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21 Oct 2018

Some students at the Gaborone Institute of Professional Studies have been boycotting classes. In an interview, students generated a very long list of grievances that in turn generated a longer list of written questions that were submitted to management. Conversely, management refuted all the allegations the students made and levelled its own accusations at the students. To its credit, management cooperated fully with Sunday Standard, giving it unrestricted access to the campus and its facilities as well as a thick folder containing what it said the copies of the lecturers’  CVs. The school’s representatives rounded off detailed explanations with either “BQA has approved” or “BQA has accredited” to make the point that whatever’s students may feel, the one authority in the nation that licenses school is firmly on their side. The Botswana Qualifications Authority’s say in this issue is very important because if, for argument’s sake, there is a problem whose existence BQA denies, officially there is no problem – and vice versa. The Academic Manager, Dr. Olukemi Oluranti Sangodoyin, stressed that organisational audit carried out on the school always include experts. The Centre Manager, Grace Mutero, said that the students want more than what BQA recommends.

Opened in 2016, the engineering school – which is located in railside commercial property in the stockbroker belt of Phakalane – offers three programmes: Advanced Diploma in Automotive Electrical Engineering, Advanced Diploma in Motor Vehicle Body Repair and Refinishing and Advanced Diploma in Diesel Plant Engineering. Other tenants include a church, furniture shop, veterinary surgeon, dentist, gymnasium and insurance company. Issues of contention includes the following:

 

Accreditation

Students allege that the school told them that the programmes they are studying were “fully accredited” when in fact, they were only “approved.” The former is a status that BQA gives “after validation has identified no gaps on the [Education and Training Provider] and the learning programme. The programme can be offered and will be subjected to normal monitoring by BQA.” On the other hand, “approved” means that a programme has been validated against set standards by experts after which the ETP is given permission to offer the programme. After offering the programme for “at least one academic year”, the ETP may apply for the programme to be accredited. It would seem the students missed the full import of “at least one year” (which doesn’t impose a deadline) because they insist that the programmes, which were approved in 2016, should have ceased to run after one year. For its part, management says that “all our engineering programmes are fully approved by BQA.” BQA’s Communications and PR Manager, Selwana Pilatwe-Koppenhaver, did confirm that the GIPS’ programmes are “approved.” The flexibility of “for at least one academic year” means that GIPS can legally continue offering its programmes in their current form for four more years.

“Please note that Education and Training Providers are legally allowed to enrol learners in courses that are registered, approved or accredited under the legacy systems until December 2020,” says Pilatwe-Koppenhaver, by “legacy systems” referring to old systems that were administered by the Tertiary Education Council which has been recalibrated and renamed the Human Resource Development Council.

 

Practicals

The students’ main complaint is that they are not being given practical lessons, which are the main component of the programmes they are studying for. One student claims that he didn’t have the faintest idea of how to perform some basic mechanical tasks during his industrial attachment programme. On the other hand, management took Sunday Standard on a guided of two warehouses that have been converted into engineering workshops. In one warehouse, Everson Chitaunhike, an automotive electrical engineering lecturer, points to a booth with a framed writing board with marking which he says is used to impart quick theory lessons before students do practical work. With a workshop employee’s help, Faith Ngandu, the Head of Department, opens a sealed container to reveal a white car. The car’s paint gives an intense sheen when the workshop employee finds a light switch. Sharma Nitin, the IT Manager, reveals that the unit (called a “spray booth”) was bought for P3 million from Aero-Cure, a reputable South African company that specializes in the manufacture and installation of custom designed, technologically advanced equipment for the refinishing industry.

“This was not bought in China,” he quips.

Students claim that the spray booth, which appears squeaky-clean, has never been used.

 

Training kit

Citing numerous examples, students say that the school is woefully under-resourced. They say that the school provided them with a light-duty tool box as part of the training kit when they actually need a heavy-duty tool box. Conversely, Never Katandavare, a diesel plant engineering lecturer, says that the tool box students have been provided suffices for the purpose of their learning. A written response to a question on this topic says that the same kit is used by “professional mechanics around the country.” The kit includes protective clothing but the students complain that the two-piece suit and boots not acid-resistant. To that, Chitaunhike counters that the students don’t need that type of protective clothing because ‘they don’t work on acid.’

