Batswana children from poor families start falling behind even before their first day at school because government does not have early childhood development programs to give all children a head start.
The World Bank and BIDPA assessment report points out that, “there is solid international evidence that early childhood development programs benefit poor children and families.
This is supported by a two decade long research study showing that an early childhood surrounded by books and educational toys will leave positive fingerprints on a person’s brain well into their late teens. The study found that the more mental stimulation a child gets around the age of four, the more developed the parts of their brains dedicated to language and cognition will be in the decades ahead. “Early stimulation, enrollment in early childhood education and in pre-primary school, and participation in other learning and school readiness activities help children to develop and to perform well when they enter primary school.”
Children from poor families however do not have the benefit of early childhood development because pre-primary education in Botswana is not free as it is mostly provided by the private sector. Pre-primary school enrolment is estimated at 18.9 percent in 2010/11. This means that about one in five children do not attend primary school, believed to be mostly from poor households. This compares badly to the enrollment rate of 65 percent in South Africa and even higher in Botswana’s Latin American income peers. The recent review of progress towards the implementation of Vision 2016 concluded that “early child education is not seen as a priority.”
The problem is not helped by the fact that some of these children never make it to school at all.
Although Botswana has achieved very high rates of primary school enrollment 11.4 percent of children aged 6 to 12 about 32,380 who were expected to be enrolled in primary school were not. According to the report, some of these children are from families that cannot afford to send their children to school. “Indeed, one MESD (Ministry of Education and Skills Development) official indicated to the team that child labour is still a problem in some areas. A representative of the NGO Marang Child Care Network indicated that street children are a visible occurrence in some cities such as Gantsi. These children are on the streets during the day but return home at night.” The 20009/10 BCWIS found that 5,152 children aged 12 to 14 and 35,448 teens aged 15 to 19 were economically active. A recent World Bank study reported that in Botswana, in one and a half of the families surveyed, children were left home alone on a regular or occasional basis. Fifty-two percent of families leaving children home alone relied on other children to help with child care.
As Vision 2016 points out “in many case, parents are exercising a rational choice over whether or not to send their children to school. The introduction of universal schooling must go hand in hand with the improvement of socioeconomic conditions to the point where children are no longer viewed as an essential source of labour or income for poorer families, or girl children used to care for younger siblings when their mother works.