Friday, June 21, 2024

Botswana mysteriously obtains high quality-of-education score in SDG report

In the very year that BCL Mine shut down, effectively turning Selebi Phikwe into a ghost town overnight, a Canadian think tank adjudged Botswana to be the best mining jurisdiction in Africa. As fly-by-night universities churn out thousands of unemployed and unemployable university graduates, the 2023 edition of the Sustainable Development Goals Report shows that Botswana has a high quality of education. Following the adoption of the sustainable development goals in 2015 by the 193 United Nations member states, a body called the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDNS) was created under the auspices of the UN Secretary General.

On an annual basis, the SDNS publishes the Sustainable Development Goals Report which reviews progress made each year on the implementation of the SDGs. SDSN recommends that national pathways should include six key transformations, one of which is universal quality education and innovation-based economy. The Network says that this transformation requires a massive increase in investments in quality education and in science and technology innovation systems. “Providing quality education (SDG 4) for all children is perhaps the single most important key to achieving sustainable development in the long term. The UN General Assembly’s Transforming Education Summit held in September 2022 was a critical meeting to spur national and global efforts to transform education to give all people the skills and knowledge to end poverty, protect the environment, and build peaceful and inclusive societies,” reads the introduction of the latest edition of the Sustainable Development Goals Report.

The score for quality education factors in the following: participation rate in pre-primary organized learning of children aged 4 to 6, net primary enrollment rate, lower secondary completion rate and the literacy rate of the population aged 15 to 24. The colour-coded dashboard for the latter is green and is scored 97.5 percent, signifying that the SDG has been achieved. Oddly, within the stated category are secondary school and university students. The pass rate of the best-performing school in the Botswana General Certificate of Secondary Education (BGCSE) examinations is typically below 50 percent and given that students missed substantial learning time in 2020 and 2021 due to Covid-19, it is more than likely that the pass rate was dumbed down to accommodate the severely compromised learning.

The tertiary education situation is even more troubling. Successive editions of the Global Innovation Index show that while Botswana is Sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest spender on education, the country continues to produce fewer innovation outputs relative to such spending. The World Bank’s review of Botswana’s education has found that there is low student achievement; that decision-making in the education system is fragmented with responsibilities divided among many ministries, resulting in lack of clear prioritization within education spending; that despite the favourable fiscal situation, there are still significant shortages of textbooks and school infrastructure; and that budgetary data is often not disaggregated at regional level, making it impossible to separate school spending from other categories. The Bank also found that in the Southern and Eastern Africa Consortium for Monitoring Educational Quality (being 15 Ministries of Education that have joined together to improve the quality of education in their respective jurisdictions), Botswana performs around the middle “despite being one of the richest and most developed economies”; that in an initiative called Progress in International Reading Literacy Study and Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (Pre-PIRLS),  “Botswana is amongst the worst performing participants.”

Pre-PIRLS is an international assessment that monitors trends in student achievement in mathematics, science, and reading. More than 70 countries participate in these assessment, which has been conducted at regular intervals since 1995. In response to the Pre-PIRLS finding, UNICEF has observed that “the weak performance in Pre-PIRLS indicates that learning deficits start early – this strengthens the case for improving Early Childhood Care and Development and pre-primary education and paying much attention to teaching basic reading, writing and arithmetic well in the early school years.”

In the early 2000s, the government embarked on an ill-fated process to privatise tertiary education. The result was that some senior ruling-party politicians ruined and are still ruining the lives of young people by conniving with gamblers, most of them Asian, who roll dice in the education sector and win big. The Tertiary Education Council (which has been renamed the Human Resource Development Council) was supposed to ensure that students received quality education but to date, there are still complaints of how a majority of private-sector universities, which generally occupy as little physical space as possible, are gaming the system and cheating young people out of their future. Some lecturers at these fly-by-night universities have been infiltrating some other universities posing as either tutors or students in order to gain access to and steal instructional materials that they themselves don’t have.

Despite Botswana Qualifications Authority requirements, lecturers at one too many fly-by-night universities hold only a junior degree and pursue a master’s degree after getting a job. They pursue the latter on a part-time basis at anyone of the several universities in Gaborone that offer such programmes. As students, they are availed of all resources a university has – including comprehensive instructional materials. That is when they strike. “They plagiarise lecture notes they are given in order to develop modules for programmes they teach at their own universities,” says a source familiar with this scam. Some of these universities circumvent stringent BQA accreditation by partnering with universities in foreign countries whose qualifications are recognised in Botswana. The problem with this arrangement is that educational standards at these universities are not locally monitored and being thousands of kilometres away, these universities don’t monitor the local instruction that they award academic qualifications for.

In 2018, a final-year Advanced Diploma in Diesel Plant Engineering student at one of these universities told Sunday Standard that he wouldn’t be job-ready when he completed his programme in seven months. The student added that during his industrial attachment programme with a marquee Gaborone company, he couldn’t perform certain basic mechanical tasks (like timing an injector) that he should have learned at school before being sent out on attachment. Of late, prominent politicians (notably cabinet ministers) feature as speakers at the graduation ceremonies of these universities. This marketing validates educational institutions – such as they are, which are precipitating a crisis whose harm to the nation is beginning to show. Despite these and many more defects in Botswana’s education system, the Sustainable Development Goals Report adjudges Botswana’s education to be qualitative. While Africans tend to value western rankings, all too often they doesn’t reflect the reality on the ground. In the very year that Selebi Phikwe suffered economic collapse it has yet to recover from as BCL Mine was shut down, Fraser Institute in Canada ranked Botswana as the best mining jurisdiction in Africa.

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