When juxtaposed with the real returns in the economy it is highly debatable whether the billions of Pula pumped into education since Independence have been a wise investment.
The initial goals of this investment, as outlined by the founding president, were to ensure that Batswana are given the skills required to run the country once the colonial authorities had left office.
In Seretse Khama’s own words: “The Colonial Government failed to recognise the need to educate and train our people so they could run their own country. We did not inherit any properly equipped institutions for vocational training even at the lowest level of artisan skills”.
The heavy outlay in spreading and deepening education across the country after Independence and the resultant growth in literacy and the diversification of skill sets away from agriculture, are certainly commendable.
The birth of industries such as mining, financial services, tourism, services sector and others, were indeed propelled by the prudent educational policies under which the billions were expended.
However, as the country’s competitiveness slackens, as the economy’s ability to absorb graduates and create jobs is weakened and as pass rates in educational institutions falter, it is sensible to question whether the policies of the 1960s still ring true today. It is no coincidence that our greatest challenges presently are sustainable and equitable economic growth through enhanced competitiveness and diversification.Clearly, the graduates we are producing and the skills we have in the economy are unable to optimally leverage the resources and opportunities we have both internally and externally for our growth.
A sure symptom of this is the graduates roaming the streets armed with humanitarian and commercial qualifications, while expatriates are still roped in to provide even the most elementary engineering tasks.
As Human Resource Development Council advisor, Roy du Pre, stated yesterday, our downfall lies in the curriculum; our obsession with academic universities at the expense of vocational and technical education.Having inherited the British educational ideal, we continue to place a premium on Maths and Science.For example, engineering drives the manufacturing and construction world, yet Oxford does not believe in engineering as an academic discipline and it insists that all that is needed is Mathematics and Science, says du Pre.
The result has been that we have highly academic graduates, but lack a knowledge-based economy, which would unlock the various natural resources and opportunities we have, on a sustainable basis.
In Switzerland, the world’s most competitive economy, the majority of students enrol in vocational and technical training after high school, instead of academic centres.There are already signs that education policymakers are thinking in this direction, as can be seen in the plan to introduce sponsorship quotas for certain studies at graduate level. We need, however, to move faster.