Making schools count

Here is an end of year note on matters of teaching and learning. The note could not have come at a better time. The Botswana Examination Council (BEC) has just awarded the 2021 PSLE candidates their grades. As usual schools have experienced mixed fortunes.

Some have fulfilled their dreams while others have been frustrated. Both parents and government are seeking answers especially from underachieving schools. All learners, thanks to automatic progression, are assured of a free passage to the next level.

However, parents of those underachieving children remain anxious about how their children will navigate academic hurdles ahead. The PSLE grades present an opportunity for accountability. Accountability knows no boundaries. It is a cross cutting exercise involving all parties from the central office, Regions/sub regions and schools. There is need to interrogate and interpret the quantitative data at hand. The big question is what is the story behind the grades? And what are the underlying factors behind the grades?

They say numbers never tell a lie. BEC scores speak volumes on a host of issues surrounding schools. Schools and oversight bodies could appraise their efforts in terms of Ward Heneveld and Helen Craig‘s model of school effectiveness. In their 1996 report, Craig and Heneveled identified four factors they deemed responsible for improved learning outcomes. The four critical areas are supporting inputs, school climate, enabling conditions and teaching and learning process. The life of school in our jurisdiction begins with mobilisation of supporting inputs. In this regard, the central office plays a leading role in provision of curricula, financial, human resources, textbooks and teacher development activities.

However, due to competing national priorities, it is becoming increasingly difficult for government to provide sufficient supplies. This has resulted in shortage of critical teaching inputs. Nonetheless, some innovative schools principals continue to develop external relations with the parents and the business world for purposes of resource mobilisation. Other school leaders have not been so lucky in securing external support and consequently experience hardships in running schools. A big opportunity exists in the supply of teachers. The country is endowed with highly trained teachers. The challenge, however, lies in managing and harnessing the existing talent and skills to raise improved instruction in schools. The system should devise a means of attracting and retaining a special breed of teachers psychologically prepared to bring their deepest selves to schools. Schools need teachers who are conscious of the fact that teaching is more than a job but a calling.

The curricular too needs refining. Hitherto, schools have to contend with the long, overcrowded and content-based curriculum. If there are any lessons learnt from COVID-19 is that the ‘overweight’ curriculum cannot serve children well. COVID-19 has drastically reduced teacher-student contact time. To alleviate the situation, the central office should move with speed to trim the curriculum. Besides the central office, the school system requires a deep and soul-searching process. Schools cannot afford the luxury of losing their purpose and direction.

It should be noted that the school environment carries more weight than external factors in the teaching and learning process. An excellent teaching climate is masterminded from the office of the school principal. Therefore, all schools must not be found wanting on the leadership side of things. Building and sustaining a positive teaching climate, keeping order and discipline, ensuring appropriate resource allocation, raising the rigour of instruction and developing a package of rewards to motivate staff and learners fall within the jurisdiction of school principals. School principals should resist distractions, however powerful, that undermine teaching and learning.

There are instances where some school principals would always exploit any opportunity to be away from their schools. Schools where principals are often out don’t do well. Effective School principal always keeps their eyes fixated on the ball. Among other things, school principals should invest in instructional experts, communicate clear expectations, build external relations and actively encourage and support all learners to improve on their current performance.

Editor's Comment
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