Have Today’s Educational Problems Roots In The Past?

It is getting cooler at last and it has rained - so it cannot all be that bad although we do seem to be trying our best to give that impression. After all, here we have BOPEU and BOFEPUSU doing all they can to tear each other into pieces.

We have the DCEC - that is the Corruption people - investigating some of the tertiary educational institutions and, as well, the management of Botswana Railways which is about to launch the country’s second-time-around, Blue Train. 

We are being given the impression that the country’s educational system is rotten from top to bottom and that if only we had taken something from good old Tiger Kloof and learnt from dear old Patrick van Rensburg, we would not be in today’s mess. It has long puzzled me that Tiger Kloof’s supposed successor establishment here should have been the very orthodox, Moeding College in Otse; a fine school, of course, but one which had little in common with Tiger Kloof. 

It would appear therefore that Tiger Kloof’s special inspiration was a one-off, which had not the slightest influence on the development of education either here or in South Africa. To make this claim is, however, to suggest that the lead figures of the 1960-80 period who had attended Tiger Kloof had no particular wish that it should be replicated in any way here. They may all have felt, though, in the immediate post- Independence years that they had minimal power to shape matters one way or another and that they were stuck with a system that they couldn’t change and a Minister, Ben Thema, who may have been change resistant.

Nevertheless, there seems to be no indication that they sought to influence the LMS when setting up Moeding or the Catholic Church when it established Mater Spei in Francistown.  Seemingly, therefore, the inertia of the new government, or perhaps more correctly, it’s reluctance to embrace change,  allowed a vacuum to develop which first, van Rensburg at Swaneng and later, Yates at Maru a Pula sought , in some degree, to fill.

There could not have been two more contrasting individuals who came to a similar conclusion, but from dramatically different backgrounds, the one unorthodox, agnostic, non-establishment, and driven by the political concerns of the day. The other, orthodox, establishment rooted, religiously committed and only marginally concerned with political issues. In the light of the problems which today appear to be afflicting all levels of education, it could be helpful to try and understand how, if at all, the government’s responses to those initiatives may

have contributed to today’s situation, what it sought, what it feared and what its options might have been.

Having ducked the post-Tiger Kloof issue, the new government might well have felt itself on uncomfortable ground with van Rensburg’s back door initiative in Serowe - which, however, merely replicated an approach which had been previously  adopted by Tshekedi and Clutton Brock at Pilikwe and Radisele. 

Whilst van Rensburg began his first negotiations with both local and central government as a primary school teacher in Serowe, Yates launched his front door Maru a Pula initiative as an ex Principal of the prestigious St John’s College in Johannesburg and with the backing of the Anglican Church and of many of the day’s heavy weights. It was a curious mis-match, essentially establishment on one side, non-establishment on the other.  The government, which had earlier, seemed to be backing van Rensburg, wobbled.

The Serowe initiative grew and grew and grew - at its maximum point, in the mid-1970s, it was immense, a colossus which had outgrown itself.  Unsurprisingly, the government would have watched with increasing concern, and then moved in to restore order and, of course orthodoxy. Much of this can only be guesswork because someone is yet to take up the challenge of researching exactly what did happen and why. For the moment, it is a lost story.  In contrast, the Yates/Maru a Pula scenario is straightforward.  Yate’s dream was always focused on a single institution and was therefore of limited dimensions. 

Van Rensburg, however, was much more ambitious in his reach, understanding that the establishment of a single institution represented merely one small step towards meeting peoples’ needs. Today, we can certainly note that both Tiger Kloof and Maru a Pula have a shared tradition in educating the country’s leaders both of then and of today. 

And that is an achievement which needs not to be minimised. But this was always Yates intention - one never shared by van Rensburg. Yates recognised that the new country would need educated, capable new leaders and was convinced that his new institution would produce them. 

Van Rensburg was convinced that the greatest need was to give as many of the young as possible the education and skills which would equip them for life in a fast changing society.

Etcetera II



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