The transformational agenda with reference to education as elaborated during the State of the Nation Address (SONA 2018) relayed a vivid trajectory path towards a Knowledge based economy.
This marked the beginning of the fifth session of the 11th parliament. In clear terms, His Excellency deliberated on human capital development (paragraph 54 to 59), education and scaling up access to vocational education and training (paragraph 128 to 138).
In short, the President acknowledges the need for making vocational training attractive so that citizens can tap on the many available opportunities in areas where such skills are needed.
Furthermore, there is need to appreciate that Performing Arts could be one other avenue that might serve the nation well when it comes to employment creation especially for the youth.
Lastly he acknowledges the need for human resource development especially that of teachers and school leaders. He appreciates the challenges of teacher-welfare and the infrastructure which is becoming outdated.
Addressing all these is what will make our education system to be counted among the best in the world. The State of the Nation Address was delivered during the same time that the Ministry of Basic Education was hosting COMSTEDA 16, a Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) conference.
Presenters during the conference unanimously agreed that a knowledge based economy is mainly driven by innovations, research and ICT. This is the gospel that STEM is preaching. According to one of the papers presented by HRDC, it was revealed that Botswana is facing three main employment challenges.
These are people without jobs, jobs without people and people with jobs but, without the relevant skills for that particular job. To some extent, SONA paragraph 135 to 138 is addressing such issues.
For instance, a lot of investment is made in constructions and procurement of infrastructure, but one can ask’ how much are we investing in the maintenance processes of the very same infrastructure? To what extent are we readying our youth for the maintenance process? This is one area where jobs can easily be abounding.
It is very encouraging to note that Government is providing wider access to vocational education and training through establishment of satellite rapid skills development centres at Tsau, Chadibe, Moreomaoto and Thamaga.
The graduates will certainly be of service to those villages and the peripheries. Equipping citizens with such skills that help solve problems on a day to day basis will lead to a knowledge
Success of any economy is facilitated by investing in basic instruments which enable production.
Investing in human capital will not just serve the nation in a short term, but will be of great value in the long term even beyond the diamonds era.
It is on this note that we need to strengthen the provision of pre-service and in-service teacher training.
We need quality teachers who would go an extra mile to provide an enabling environment for learners to be innovative.
In his opening remarks during the conference, the basic education minister emphasised the need for capacitating teachers.
To buttress the point, he said that ‘a man holding a machine gun, is less dangerous than a non-informed leader’. He challenged the conference by posing this question ‘is it not time that we invested more on teachers rather than on buying textbooks?’. I guess that is a topic for another day, but I totally agree with him.
All in all, continuous professional development in teaching is no longer a matter of whether one likes it or not but a must do. Non conformity to these evolving trends will relegate us to the wrong side of history.
One other notable revelation during the conference was the gap existing between primary and secondary schools as presented by Dr Motlhabane.
In his address, he highlighted to the delegates that the quality of performance at primary schools seemed to diminish fast when it comes to secondary education.
There is an urgent need to fill this gap. By and large, policy has to facilitate this process, but that does not stop the curriculum implementers to certainly do something in this regard.
It is critical that collaboration is developed between primary schools and secondary schools.
The same goes between the secondary sector and the tertiary sector.
In order to avoid skills mismatch, we also need collaboration between tertiary institutions and the industries of production.
In conclusion, I want to extend a word of encouragement to all STEM teachers to get involved in these studies which seek to find better pedagogical practices which in my view serves as one of the most significant steps towards an innovative Botswana and by extension, a knowledge based economy.