How education transformed Botswana

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As Botswana attains 49 years of independence, no one must have envisaged a country that will be so blessed in both human and natural resources 49 years later, which have now catapulted the country into a middle-income category.

The issue of only a few kilometres of tarred roads at the time, and other challenges showed a country that had a beggar status.

The country’s infrastructure was virtually non-existent, as the country depended entirely on others, especially Britain, for its development budget.

Only a few people possessed university degrees, let alone secondary school certificates.


When I was growing up, some people who had been admitted to secondary schools were warned to be careful lest they went mad because of those letters entering their heads.

Examples would be given of someone in the village with a mental problem that so many books were responsible for their “warped” minds.

“Mmone fela. O a tsenwa ke dithuto (Just look at him, he is mad because of education),’ they would jeer.

Women, particularly were told they would not find a husband if they chose to become educated.

Once a neighbour advised a father against sending her daughter to a secondary school, as the father would be wasting his money.

“She won’t find a husband after getting educated,” the neighbour advised.

The father relented and never sent her daughter to secondary school.

In actual fact education in those days, as was formal employment, was an alien concept to a majority of Batswana.

As for formal employment, some Batswana would work during dry seasons and when rains come they  would head straight for their masimo or moraka. That’s how bad it was.  No one gave the country a chance to survive because besides lack of infrastructure, daunting human resource challenges made even the colonial powers look away with dismay and not give Botswana a chance at survival.

It must have been a huge headache for the then Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) government, which also had to contend with the fact that they were inheriting a country that was landlocked, was prone to droughts and was at the time surrounded by hostile and racist regimes.

But Sir Seretse Khama and his team of pioneers were determined to put in place a foundation that would make future generations have it easy in order to steer the country to further prosperity.

It all started with education. Before the advent of independence, school was for those whose parents could afford tuition fees. It entailed selling cattle in order to obtain money, which the parents would use to pay the school fees.

Otherwise, a lot of youth went without schooling, as parents professed bankruptcy and sent the boys to look after the family livestock, or in the case of girls, they were married off to start their own families.

An online article on a University of Botswana (UB) website documented the evolution of formal education in Botswana from humble beginnings to vibrant entity that it is today.

According to the document, year 1976 was the turnaround time and by 1982 UB, commenced the development of its physical resources and their academic programmes in close cooperation with its erstwhile partners in the University of Swaziland.

This was shortly after Lesotho, which had been partners with Botswana and Swaziland prior and just after independence, expelled Batswana and AmaSwati students.

On July 1982, UB formally separated with University of Swaziland

Sir Ketumile Masire, who was then President of Botswana, performed the formal inauguration of the University of Botswana on October 23, 1982. A year earlier, the country released the report of 1977 National Commission on Education whose findings were to help improve primary education as the foundation of other levels of education.

The UB document further says, “the establishment of the Department (of Primary Education) was one of the collaborative efforts between the government of Botswana and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to improve primary education. 

“The USAID project, which was responsible for this goal, was called the Primary Education Improvement Project (PEIP) and ran from 1981 to 1991.

“At the outset, the Department  ran two in-service programmes: a one year Diploma and a four-year Bachelor of Education degree in Primary Education. 

“The first intake for both programmes was in August 1982. The first Diploma group graduated in October 1983 while the last graduated in October 2000. 

“About 231 students graduated from the Diploma programme. The first B.Ed group graduated in October 1985.  Till October 2007, more than 1,000 students have graduated from B. Ed (Primary) programme.”

The DPE reviewed its Diploma and Degree programmes in April 1995 with an eight member Ad-hoc Committee.

The Committee had representation from the DPE, Colleges of Education, Teacher Training and Development and Teaching Service Management in the Ministry of Education, said the online document.

It said the review was necessitated by factors such as that during NDP 7, the Ministry of Education decided that Primary Teacher Training Colleges upgrade the Certificate programme they had been offering to a Diploma.

“This meant that both DPE and Colleges were to prepare Diploma graduates for primary schools, a role the DPE had been monopolizing,” said the UB document.

The other factor was that the Revised National Policy on Education of 1994 had future implications for both the Diploma and Degree programmes.

“For instance, DPE B.Ed graduates could no longer be deployed to Colleges, not only because the Colleges were fully staffed, but also because the minimum requirements for a College Lecturer were changed to a Master’s degree.

“This meant that while DPE has been training teacher trainers, its main focus should now be to train classroom teachers and educational managers in the primary education sector.

“The third factor was that the Ministry of Education presented a specific request to the Department to address its special needs in the primary education sector.

The request, contained in a letter from the ministry dated June 21, 1994, read as follow: “The programmes should change their orientation to include specialisations in the identified areas of need, namely: Remedial Teaching, Special Education, Infant Education Methods, Guidance and Counselling, Teacher Advising and Practical Subjects.

“The programmes should establish priorities to strengthen instruction in the areas of Mathematics, Science and English.

“The current system of admission into the programmes through the Mature Age Entry Scheme to be reviewed to accommodate the academic requirements for Diploma level training in Primary Teacher Training institutions which is at least a minimum of three O’ Level subjects.

As the Chancellor of the University of Botswana and Swaziland (UBS) after Lesotho had expelled Batswana and Swati students, Sir Seretse was definitely in an ebullient mood during his graduation speech in May 1970 at Luyengo campus in Swaziland.

He said: “The University must be a committed institution, committed to the fulfillment of the ambitions and aspirations of the communities it was created to serve.

“One of these is rapid development, another is non-racialism, and the third is simply pride in ourselves and in our past, which in turn would lead to a greater degree of self confidence, which is one of the very basic ingredients of true independent nationhood.”

That was four years after British rule had given way to Botswana’s self-rule, which entailed the lowering of the Union Jack and in its place, the blue-/black/ white flag.

Kgalemang T Motsete contributed the new national anthem, Fatshe Leno La Rona.

In 1982, the University of Botswana was established after contributions in money and in kind by citizens of the country who were egged on to make their contributions so as to “own” the university.

To date several academic institutions have been established in Botswana and these include Ba Isago, Limkokwin, Botho Universities and many others.

Besides a plethora of government primary and secondary school in all corners and crannies of the country, numerous private institutions have also been established.

This is in addition to the colleges of education in Molepolole, Tonota, Tlokweng, Francistown, Lobatse and Serowe.  All these have been achieved after the mineralisation of the country through the discovery and subsequent processing of diamonds.

Also the determination to succeed by the founding fathers of this country was there.

Some of the country’s founders now live in relative obscurity and poverty, as they did not appropriate the riches of the country to themselves.

The founders saw the country’s mineralisation as an opportunity to develop the country.

Just that the diamonds soon overtook cattle as the mainstay of the country’s economy. Jobs became galore and so were opportunities for further education, as Botswana became one of the fastest growing economies in the world.

Editor's Comment
What about employees in private sector?

How can this be achieved when there already is little care about the working conditions of those within the private sector employ?For a long time, private sector employees have been neglected by their employers, not because they cannot do better to care for them, but because they take advantage of government's laxity when it comes to protecting and advocating for public sector employees, giving the cue to employers within the private sector...

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