The Botswana government says Education Training Sector Strategic Plan (ETSSP 2015-2020) marks a significant milestone in our collective efforts as a nation to bring about a more diversified, knowledge-based economy. In this article Philip Bulawa, an Associate Professor in Education Management at the University of Botswana, unpacks ETSSP and what it entails to take Botswana’s education system to the promised land
Mmegi: Help us understand Education and Training Sector Strategic Plan (ETSSP) and multiple pathways as solutions to the current education crisis.
Bulawa: Briefly, the ETSSP is a reform aimed at transforming education by addressing some key policy goals including, improvement of access, quality, inclusion and equity, accountability and governance in the education system. It is supposed to provide an overall policy and strategic sector framework for the education sector such that it will have the capacity to play a fundamental role in the development of a modern, sustainable, knowledge-based economy that supports inclusiveness and diversity (ETSSP, 2015). ETSSP’s priority programmes and interventions are intended to strengthen students’ acquisition of relevant knowledge and skills.
If we go by its goals we can confidently conclude that our education has a brighter future than ever before because ETSSP’s emphasis on among other factors quality education, inclusiveness and equity, and knowledge based economy are consistent with the fourth industrial revolution. However, all these high societal expectations will entirely depend on its implementation together with the availability of human, physical and financial resources that go with such a reform of this magnitude. Already one should be concerned that while the entire ETSSP was supposed have been fully implemented between 2015 and 2020, indications are that so far it seems to be lagging behind schedule. My view is that the timing of any reform is always very critical if it is to be successful.
Mmegi: What are the components of ETSSP?
Bulawa: Another critical component of the ETSSP is the introduction of multiple pathways for students graduating from junior secondary school to senior secondary school, which gives students access to diverse streams of subjects from which to choose. I guess these streams will be categorised into Vocational, Social Sciences, Pure Sciences, .and Business which should give students a wide choice based on, amongst other things, their future career and job aspirations, enjoyment, interest, the level of easiness of a subject and the kind of person students wish to be in future. If such a wide choice of subject streams is properly packaged and implemented, students will not only be highly likely to be motivated and enjoy schooling, but this also presents an opportunity for a significant reduction in students’ high failure rate in their BGCE. I’ve always argued that the failure rate by students is an exaggeration in the sense that the majority of them are compelled to sit for a curriculum designed for the few academically gifted, at the exclusion of those gifted for instance, in vocational or business related areas.
Mmegi: Why was its implementation delayed?
Bulawa: Yes, full implementation has been quite slow, and this could be attributed to multiplicity of factors, including resource implications. There can be no doubt that the implementation of ETSSP requires highly skilled and knowledgeable school management and teaching staff, Information and Communication Technology (ICT) (i.e., school managers and teachers of the 21st Century) consistent with the fourth industrial revolution.
This certainly calls for the need to re-train or re-skill school personnel, an initiative that will come at a very high cost. Some of the streams from which students will have to choose will certainly need special facilities, and these won’t come cheap at all. If in this era and age we still have schools without proper science laboratories, I can only imagine what is likely to happen when this reform takes off. One can only hope that the Ministry will pilot with for instance, 10 schools than to try and implement it all schools at the same time. If the government takes that route, they should be in a position to deal effectively with a broad range of potential impediments, including having sufficient time to mobilise resources and train staff, as well as be able to address practical implementation challenges.
Mmegi: Practically speaking, is government doing anything to implement these innovations?
Bulawa: Indications are that the government is committed to the implementation of the ETSSP, even though progress so far seems to be moving at a snail’s pace. As things stand, the development of training material for school management is on-going, but again this needs to be speeded up. As I’ve already indicated, for ETSSP to be a success story, the government has no choice but to invest quite heavily on such facilities as fully functional ICT/Internet connectivity and adequately skilled and knowledgeable staff to deal with multiple pathways. I must emphasise that multiple pathways is the way to go for us as a nation to entertain any hope of achieving our goal of a knowledge based economy as enshrined in ETSSP.
DR PHILLIP BULAWA*