Making Maths relevant

The curriculum needs to take into account the needs of those students
The curriculum needs to take into account the needs of those students

This week we will look at the subject curricula in senior secondary schools. Again, the BGCSE Mathematics curriculum needs to be more relevant to daily life, writes GRAHAME MCLEOD*

TONOTA: After all, the ability to solve simultaneous or quadratic equations may be of little use to most Form 5 leavers who will not proceed to do Mathematics or Science at tertiary level.

In the 1980s, I taught at Lobatse Secondary School. At the time, ‘O’ Level classes with the more academically bright students were taught Cambridge ‘O’ Level Mathematics. However, classes with less academically bright students pursued a Certificate in Arithmetic course.

Being less demanding, the vast majority of students would pass the course and have something to show for the two years that they spent doing the course. And topics covered in this course were more relevant to daily life and hence they would be spared the agony of trying to solve a quadratic equation! For example, they would learn how hire purchase payments are worked out. Let us say that a store is selling a fridge for P4, 000 cash. But the customer also has the option of paying for it through hire purchase. Using this method of payment, he might pay a deposit of P1, 500 after which he would then pay monthly installments of P200 for 24 months.

Now knowledge of basic arithmetic, and not quadratic equations, would assist a student to work out how much he would have to fork out if he wanted to pay in this form of buying. Can the reader work it out? Yes, the answer is P6, 300.

Now the student doing this arithmetic course would realise that the customer would be wise to pay cash upfront and so save a small fortune! So, we can see that knowing this would help students later in life. However, government has since insisted that all Form 4 and 5 students should do ‘O’ Level/BGCSE Mathematics! The result? Many students simply fail the course with grades F, G and U, and so have nothing to show for their efforts! How demotivating?

Next, Science. As before, more emphasis should be placed on practical work and also visits to places where they can see science in action. For example, Morupule power station where water is boiled to produce steam that is then used to drive turbines to produce electricity.

Bright students have here the option of doing the three sciences as single subjects – Physics, Chemistry and Biology, and also Additional Mathematics, which is at a higher level than the ordinary Mathematics course. Such subjects are the foundation for the Fourth Industrial Revolution and will help Botswana to survive and compete in the world in the 21st century.

In the 1980s, students could either do Biology or Human and Social Biology. The former was more theoretical and better suited to more academically gifted students. For example, they would learn the functions of different enzymes, such as pepsin, in the human body and be able to state the chemical equation for photosynthesis.

However, the latter course, being more suited to less gifted students, focused on everyday life; for example, personal hygiene, how to protect oneself from malaria or HIV/AIDS… However, since then government has decided to scrap this course. What a pity!

Students also can choose to study Food and Nutrition at this level. Here practical work may consist of preparing meals consisting of meat and vegetables. However, these veggies will be usually exotic to Botswana, such as beetroot, onion, potato, carrot… But we can perhaps encourage them also to prepare phane, marotse, thepe, manoko, delele, oxtail, and seswaa…   This would be good since many of them have probably prepared such dishes at home, at the cattlepost or at masimo.

And foreign visitors might like to savour the local food; after all, this is one of the delights of travel! I once visited a lodge in the Nata area where such foods appear on the dinner menu. And the food went down well with the visitors! But it’s the only lodge I know of where such foods are offered.

Many street vendors cook and sell food on the streets of Gaborone and Francistown. But they usually offer the same types of food – spaghetti, phaletshe, rice, beef stew, chicken, spinach, beetroot, coleslaw. That’s OK, but why not offer more traditional foods if they have cooked these at school? And Batswana would love to dine on such foods. I know of one young man who runs a small restaurant at Old Naledi in Gaborone where traditional dishes feature on the lunch menu – his business is doing well. 

Students at school could also prepare motogo, or sorghum porridge, our staple breakfast food. Again, this could feature on breakfast menus at our lodges.

Students may also choose Fashion and Fabrics. Here practical work may consist of making Western-style dresses. That’s fine, but why not get the students to make colourful African prints? Batswana love these but few people make or sell them here. So, with the ability to make such dresses, school leavers could set up businesses making them and so create employment.

Foreign languages could also feature more in senior secondary school curricula. In addition to French, schools could also offer Swahili as an optional foreign language. In fact, Swahili is one of SADC’s four official languages; also, it is one of the working languages of the African Union. This should not come as a surprise since it is widely spoken in several countries – Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, the eastern parts of the DRC, and northern Mozambique, Zambia and Malawi. In all, some 50-100 million speak the language. These days we live in a global village where there is increased contact between people of different ethnic groups.

Batswana, in general, are an insular people and the vast majority may only speak two languages – English and Setswana. To illustrate this, I have often greeted in Kalanga, Setswana speakers in Francistown, which lies in a Kalanga speaking area. Some of them just look at me and ask if I am speaking Afrikaans! But go to Kenya and you may meet people who can speak four languages – English, Swahili, Kikuyu and Luo! Knowledge of foreign languages would help Botswana to increase contact and trade with other African countries.

The curriculum also needs to take into account the needs of those students who will complete their formal education at the end of Form 5. In the 1980s, a technical wing was established at Lobatse Secondary School. It offered, at ‘O’ Level, three practical subjects: carpentry, metalwork and technical drawing.

However, such technical wings need to be rolled out more elsewhere.

In recent years, the Ministry of Basic Education (MoBE) introduced the concept of multiple pathways, as a way of ensuring that the education received by secondary school students is more in line with the needs of the labor market and the economy. Government has finally realised the need to reduce our dependence on mining and to diversify the economy and provide much needed jobs.

And focusing on Agriculture is seen as one way of achieving this. With this in mind, the MoBE chose Agriculture as one of those pathways. They chose Moeng College, near Lerala in the Tswapong Hills, as one school where a hands-on agricultural programme could be rolled out. Reasons for the choice of school include ample land and water and the fact that the school is well established being one of the country’s first secondary schools.

A group of 120 Form 4 students at the school have been enrolled in the agricultural pathway. The project will focus mainly on crop production, horticulture, and animal husbandry here.

Dairy cattle, sheep and goats have already been procured for the project. These days there is much interest in small stock and government has been very active in rolling out its goat initiative and investigating possible lucrative markets for sheep and goats, especially in the Middle East.

Recently, visitors from that part of the world came to inspect the facilities at the Botswana Meat Commission (BMC) abattoir in Francistown where goats and sheep are soon likely to be slaughtered for export.

And another pathway, Hospitality and Tourism, has been introduced at Maun senior secondary school. Without doubt, other subjects will likely follow in the pathways programme.    

However, education is not confined to those formal subjects that pupils study in the classroom! Participating in extra-curricular activities provides a welcome break to sitting in a classroom all day! And they encourage pupils to explore and do things that they are interested in.

But all too often such activities may only involve sports – football, tennis, basketball, volleyball and softball… But the creative talents of our pupils also need to be catered for!

Hence the need for more drama and art clubs in our schools. Students may also be encouraged to contribute to an annual school magazine. Here, they may write features, poems, or take photos for the magazine.

Some students may also volunteer to become members of the magazine Editorial Board. I once was staff advisor for Matshekge Hill Secondary School’s magazine and it was most encouraging to see the enthusiasm and drive shown by students in creating such a magazine! It was a real pleasure working with them.

And I am sure that some of them will be able use their talents to make a living in future. I also was involved in the school’s History club and took pupils to places of historical interest in the Bobirwa region and the south of the country. We also visited some villages where we met up with the local elders to ask them about the history of their settlements.


*Grahame McLeod is a retired educationist.

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