Although teachers unions have welcomed the government's decision to finally introduce the use of indigenous languages in schools, they have questioned its timing.
This announcement puts to rest long standing debates on the subject of the use of mother tongue in schools, which has been championed by opposition's Botswana Congress Party (BCP) for years. The BCP has in the past, argued that the use of local languages in schools will make education more inclusive.
However, the Botswana Sector of Educators Trade Union (BOSETU) has questioned if the timing is appropriate to go through the policy when the country is battling the deadly COVID-19 pandemic.
Responding to The Monitor questions, BOSETU president Winston Radikolo said his union has been one of the proponents of the introduction of mother tongue in the primary curriculum. However, he said in view of the current circumstances, government should wait until the issue of COVID-19 is put under control.
Radikolo also said he is not sure if government is prepared in terms of structures necessary for introduction of indigenous languages in the curriculum.
“We welcome the development. In our view, the timing might be bad, but we can put it in abeyance until we have cleared the COVID-19 [pandemic]. And secondly, I am not sure if we are prepared in terms of structures that is curriculum, books and skilled human resource,” he said.
Radikolo said BOSETU’s 2018 policy conference passed a resolution to pressure the ministry to introduce mother tongue at primary level.
Botswana Teachers Union (BTU) publicity secretary Zweli Botshelo Tupane said they await consultations so that they appreciate what the language experts have proposed.
"But we welcome the development to have such at elementary level since it will make a smooth transition from the mother tongue, which is the first language, to the second or third language, which would be offered as suggested languages. We as BTU will look at what has been suggested and also make our own study so that we get effects of the initiative and to have data and skills audit of how many teachers we have to offer such subjects," Tupane said.
Member of Parliament for Francistown South, Wynter Mmolotsi also questioned whether the 2022 implementation timeline is realistic. He said government should be aware that introducing languages in schools is a tedious process that entails curriculum design, development, material production as well as implementation. He wondered whether government would be able to have done all these actions within a year.
Mmolotsi also suggested that the use of langauges should be done up to lower primary, which is from pre-primary to Standard Five.
Molao on Thursday told Parliament that 11 languages have been identified for introduction from pre-primary level up to Standard Two. He said cabinet has given the ministry the go-ahead to consult the public further on the matter.
He explained that the languages will be introduced first, as a medium of instruction and later on as standalone subjects.
“We will start in areas where these languages are dominant,” he said.