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A reflection on Botswana's educational path

Wisdom and good governance dictate that whatever one does as he or she delivers on their mandate to lead, should be based on policy.

One envisions or conceives an idea, then they draw a policy on how it will pan out.

Policy has been defined as a set of ideas or a plan of what to do in particular situations that has been agreed on officially by a group of people, a business organisation, a government, or a political party. Others say it is a course or principle of action adopted or proposed by an organisation or individual.  Blakemore defines it as “aims or goals, or statements of what ought to happen” this definition is in line with Kogan’s definition who refers to policies as the ‘operational statements of values’ or the ‘authoritative allocation of values.’

Policy thus, is about the power to determine what gets done, or not done, by whom and when. Much as we would not want to admit, policies are political instruments. Politicians coin policies according to their agenda.  

Global orthodoxies also influence policies. Due to globalisation, national educational systems have become more porous:been partially internationalized and lack the local panache. These policies are totally withdrawn from the DNA of the citizenry and have removed the self from the self.

An educational policy consists of the principles of the educational sphere as well as the collection of laws and rules that govern operations of that particular education system. UNESCO holds the position that solid, coherent policies and plans are the bedrock on which to build sustainable education systems, achieve educational development goals and contribute effectively to lifelong learning. It also holds that nations should align their educational policies to the Sustainable Development Goal 4, which aims to ‘ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all’.

A good educational policy should have processes, themes and impacts and should take into consideration the diversity within the state. Therefore, a national education policy should reflect its peopling through linguistic and cultural diversity. Also, it should try to keep teachers, students and parents in the loop for a better appreciation and involvement.

In 53 years, Botswana has had Education for Kagisano (EK 1977) which literally means social harmony, The Revised National Policy on Education (RNPE 1994) and now the country is in the process of implementing the Education & Training Sector Strategic Plan (ESSTP).

In producing EK, the vision was, “to produce critical thinkers, problem solvers, and innovative learners. The system was designed to provide opportunities for all students by providing access to all; improving the standards of education; emancipating Batswana from illiteracy; and developing their capabilities to create a social transformation of their lives.

Education was to be a vehicle for continuous positive change that would ultimately enable people to build a better world.” Tabulawa.  EK was founded on the four (4) national principles of democracy, development, self-reliance and unity. The main idea was to have an education system that will unite Batswana, thus Setswana was made a language of national unity and English an official Language of education, trade and international relations.

The leaders envisioned an educational system that provides access to all and supports social harmony because Botswana was home to many ethnic groups with nothing uniting them. The attempt was to unite the nation and maintain peaceful co-existence. Was that just or democratic? That’s a debate for another day but at the time it appeared the wise and logical thing to do. Language and education were used as tools that to unite the nation as it grows.

Education for Kagisano was found wanting and this necessitated the Kedikilwe Commission which birthed the Revised National Policy on Education (RNPE). The main aim of the RNPE was to “promote economic

development, political stability, cultural advancement, national unity and the overall quality of life.” The document further states, “in pursuit of these goals, education must offer individuals a life - long opportunity to develop themselves and to make their country competitive internationally.”  Ultimately, the aim of education must be to prepare individuals for life borrowed from John Dewey “Education isn’t the preparation for life, education is life itself.”

ETSSP pays great attention to inclusive and life-long learning goals and in doing so is aligned to international contexts and reflects long-standing commitments to Education for All (EFA) and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

In particular, the ETSSP is intended to strengthen the match between qualifications and labor market requirements thereby ensuring that education outputs are more closely aligned to future employment needs. It will also facilitate improved outcomes for all learners by addressing issues of quality, relevance, access, equity and accountability across the entire sector, from Pre-Primary school to Tertiary level.

It is important to critically look at our educational policies and ask ourselves if they are progressive or archaic. We must also as whether they have not contributed to the state in which our country is currently. We must zoom in on outcomes of education policy and on their implications and see if they are for economic prosperity and social citizenship. Our policies must be biased towards the development of human capital.

According to Schultz, human capital is the sum of education and skills that can be used to produce wealth. Thus, in developing educational policies, states should ask themselves if they are producing people who will contribute meaningfully to the development of the economy. Not our current skills mismatch crisis. 

Concurring, Mace writes that the human capital approach to educational policy also works on the assumption that there is a national economic benefit to be gained from education and from having an educated and skilled work force.

Leadbetter argues that the generation, application and exploitation of knowledge is driving modern economic growth so it is necessary to release potential for creativity and to spread knowledge throughout the population. Buttressing this point of view, Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair said, “education is the best economic policy there is.”

“Economists and other social scientists have long viewed education as the solution to many social challenges including productivity and economic growth. Education is viewed as an investment in human capital that has both direct payoffs to the educated individual as well as external benefits for society as a whole.” Leadbetter

Ashton and Sung write that in line with the human capital approach to education, Singapore developed and pursued a policy of developing a highly educated work force. Leaders ensured that, as industry developed, human capital was in place to make effective use of the physical capital. The result was a very close relationship between educative and productive systems. Considerable control was exercised from the Ministry of Education over what was taught, how it was taught and assessed in schools. The result was employment creation and blossomed economy.

Imagine if in drawing our educational policies we had looked at mining, tourism, agriculture and sports as well as cultural and linguistic diversity? Would we be experiencing this ever-rising youth unemployment rate that has now morphed into a security threat? Educational policies that are whimsical and based upon non-requirements but political desires lead to inefficient and ineffective implementation. It is this set up that has led to state our education is in today.

“An educated workforce is the foundation of every community and the future of every economy.” Brad Henry

Educationally Speaking



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