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Education: A survey of the events of 2008

Staff Writer
It has been a hectic year at the Ministry of Education. Students have died abroad, and the minister has not escaped allegations of indescretion, and failure to recognise conflict of interest in his private and political dealings. From Mmegi's education desk,

The Ministry of Education started the year on a low note when senior students at Moeding College gave the new students sleepless nights on their arrival. They were accused of shaving the pubic hair of other students, burning their wigs and forcing their victims to inhale the smoke.

All Form Fives were suspended and instructed to return to school with their parents. They were required to anonymously write down the names of those they witnessed bullying the new students.

Twenty-two Francistown Senior Secondary School students were last week sent home after they were caught "beach partying" along the Shashe River in Mathangwane village, a few kilometres outside Francistown.

As if this was not enough, the following day Shoshong Senior Secondary School suspended about 200 Form Five students for causing mayhem at the school following an electricity outage.

In February, at the Tlokweng College of Education, students boycotted classes and meals complaining about the filthy environment, forcing the ministry to start renovations at a cost of two million Pula. At the Gaborone Technical College (GTC), students boycotted classes claiming that they were 'not taught' as there was an acute shortage of lecturers.

This resulted in the closure of the school when the students failed to resume classes, while the ministry promised to work on a solution for their concerns.
In July, the ministry ordered the closure of the Molepolole College of Education following a week long class boycott by the students.

The students were striking over shortage of water and power blackouts at the college. The minister suggested that a task force composed of student representatives and officials of the ministry should be formed. The task force met and the ministry ordered that they should resume classes.

The students decided to ignore the directive because they had appealed to President, Ian Khama. The ministry was taken aback when about three students studying in Malaysia died and three lost their lives in unfortunate accidents this year.

One student died in a car accident, while two others fell from balconies after excessive drinking. This has created an atmosphere of panic in the Botswana community in Malaysia and back home. The students interviewed in the local media said the environment there was hostile so they found it easy to take solace in alcohol ending up in fatal accidents. 
The minister and his delegation recently returned from Malaysia where they went on a fact-finding mission.

Speaking at the University of Botswana (UB) Foundation annual dinner dance, President Ian Khama expressed concern about the level of indiscipline in institutions of learning. He said indiscipline manifests itself in strikes, damage to property, alcohol and drug abuse, teenage pregnancies and bullying of other students.

He said students at all educational levels must know and appreciate that it is during their formative days at school that they need to start behaving well. During the year, the ministry strengthened pastoral care that trains the students to distinguish between punishment and discipline.

The pastoral policy explains that students who have learnt to be accountable for their actions are much more likely to be well behaved. The policy views student involvement in school governance as an integral part of an effective pastoral programme. Because they are the key customers, they should be involved in decision making in order to enhance ownership,

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accountability and responsibility.


Scandals
The Minister of Education, Jacob Nkate, made a shocking revelation that his ministry was underspending by P400 million per annum before placement of students in local private institutions.

He said this made it difficult to argue for budget increments at Parliament. He said this happened in 2007 when the ministry submitted a P2.2 billion budget. He said at the end of the financial year, March 2008, there was an over expenditure of P160 million at which point the second enrolment was already on stream. He was explaining why his ministry requested a supplementary budget.

This request raised eyebrows, which led to three top officials in the department of student placement and welfare - director Mosoma Kgotla and his deputies - being suspended. The buck stopped with the supervising deputy permanent secretary, Ruth Maphorisa who was not suspended but elevated to the post of permanent secretary.
For his part, Minister Nkate received t-shirts from one of the ministry's clients, NIIT, for his political campaign. The public questioned how he would make objective decisions regarding that institution. Some called for his resignation.


Private
The Tertiary Education Council is a body that is assigned to accredit tertiary institutions and to see if the tertiary institutions provide quality education to students. But TEC was this year in the hot seat of public scrutiny when they were accused of not doing enough as some private institutions continued offering low education in terms of the quality of the lecturers and resources for the students. Students went on strikes in those institutions.

TEC went on record taking the public aback by stating that their process involved registering the schools first and then accreditate the courses after they have run for a period of one to two years. This could mean that what the students were saying about shallow content of their courses could be true if they are still to be accredited.


Exams
The Botswana Examinations Council (BEC) allayed fears early this month that the results of the Botswana Government Certificate in Secondary Education (BGCSE) exams might be delayed after examiners boycotted the Setswana papers.
The marking of exams has been marred by controversy even before it started with teachers demanding that their payments be increased from what they were getting from the defunct ERTD.

 
Ministry
All these issues apparently overshadowed one of the MoE's major achievements this week when education minister, Jacob Nkate, received 19 buses from the Central Transport Organisation (CTO) for use by some of the government aided schools. This was a move from the open trucks that have been used in schools and were unsafe for the children.
The ministry increased admission to senior secondary by 3.7 percent to 25,060 students early this year.

The increase was said to be partly due to the increase in facilities and the expansion of double shift. The ministry opened Goodhope Senior Secondary School in February and rolled out double shift at Gaborone Secondary School. Four more classes have been constructed at Molefi Senior Secondary School in Mochudi.

The ministry announced plans to introduce specialisation in 243 primary schools on top of the 273, which piloted the project in 2007,  next year. The principal public relations officer (PRO) at MoE, Nomsa Zuze, says they are hoping to roll out to the last batch of 224 schools by 2010.



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