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'ETSSP crafted to address 21st Century education challenges'

In an article recently published in the Patriot, I commended the Ministry of Basic Education (MoBE) for having embraced the Education and Training Sector Strategic Plan (ETSSP).

But I further urged them to speed up implementation of this reform. Botswana has had a history of failure to implement, monitor and evaluate reforms, and this time around should show donor agencies the seriousness we give to agreements with our partners in development.

As with many education reforms introduced in Botswana in the past, ETSSP is a donor-funded education strategy, and the funding organisation in this case is the European Union (EU). I must admit that different externally sponsored reforms in Botswana, and in many other aid-recipient countries have failed to achieve the purposes for which they were intended, and as such when the EU came on board, I was sceptical if this time they would deliver. However, my scepticism about this particular initiative changed at its inception, when it became abundantly clear that the donor was committed to a process of consultation with as many stakeholders as possible.

Such consultation is an essential element that has always been missing in many foreign-funded reforms of a similar nature. Generally, the practice by donor countries has always been more about: “He who pays the piper calls the tune,” suggesting that whoever puts up the money makes the decision.

In the past ,such mentality had an adverse effect on implementation of reforms in recipient countries, as in the process many projects were not so successful or in many cases ultimately collapsed due to lack of continuity arising from absence of ownership by locals.

In making my case for ETSSP in the previous publication, I spelt out several reasons that dictated the need to urgently roll out the reform. The major basis for my contention was that whereas it is incontestable that while the current education system, which is indisputably a legacy of the British colonial government, has served this country well over a given period of time, the practical reality on the ground is that it has seen its days and is now archaic and overtaken by events. In its current state it is no longer the most appropriate and relevant education for the majority of the learners as it fails to take into account their diverse learning abilities and learning styles as well as their choice of subjects. While ETSSP provides an opportunity to channel students according to their interests, by contrast the current system provides only one option to the advantage of a few academically-gifted learners.

Previous policies, including the Revised National Policy on Education (RNPE) of 1994 that was implemented to enhance the effectiveness of the system, have now outlived their lifespan. We can therefore no longer bank on this policy to try and reform a system that has very little relevance to the aspirations of a large number of students with different learning needs, abilities and styles. Any attempt at doing that would certainly be reflective of our naivety as a nation. We have to realise that as with the rest of the world, we cannot use policies of the 20th Century to address education issues of the 21st Century. We need ETSSP because it is a 21st Century government initiative crafted to address 21st  Century challenges in education.

Should we fail to implement the reform or deviate from its tenets or principles, those of us in positions of leadership will be judged very harshly by society, as we would have denied

our youth a lifetime opportunity of real inclusive education. The opportunities in this case would include exceptional prospects for students to make choices of what they wish to learn based on their interest, capabilities and capacity, as well as avoidance of the torture of writing tests and examinations that are not contextualised to their future aspirations and career development.

While I fully endorse the implementation of ETSSP, I am alive to potential impediments that are likely to stifle its implementation. It is normality and in the nature of human beings that when change occurs, it could be resisted due to fear of the unknown. People would rather maintain the status quo or as they put it, you are better off living with the devil you know than a stranger you do not know.

This means that any talk of implementation of ETSSP is likely to raffle a few feathers at all levels of the Ministry’s structures due to fear of the unfamiliar. In a lot of instances resistance could be a result of lack of understanding, a situation that may just dictate the need for those in leadership to take responsibility for educating and counselling their staff to prevent potential for possible resistance or foot-dragging.

In a situation where education is a responsibility of multiple Ministries such as in Botswana there is likelihood of challenges being experienced in trying to roll out a reform of this nature and magnitude. Possibility for lack of cohesion, bureaucratic bottlenecks, issues of egos, and conflicts could arise as different stakeholders skirmish over strategies and processes of implementation. One education sector that is likely to play a huge role in the successful implementation of ETSSP are the brigades, and the fact that they are now under a different Ministry altogether could adversely affect smooth execution of   the change process. In fact, whoever decided to remove the Brigades from education to the Ministry of Labour and Employment got it all wrong altogether.

There can be no doubt that the only home(s) for these technical institutions is either The Ministry of Basic Education or that of Tertiary Education. As things stand, the Brigades have been completely misplaced and the only logical thing to do is to revert to where they originally belonged in the interest of smooth execution of multiple pathways.

There is this tendency by some African countries (Botswana included) to appear to be embracing reforms only to hide behind the issue of financial constraints and other related resources when implementation is at hand. A massive reform such as ETSSP will certainly be costly especially when it affects major change transformation of the education system in its entirety. ETSSP’s emphasis is on contextualised, relevant, and quality education, characteristics that require huge amount of resources. There can be no doubt that its implementation will have a knock-on effect on some of the major projects set aside by government as priority. It will take political will on the part of both our political leaders and their executive officers such as permanent secretaries to ensure that implementation takes place within the stipulated timeframe as failure to do so will once more be reflective of our fallibility when it comes to execution of change, typical of many African countries.

*Associate Professor Philip Bulawa is a lecturer at the University of Botswana



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