Remote-area children ‘humiliated’ not educated - UB academic
by Bashi Letsididi
A University of Botswana lecturer, Dr. Nkobi Pansiri, has revealed that practically all students who graduated from two remote-area primary schools into junior secondary schools subsequently dropped out in Form 1.
Pansiri made this stunning revelation when addressing teachers at the Primary Sector Leadership Forum Botswana Sector of Educators Union in Gaborone last Thursday and later identified the schools in question to Sunday Standard.
In the first case, of eight pupils who graduated from a primary school in Xaxa into Sekgoma Junior Secondary School in Tsau, six later dropped out and that was only half the sad story.
Pansiri, who is the head of the primary education department at UB, says that the cohort numbered 22 at Standard 1 but 14 dropped out before reaching Standard 7. Xaxa is a settlement in Ngamiland. In the second case, a cohort at Artesia Junior Secondary school that had graduated from a boarding primary school in the settlement of Khurutshi in Kgatleng also dropped out in Form 1.
“There are many more such cases especially in remote-area settlements,” Pansiri says.
In almost all such cases, the students are Basarwa who would be interacting with “Batswana” for the first time and find it extremely difficult to fit in, he adds. In the Xaxa case, all the six children who dropped out are Basarwa while the two who stayed on are Bayei. Besides inability to fit in, Pansiri says that the design of Botswana’s education system sets up these children for failure right from the start.
“A learner who knows that he is going to fail examinations ends up dropping out to avoid such humiliation,” he says.
What he cites as the main obstacle is the use of foreign languages (English and Setswana) as media of instruction for these learners. His elaboration on this point is that Botswana schools have no method of teaching Setswana as a second language against a situation where some learners - like Basarwa, use it as such. He adds that even in colleges of education, student-teachers are taught to teach Setswana only as a first language and not as a second language. In the case of primary schools, the syllabus is designed in such manner that by March, Standard One pupils should have “broken through” - be able to read and write in Setswana. Pansiri says that this is a tall order for learners whose mother tongue is not Setswana.
“As late as July they still haven’t broken through because they are still struggling with Setswana and even by the end of the year, they have yet to master the language. That notwithstanding, they proceed without basic literacy skills and along the way they just drop out to avoid the humiliation. What they get is humiliation, not education,” the UB academic argues.
In his speech to the Forum delegates, Pansiri asserted that the “quality of education is as good as the quality of a school” and he identified completion rate among learners as one of the main determinants of such quality. On the whole, he said that at less than 20 percent of A grades, Primary School Leaving Examinations results of public schools from 2004 onwards languish between somewhere between “stagnation and decline.” Pansiri said that in Okavango and Gantsi areas, A and B passes have been stuck between 9 and 11 percent.