Botswana's education system: living testimony of boiling frog syndrome?

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The 21st century, according to the Gregorian calendar began on the 1st of January 2001 and with it emerged new opportunities and challenges for developing and middle-income countries.

We are certain that the 21st century competencies, knowledge dynamics, globalisation and technological innovations are key driving forces in the current and future developments of every nation. A brief chronological perspectives of the creative and innovative advancement is best captured from the first to the forth industrial revolutions.The first industrial revolution used water and steam to mechanise production (mechanisation of industries), the second used electric energy to create mass production and development of chemical synthesis and the third experienced the emergence of electronics and information technology to automated production.

Today, a fourth industrial revolution is underway building upon the third and the digital revolution. As everything is unfolding before our eyes with an aggressive emergence of the Internet, the revolution is not aligned to the emergence of a new form of energy but entrenched on digitalisation to enable building of a new virtual world. This virtual world will ultimately connect all lines of production, define communication and facilitate the interaction and execution in real time. Thanks to emerging technology such as Cloud, Big Data Analytics and the Internet Of Things (IoT). The benefit of the Forth Industrial Revolution present endless possibilities such as improved decision-making, improved coordination and inter connected global system all in real time.

The pertinent question that should dominate our thoughts and actions is where are we as Botswana 19 years into the 21st century? It is important to locate ourselves because the social, political and economic implications on the current and future generations are considerable. These global trends do not only call for ‘disruptive thinking’ in the entire approach to human activity but general management and governance systems, the knowledge and skills, labour relations, job creation and all other socio-economic opportunities that comes with it.

Central to this breakthrough is the need for an education system that is responsive to the emerging and fast-growing digital age. Our immediate challenge as a country is to equip our current and future generation with the relevant knowledge, skills and attributes that match this rapidly changing world.

In October 2016, Botswana government created three (3) separate ministries of education; the Ministry of Basic Education (MOBE) focusing on Early Childhood Education (ECE), Primary and secondary education, Ministry of Tertiary Education, Research, Science and Technology (MOTE) focusing on higher education and the Ministry of Employment, Labour Productivity and Skills Development (MELPSD) focusing on vocational and technical education.

Without doubt, MOBE plays a critical role in laying a solid foundation for MOTE and MELPSD and by extension determine the socio-economic well - being of the country. As such, higher education provides a stopgap measure to equip these learners with the necessary skills in response to the job market as demanded by the social, political and economic needs of the time. At any given time, the curriculum, manpower development and core mandate of the education sector should be relevant and responsive to the pulse of these changing dynamics.

One can take this moment to recognise and remind all of us that this month of June in particular June 7,  2019 is of great significance to the mother of all professions (teaching) in Botswana. On this day, teachers converge at various places across the country to commemorate the annual teachers’ day under the theme “A key transformational agent l #IAMATEACHER”. The theme places the teacher as a key driving force in enabling any transformation agenda in education. Botswana like many other countries has committed to full realisation and implementation of Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s); a global call for action, to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure peace and prosperity everywhere by the year 2030. Of relevance and significance is SDG 4 that commits to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all (Agenda 2030, 2015).

This is a nobble call for governments to invest at least 6% GDP and 20% public budget on education in accordance to international standards; 3-5% of which should be on inclusion of learners with special needs (stigmatised by the society as disabled people).

The SDG number 4 calls upon countries, to raise the attractiveness of the teaching profession by ensuring that teachers have decent employment and working conditions and are well supported with quality pre-service training and Continuous Professional Development (CPD). Botswana’s basic education system has limited education provision to passive acquisition of basic literacy and numeracy skills with little or no emphasis on the knowledge, skills and attributes demanded by the 21st century. There are no national programs to help our learners to appreciate at east at the very basic level appreciation of elementary knowledge of coding, robotics, Artificial Intelligence (AI), block chain technology. This does not only frustrate the gifted and talented students in both public and private schools but the teachers who also make efforts to fill this knowledge gap.

Has our education system been attacked by the boiling frog syndrome? It is said that if you put a frog in a pot of boiling water, it will immediately jump out. However, if you put the same frog in a pot of room temperature water and slowly turn up the heat, the frog will not attempt to do anything at all, if anything it may seem to be enjoying the temporary comfort oblivion of the impending danger until it is cooked to dearth.

So is our education system. We need to accept that the world has made a quantum leap in almost every sector, there is no time to defend our comfort zones.

This world needs individuals and institutions that challenge themselves by setting and achieving goals rather than dwell in and defend their comfort zones. It demands of all of us to think and act differently and find comfort in being uncomfortable.

It is time we embrace the global phenomenon of “disruptive thinking” in this era of the 4th industrial revolution. This is how Lisa Bodell, CEO of HYPERLINK precisely defines disruptive thinking, “it’s characterised by a line of questioning that awakens the mind, rather than puts it to sleep. These questions usually begin with ‘how,’ ‘which,’ ‘why’ or ‘if’ and are specific without limiting imagination. They focus on generating solutions rather than begging long-winded explanations and place blame, as often-asked ‘close-ended’ questions always do. For example, traditional, linear thought would easily lead to this question: who has an idea for improving our product/service” Let us be part of this evolution.

One can pause here to wish all teachers well in their annual teachers’ day commemoration. In this struggle for better remunerations, decent working conditions, provision of quality education, equal pay for equal work of equal qualification cadres and many other forms of discrimination; God has these words to comfort you “Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified: do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” Joshua 1:9. May the good Lord bless you in a special way. Have a blissful day.

*Mathews Masole ([email protected]) is a Maths educator and a volunteer in STEM education

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