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When secondary school leaving examination results were announced last month, Shoshong Senior Secondary School emerged just two notches above the bottom of the national rankings.
It has been a fall from grace that has been felt from afar.
For former students of the school, many of who are now holding plum jobs in the civil service, the sense of alarm was all too palpable, not least because many of them have retained sentimental attachment to the school. Former students could not believe that the school that has always inspired so much pride among them had degenerated into the pit of the national pile. Among all of them, gasps of disbelief permeated every watsapp group conversation.
“We were more embarrassed than disappointed. Over the last few years there were signs that the situation at our school was deteriorating. But somehow, perhaps out of denial we continued to believe that things would get better. As it is it turned out worse,” said one former student now working in the civil service.
There is nothing unique about the results of Shoshong Senior.
If anything the school’s latest results are a microcosm of a national average that has been on a downward spiral for the last ten years now.
With a pass rate of 13 percent, results of Shoshong Senior School crystallize a much bigger problem that has been allowed to fester unattended for far too long in of Botswana’s education system; down-at-heel facilities.
The eyesore that the decay at Shoshong causes has not gone unnoticed by the authorities.
Area Member of Parliament, Dikgang Makgalemele admits that the school condition is a source of embarrassment.
He says something is being done about it.
But there is not much encouragement on the ground.
Ahead of President Ian Khama’s recent visit, only the school hall was refurbished, said a teacher with knowledge of inner details.
“Because the president did not tour the school he left without even half an appreciation of the situation he had just moved into,” says the same teacher at the school.
The hall where president Khama had his meeting is an island of fine décor, surrounded by broken furniture, broken windows, dysfunctional toilets and trash all over.
The science labs not too far away are the worst affected.
With ceilings and fitted cupboards literally falling down, it is difficult to see how science experiments that are part of the form grading system are able to happen inside such broken woods.
At the classrooms learning takes place in a hopelessly chaotic environment.
There are not enough chairs and not enough desks. Some blackboards, initially stuck to the walls have come down.
Hostels have been reduced to cesspools of stench, with dirty water and sewerage slime and sludge flowing all over as a result of broken pipes.
Litter is all over. And when we visited it was clear that the dustbins had not been emptied for months.
Sewerage water snakes around dirt-clogged ablution toilets and showers.
And to get to their toilets students have to hop their way over the stinking cesspool.
Built in the 1990s the school was at inception one of crown jewels of a secondary school education that was reaching heights. It has been over 25 years and nothing resembling a renovation has happened since.
Similar schools were built at Ghanzi, Matsha and Masunga.
Other than for ox-blood face bricks that have retained their colour, there is nothing to prove that this was at one point the pride of Botswana’s then burgeoning education system.
We talked to a few teachers and they are resigned to the tragedy that is their works.
“Across the country schools are in a state of disrepair,” said one teacher who did not want to be named. “But this school is at an altogether different level,” they added.
The problems at Shoshong are not limited to dilapidated infrastructure.
Morale among teachers is almost non-existent.
During break time we had a chat with a few of them. And it immediately became clear that at least for a good number of them, they have stayed in their jobs because there is no other alternative.
This is the situation across the country.
The teaching profession has been so battered that it no longer inspires the kind of pride it used to do among professionals.
People do it not out of love but because there are no other options.
“Turning around our education system will take a lot more than increasing salaries and rebuilding schools. Teachers have to start believing in their profession again,” says Mr. Molelekwa, a retired primary school teacher.
For both the teachers and the students the mood is despondent.
For students the same mood swings between despondency, despair and ill-discipline.
It’s all reflected in their unmistakable lack of self-discipline; unkempt hairs, disorderly uniform attire and general behavior that is not conducive for learning.
During classes students can be seen loitering around, some of them with headphones listening to music playing out from their ipads and tablets.
Teachers do not bother to rein them in.
It’s a free for all as everybody goes about with their business.
Botswana Police Superintendent Tawana Tawana of Shoshong has confirmed that his station is currently investigating a case in which an intruder was killed by students after he broke into the school dormitories sometime last year.
The case shocked the village but did not make much new into the national mainstream media.
Under the circumstances entering the hostels might have been easier for the killed intruder because the hostels like many classrooms do not have windows – just broken and hollow aluminium frames.
When results were released last month, Shoshong Senior School emerged among the worst performers; third from the bottom – out of 34 national schools. The school had a pass rate of 13 percent.
City Mafa, alumni of the school is disheartened by what has become of his alma mater.
“The infrastructure is horrible. There is no doubt that the state of the school has a direct influence on the results of students. I have been there no long ago and the conditions are not at all good for learning,” says Mafa, now a practicing architect.
Mafa’s view is shared by the chairman of the Parents Teachers Association, Seemela Lehika who doubts if performance can improve until the facilities are amended.
“How do you think the students will pass under these conditions?” Lehika asks rhetorically.
Reiterating what we saw, it is the laboratories that are most affected.
Additional Reporting by Reuben Pitse