Sunday, February 28, 2021

Another exam crisis looms

Botswana faces another examination crisis, this one much worse than that of last year, unless the Ministry of Education moves swiftly to address the backlog resulting from the recent public sector strike.

While the Ministry of Education maintains that teachers have agreed to work overtime to offset the backlog, teachers unions are adamant that they have no such agreement with government.

Instead, unions are up in arms that government continues to disregard their recommendations on how the backlog and lost time can be offset to prepare students for examinations due in four months.

Botswana Sectors of Education Trade Union (BOSETU) told Sunday Standard that they still have disagreements with government and Botswana Examinations Council (BEC) on the issue of remuneration of teachers for course work, invigilation and marking of exam papers.

Last year, the disagreements led to a crippling exam crisis that was replete with flouting of exam rules, leaking of exam papers and an eventual dismal performance by students.

“6000 of our members participated in the 8 week strike, which has put students at risk of losing out on course work marks as projects in subjects like Design and Technology and Agriculture are still lagging behind,” said BOSETU’s Deputy Secretary General, Tobokani Rari.

Worse still, teachers are threatening not to do any course work assessment if government does not up their remuneration from last year’s P15 to P35 per project per candidate, plus another P450 standardisation fee. While the two have entered into a tentative agreement, teachers have vowed not to lift a finger until government signs on the dotted line.

“As a means of offsetting the debilitating effects of the strike, government has resolved to cut school holidays from four to two weeks, introduce weekend classes and pay teachers overtime,” Education minister, Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi, said recently.

In addition, educational programmes will be introduced on Btv, while BOCODOL and BEC have been asked to distribute supplementary material to assist students with revisions.
However BOSETU has rubbished interventions as short sighted.

“There is still no agreement on remuneration for invigilation. We want P150 per paper, but government is refusing to budge. We also have no agreement with BEC on remuneration for marking. Parents have to note that government is busy twiddling her thumbs and hoodwinking them into thinking that she is addressing this problem,” said Rari.

BOSETU has also asked government to relax the suffocating public sector laws to enable them to work freely and vigilantly to address the backlog.

“Teachers are willing to work. They just want to be paid for their efforts,” said Rari.

BOSETU has also asked government to reverse the no-work-no-pay policy and refund teachers the monies deducted from their salaries. They also recommended that teachers should work extra hours, during weekends, school holidays and public holidays to offset the backlog.

BOSETU dismissed the government policy of overtime as a pipe dream as public servants are allowed to work one extra hour per day as overtime. The current backlog can only be offset by 10 extra weeks of education.

“The overtime policy can only yield 1 hour per day, which translated to 1.5 periods per day, 7.5 periods per week and 30 periods per month. This falls short of meeting the required 10 extra weeks of school work,” said Rari.

BOSETU has since asked government to allow teachers to work 26 days a month instead of the current 22 days. Through that policy they will have 2 extra hours of work every day, which translates to 20 periods per week, 80 periods per month and the requisite 10 weeks of learning.

“But government continues to disregard our advice. We want parents to understand that we have the interests of students at heart, but our efforts are being scuttled by government’s intransigence,” said Rari.

In response, MoESD’s Nomsa Zuze said her ministry has nothing to do with the reversal of the no-work-no-pay policy as it is the preserve of DPSM.

She, however, concurred that negotiations with trade unions are still ongoing and they have not signed any agreement yet. She dismissed accusations that government is dragging her feet, saying they must first interrogate issues before rushing to sign agreements.

Meanwhile, teachers are crying foul that students will be the biggest losers as time is running out for them.

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