 

Academic pedigree of lecturers

According to the students, “there is only lecturer with a degree, a Motswana” while all the others hold diplomas and certificates. GIPS: “We have a total of 10 lecturers, five lecturers with degree qualifications to teach theoretical modules and the remaining five assistant lecturers teach technical modules and they have vast experience in the industry as already stated in their respective CVs.” From across a small conference table, Sangodoyin hands over a thick folder containing the CVs of lecturers to prove the latter point. The students have grave concerns about the assistant lecturers. Says one: “We are doing an advanced diploma programme and can’t be taught by people with diplomas and certificates. BQA regulations say so in explicit terms.” This is one issue on which the school has painted itself into a corner. While the school contests that BQA regulations allow diploma holders with experience to teach advanced diploma students, Sunday Standard has independently established that in terms of BQA’s regulations, academic qualifications cannot be supplemented by any type of experience. At a minimum, lecturers are supposed to teach an academic level below the qualification that they hold: a PhD holder teaches masters’ degree students, a masters’ degree holder teaches bachelor degree students and a bachelor’s degree holder teaches diploma students. Interestingly, at the precise time that BQA auditors visited the school on April 26 this year, non-degree holders were delivering instruction. Pilatwe-Koppenhaver says that this audit raised certain “non-conformities” which she couldn’t disclose because they are privileged information. On the other hand, GIPS says that the reports “can be accessed through BQA office.” Oddly, Sangodoyin and Mutero exchange puzzled looks when asked about those non-conformities and disavow any knowledge of them.

 

Plagiarism

Students allege that some lecturers plagiarise instructional material online which they then package into lecture notes with absolutely no processing. “When you ask them to explain the notes, they can’t because they are as clueless as we are,” says one student. According to a student, one lecturer didn’t know what an abbreviation from plagiarized lecture notes stood for and the day was saved by a hard-working whose researched filled the information gap. The students are on solid ground on this because they have documentary evidence of such plagiarism. While Sangodoyin and Mutero express shock that such academic crime has been committed, they also point out that the students have never brought this issue to their attention. “We have an open-door policy with our students but we are hearing that for the first time,” says Mutero, adding that the school was hearing about this and some other grievances for the very first time. Sangodoyin states that while harvesting instructional material from various sources (like the Internet) is legitimate and acceptable pedagogical practice, plagiarism isn’t.

 

E-books and library

While students complain that e-books are irrelevant and in short supply, GIPS maintains that “all the e-books are relevant to the area of study and they complement the library text books, this is checked during the BQA audit as well.” Those who went to school before the ICT revolution will literally raise eyebrows at the library - which is wholly made up of two book-filled steel-and-glass cabinets. A day earlier, however, Nitin had explained that increasingly nowadays, educational institutions are moving towards digitization. He says that in addition to the traditional library, the school has decided to invest in e-books which are more convenient because students can access them from their laptops. Mutero adds that the Department of Tertiary Education Funding also gives students book allowance and alleges that the allowance isn’t always spent on textbooks.

 

Computer lab

The school has two computer laboratories, one with 15 computers and the other with 18 computers. Students allege that access to computer laboratories is restricted and that there have been instances when they couldn’t use computers because the power credit had been used up and power supply to the building cut off as a result. “Other units within the building had power but ours didn’t and there was a ‘low cash’ display on the meter,” claims one student. Nitin refutes this claim by stating that the laboratories “are open for as long as the school is open.” He hazards the guess that the incident of the power being used up may have happened only once but no more. The other point he makes is that the Centre Manager always has petty cash on hand that would obviate such problem arising. Prefacing her own comment with “I’m hearing this for the first time”, Mutero adds that the school monitors power usage on a consistent basis and loads up enough power credit to prevent being cut off.

 

‘Freedom’

On first making a list of issues to work through, one of the students cryptically deadpanned with a straight face: “Freedom.” An hour later, he led the discussion on this topic by stating: “We don’t have freedom to socialize freely. You saw what that white woman did earlier?” Earlier, that woman had chased students away from a neighbouring lot, where she is apparently a tenant, accusing them of “loitering” and disturbing tenants. That was apparent to her only because the students were doing neither. The students say that their freedom to socialize as students and as young people during class breaks is severely hampered by the expectations of other tenants – who are older and professionals. Expecting strict adherence to workplace decorum, students says that the latter frown upon student couples kissing openly around the building. According to GIPS, “the space we are operating from is duly approved as a college as required by the law. Students have a common room to socialize though the yard is shared which is not of any hindrance to the school.”

 

Students both on strike and not on strike

If you believe the Gaborone North MP, Haskins Nkaigwa and students, there has been a strike the past two weeks. Conversely, if you believe the school management, there is no strike but a few students are boycotting classes.

“There is no strike at all,” said Mutero in the first week of the class boycott, later adding that if there was a strike, management would have called the police to maintain law and order. “We have never called the police.”

Nkaigwa, who has met the students, expressed astonishment at Mutero’s argument about there being no strike.

“What then does she call what students did?” the MP says. “Students have not been attending classes for five days and she doesn’t think they were on strike? How did she account for their absence in class?”

Plain-spoken both on and off the floor of parliament, the MP described Mutero’s claim that only a few students are staying away from classes as “a lie.”

“The students were on strike,” he insists.

Students returned to classes last Thursday with the expectation that relevant government authorities should take appropriate action.

 

At stake

The future of 103 students and the millions of pula in taxpayer money that is being used to finance the education of these students. It cost roughly P160 000 to educate each one of these students for the entire programme and only three are self-sponsored.

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