To begin with, there is a big plus in our education system worthy of recognition. Our public teacher producing institutions ably supported by the University of Botswana and the private sector have done us proud in the production of teachers.
The country boasts predominantly young, exuberant and highly qualified teachers. The market is saturated with teachers and some of them are being engaged on temporary terms owing to non-availability of permanent teaching posts while others painfully have joined the army of the unemployed. The greatest asset of any organisation is its human resource and the teaching profession is blessed in this regard. However, the stark reality is that the presence of a highly qualified teaching force has not translated into improved learning. The continuing decline in academic achievement levels shows that there is no return on investment. This is hitherto the source of grave concern for government, parents and the community at large.
The system keeps on conveniently forgetting that production of teachers is one thing but managing and harnessing this critical human resource for purposes of achieving improved learning outcomes is another thing. As the phenomenon of declining academic results refuses to go away, it is clear that the presence of trained teachers in the system does not guarantee quality results. The system can hide but cannot escape the reality that all schools, notwithstanding the presence or otherwise of other critical inputs, need good and inspirational school leaders. The present pool of potentially and fundamentally good teachers exists amidst a drought of leadership.
Having strong instructional leaders in every school is a prerequisite for achieving good learning outcomes. My almost 30 years experience in the profession tells me that there is no substitute for good leaders. This is corroborated by an American school turn around champion, Linda Wayman when she says those privileged to lead schools must lead and lead well because “leaders make the impossible possible.” It goes without saying that the challenge of leadership in our public schools requires urgent attention.
Conspicuously absent in our system is a deliberate and focused school management development programme. Teacher production should go hand in hand with a school leadership development agenda because once in the field, the teachers must be governed and governed well. The fate of our yesteryear schools rested almost entirely in the invisible hands of God. Without a deliberate secondary school leadership development programme, providence gave us born, passionate and naturally gifted school leaders.
The system was blessed with the likes of Opelo Makhandlela, Mosimanegape Mophuting, the late Edwin Keatimilwe, Tshokologo Dineo, Collie Monkge, Kamogelo Pule, Daman Thapa, Tiroeoente Pheto, Peter Appiah, to name but a few. These were teachers who rose through the teaching ranks to managerial posts with little or no training on instructional leadership. But to their credit, they gave a good account of themselves.
These past unsung heroes and heroines were a rare breed armed with love and passion. Their patriotism was quiet but deep. They served education with distinction and their common denominator is this uncommon feature of subordinating personal interests to national interests. Presently, there is a handful of serving school principals in the country who are matching the calibre of yesteryear school principals. As if hoping for more acts of divine providence in terms of feeding the system with leaders, no efforts were made to secure the future through a development of a robust culture of continuing professional development. After all the results were coming and the system rested on its laurels and never prepared for future challenges. As fate would have it, once this rare crop of leaders exited the system many secondary schools started experiencing leadership challenges. Now the results are not coming, it is clear that every aspiring and serving principal must undergo instructional leadership training. Of course schools might be experiencing the additional challenge of lacking the necessary equipment but availability of resources does not guarantee results.
Leadership remains paramount in the quest for quality student outcomes. Adequately resourced schools can still under-perform without sound school governance. Professor Jaap Kuiper sums up the discussion well when he said, “It is important to point out that in any country and any education system, school management and teachers will complain about a lack of resources.
This is often partly a well-founded complaint. However, equally so, there is often a lack of vision, drive and engagement in actually using the resources available to their full potential.” The school principal is indeed the game changer.