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What is education?

Shaping Minds: Enrolment at primary level has continued rising
“Education isn’t the preparation for life, education is life itself.” John Dewey The noun Education was derived from the Latin word “pēducātiō” which means breeding, bringing up and rearing.

The dictionary definition of education on the other hand is: The process of imparting knowledge, skill and judgement; facts, skills and ideas that have been learnt, either formally or informally.

J.S Farrant writes that education is, “the total process of human learning by which knowledge is imparted, faculties trained and skills developed.”

Education and schooling aren’t the same. Schooling is one way through which education can be provided.

Education is thus the sum total of one’s learnings and experiences. As a result, we mustn’t compartmentalise it and or narrow it down to schooling for education starts at birth and ends at death.

In view of the above, each society should thus craft its curriculum such that the school takes over from where the home and clan left off, buttressing the African saying: “it takes a village to raise a child.”

Concurring, Farrant posits that, education is society’s reproductive system. And that, by education, society reproduces itself, passing on its main characteristics through generations.

Dr Martin Luther King Jr’s opinion is that the main function of education is to teach one to think critically.

Education should thus be a liberating tool. Any education system that doesn’t produce independent and critical thinkers, chains, shackles and gags. Citizens should be able to question the status quo.

This column will in time, unpack how philosophical, political, social and economic influences have shaped the Botswana education system.

Education can be formal, non-formal or informal.

Formal education is the kind of learning one gets from institutions like school, college or university. Learning here is deliberately structured and prescriptive through syllabi and time tables.

Key in formal education is literacy. Tests and exams are used to check if indeed learning has taken place. These are comparative by nature as they rank learners from the highest to the lowest performer using grading.

Concurring, Coombs, Prosser and Ahmed summed formal education up as “the hierarchically structured, chronologically graded ‘education system’, running from primary school through the university and including, in addition to general academic studies, a variety of specialised programmes and institutions for full-time technical and professional training. The ultimate proof of formal education is certification.

The expectation is for formal education to shape character. Hence in Africa, an educated person is expected to have poise.

Provision of formal education if done with due dexterity, has the potential to produce quality professionals and artisans who can greatly benefit a nation. Progressive governments invest more in formal education by aligning it to the country and citizenry’s needs.

Education can also be informal. Here, learning happens haphazardly and unconsciously from parents, peers, church, family, team mates, media and the society at large. Character is mainly a product of informal education.

Different scholars view informal education differently. Coombs, Prosser and Ahmed postulate that it is the truly lifelong process whereby every individual acquires attitudes, values, skills and knowledge from daily experience and the educative influences and resources in his or her environment – from family and neighbours, from work and play, from the market place, the library and the mass media.

Given that it takes place outside structured places and programmes, informal education happens voluntary and is motivated by intrinsic interests, curiosity, exploration, manipulation, social interaction, competitiveness etc. Here, learning takes place through influence and consequent emulation. The unfortunate thing about informal education however, is that it sticks more, especially at

a young age, since a child emulates behaviours that interest them. Thus, a child can copy bad behaviours and attitudes. Most children who grow up to be violent are likely to have grown up in violent environments.

Most alcoholics were raised in families where alcohol was either sold, consumed or both. In informal education, the teacher teaches without teaching and the learner learns without learning. Informal education gives nations, communities, clans and families their identity, voice, colour, tone and rhythm.

Non-formal education on the other, hand is education that occurs outside the formal institution structure. It can be second-chance learning, adult education or lifelong learning.

Farrant writes it is, “any organised learning activity outside the structure of the formal education system, that is aimed at meeting specific needs of particular groups of children, youths or adults in the community.”

Elsewhere, it has been said to be any organised educational activity outside the established formal system – whether operating separately or as an important feature of some broader activity – that is intended to serve identifiable learning clienteles and learning objectives.

In Botswana a popular form on non-formal education has been termed, ‘THUTO GA E GOLELWE’. It is adult education that caters for people who missed out on formal schooling at a young age. It has helped many people as many of its products have gone as far as tertiary education.

Non-formal education mainly focuses on equipping people with life and survival skills. Thus, it is deliberately skewed towards agriculture knowledge and skills, health and family planning and literacy.

The fight against HIV in Botswana largely depended on, and was successful due to non-formal education. The success of the home-based care programme highlights the value of non-formal education.

In comparison to formal education, the methods of learning are more flexible to cater for the different ages and social backgrounds. Also, non-formal education in rural Botswana leans more towards mother tongue as compared to formal education which uses English mainly.

Non-formal education has been and still is a need especially in rural Africa. For education to be successful there has to be goals. These goals will differ across nations as they are coined from the nation’s culture, practices, vision, needs and aspirations.

Different terminology has been used to reflect desired outcome of educational goals. Terms like: democracy, equality, equity, citizenship, self-reliance, unity. By nature the goals are usually broad and long term as they carry what is envisioned.

From these goals, different institutions and or individuals can draw their own objectives which will be more specific and largely short term.

Botswana had the Education for Kagisano (1977-1993) which clearly stated the nation’s educational goals as at independence. Then came the Revised National Policy on Education (1993-2020) which was birthed from the Kedikilwe Commission. Currently, the Ministry of Basic Education is in the process of implementing reforms that are intended to create Dual Pathways: academic and vocational progression levels. All these were compiled taking into cognisance the nation’s needs at the time, as well as where the global village is at educationally.

In its purest form, education should mirror communities and nations. Nelson Mandela aptly summed up the value of when he said, “education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world”.

*Mmaotho Segotso is an educator and former teacher

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