended the Trade Dispute Act to make teachers essential service, amidst public and international outcry and condemnation; amended the BEC Act to force teachers to invigilate and mark external national examinations, hence reversing court ruling gains, etc.
The numerous corruption scandals in education and other sectors have distorted the national wealth and a public lie is sold to the public that there is no money to help the sinking education.
Alcohol levy runs into billions and it is logical to use it in more sustainable educational areas so that the youth do not indulge in alcohol and other drugs. There has been abuse of public funds like the National Disaster Fund; Public Pensions Fund; Fuel Levy; Alcohol levy; Economic Stimulus Package; Poverty Eradication Schemes, etc. The funds from these public sources and other sectors of the economy can improve the education system and the general standard life of Batswana.
The BNF position is to ensure Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) victory in 2019, and together with its alliance partners, will introduce a tried and tested quality Education with Production which will make our education world’s best.
The BNF supports the UDC comprehensive Social Democratic Programme (SDP) that “believes that the best guarantee for basic freedoms is the education and general enlightenment of the masses... The guiding principle in primary, secondary, vocational and university education shall be that of Quality Education With Production (EWP)...”. The UDC policy will therefore promote socio-economic development through quality education.
Whilst Botswana is rich with natural resources, only a few select from the BDP and the Khama family are rich, while the majority of Batswana and workers are getting poorer and poorer by the day.
The UDC quality EWP will immediately be implemented after assumption of power in 2019, to create a better education system that will promote industrialisation and help create thousands of jobs. The UDC education policy guideline reads “In its effort to develop an education policy for sustained socio-economic development, the UDC government shall institute a comprehensive, scientific, technological and cultural policy to increase the productivity and contribution of this sector to the society”.
The failure by the BDP to manage such an important sector is a clear indication to Batswana that it has expired, especially after 50 years of misrule and mismanagement. The UDC is ready to implement its quality education policy in 2019 and transform Botswana to prosperity.
*Justin Hunyepa is BNF Secretary for Information and Publicity