Who is accountable for the problems in education?
Efforts of hundreds of dedicated staff to turn the education system around from the old colonial Dame School type of institutions to ones where students really learned to achieve understanding, insight and various skills associated with acquiring, assessing, challenging and absorbing knowledge are now being overturned due to circumstances beyond students' and teachers' control.
For years teachers have been working, both in Colleges of Education and at the chalk face in classrooms, to improve the transfer learning in schools at all levels. The struggle has been to go from formalism and rote learning, to a real involvement and learning by reading, writing, research and discovery. Now this is being turned backwards.
In 2010 junior secondary schools had enough books for every student in every classroom to have one copy. Students could take their schoolbooks home. They could have time to read and study them. If their siblings, parents or other relatives and friends were interested, they could discuss what they were learning with them. In 2011 the situation as to the provision of schoolbooks to students in junior secondary schools began to collapse. Now in 2012 it has become worse. Personal sets of schoolbooks are no longer available. Students are lucky if there is one book for five to 10 students. Schools are no longer allowed to order full-class sets. As a consequence no learners are allowed to go home with books. The quality of proper homework assignments is being eroded.
Where students each had proper access to educational materials, the teachers could use these textbooks as a foundation and go beyond them to stimulate the students and present issues for further study. World Bank studies of education in developing countries have found that the provision of school textbooks is the most critical factor in improving the quality of education.
In the absence of schoolbooks teachers are pushed to fall back to using the notes they took when they were students, writing them on the chalkboard, and those students who were able to obtain notebooks, would be forced to write down what the teacher regurgitated from the past. Gone are all the efforts to promote progressive learning; teachers are now embracing formalism and teaching methods many of them may have left.
It is worrisome. How are the students from this type of system expected to compete in a globally competitive world?
Teachers are being forced to go back to teacher-centred teaching and learning methods, rote learning as opposed to student-centred approaches and discovery methods, which are advocated in the policy documents such as Revised National Policy on Education. The skills being developed again are the old ones of the teacher writing on the chalkboard and students copying into their notebooks.
Students, parents and the wider community have received no communication about this situation. The Ministry of Education and Skills Development has yet to be transparent about these problems. Communicating about this would call for more stakeholder involvement in finding solutions to this problem and curbing the effects that the students, the future generation of skilled workers for Botswana would face. Botswana has already been concerned with investing in its human resource, indicated by an increase in access to tertiary education, however, with the current situation in schools the quality of education is being compromised. This crisis situation calls for crisis management and immediate stakeholder intervention and involvement.
In the old days students could learn in academic schools through other methods. Often it was through student clubs, societies and sporting activity assisted by teachers. The work-to-rule eight hours for teachers means that extra-curricular activities have died away. Gone are debating, ballroom dancing, music, journalism, music, art and other clubs and societies unless some students have the drive and ability to organise something for their peers.
Some teachers and parents are noting that a gap between the quality of education of private and public schools is widening. Poor and lowly paid parents are struggling to find alternative educational opportunities for their children where they believe they will have a real education and chance to a better life than theirs.
In Botswana it appears that private schools will become the oases of progressive education while the public schools continues to regress.
In the next Issues we will look at the death of progressive education and the rise of new formalism around the world.