A lot has since changed in the running of our public secondary schools if one were to compare to two epochs - the late 1980s and the present. I am privileged to be a product of Moeng College, the then prestigious centre of academic excellence and skills development.
The uniqueness of the college in terms of geographical location, its genesis as a community built and owned institution and its distinct culture of self-management cannot be overemphasised. Moeng College was thriving semi autonomous institution which by its own efforts created, nurtured and sustained for a long time a rich learning environment. Such a strong culture of teaching and learning saw the school dwarfing and outperforming both urban and peri-urban schools. One remembers vividly the euphoria that characterised the school community as the school principal, Bernard Moswela (now professor at UB announced with pride the 1984 Cambridge results. Moeng College, which was located in an overwhelmingly poor and rural environment, had outclassed Gaborone-based Maruapula Secondary School.
In addition to running a thriving farm, the school in the spirit of self-reliance, locally produced bread to feed its student population. The upkeep of the school and boarding hostels entirely was the sole responsibility of learners, under the watch of strong prefecture body. Teachers, when necessary, provided minimal support. Moeng College, just like other schools of the time, achieved so much despite almost non-existence of oversight external bodies watching over the affairs of the schools as it is presently the case. At the time, there were hardly any visits by education/inspectors from the region or central ministry to check on the “pulse” of schools.
There were a couple of reasons why the regions and central ministry officials did not frequently visit schools. There were capacity constraints. The ministry did not have sufficient numbers of education officers and inspectors to provide good coverage of the country. Secondly, there were limited all-weather roads in the country and navigating the difficult terrain across the length and breadth of the country discouraged movement. And lastly and most importantly, our schools were generally well governed and almost problem free. So prudence dictated that the limited resources available at the time were used sparingly to visit trouble spots. With almost non-existent oversight institutions, schools were left on their own devices to chart an effective teaching and learning course. Under the circumstances, schools never looked over their shoulders, with the hope of getting external support to get the business of teaching going. Running as autonomous entities encouraged innovation and problem solving.
Everything fell on the shoulders of the school principal to inspire confidence, build an enabling/positive environment, create order and discipline, develop and sustain a strong professional culture, appropriately deploy staff, interpret and ensure effective delivery of the curriculum. With minimal or no external support, the school head together with his charges built winning schools that earned the confidence of learners and parents. Moeng College fell in this category of self-supporting schools. Here is the change. Today multiple oversight institutions have been created to keep a close watch on schools. The 2010 regionalisation agenda witnessed the creation of 10 Regional Education offices plus a host of sub regions. Though there are still staffing and resource constraints in the regions, but today’s schools are better-watched and monitored than yesteryear schools. Before COVID-19, it was mandatory for education officers and inspectors to draw school visiting timetables and to report to their superiors their experiences in schools. And more schools during the pre-COVID period as Professor Jaap Kuiper observed yearned for and sought more and more visits.
“It was striking to find that schools (both management and teachers) indicated that they would like to see more visits from the Region to see (‘inspect’ was the term used in various schools!) how the schools are doing. The Regional officers only appear once examination results are out, and only then ask the schools to explain the low level of the results. To visit and ask questions when the examination results are already out, is leaving it too late”. But alas even with increased visible ‘policing’ of schools by inspectors and education officers, achieving improved learning outcomes remains an elusive and moving target. Turning around the situation requires a review and introspection.
It is not the frequency of school visits by external oversight bodies that determine learning outcomes. The need to consider having semi autonomous and self-supporting schools, like Moeng College of old, to lessen over-reliance on external oversight must be explored. The sooner the better!