As we take leave to celebrate and reflect on the President’s holidays, it is essential that we look back at the chronicles of the public life of our democracy from the birth our nation to the past and current dramatic moments of our political renewal.
Our political and economic freedoms have been among the greatest gifts that God Almighty can ever anoint a nation with especially given the fact that most parts of the world are absorbed in a market of socio-economic and political tensions. The walk of democracy in any given nation-state is never easy and will never be easy because human beings are by nature complex and diverse and the way they perceive the world will never be uniform.
However, in the midst of this calculus, fundamentally it makes sense to always celebrate that which brings us together as a nation rather than the differences which separate us.
We all have a great potential to be architects of the democratic process and it is for this reason that as we forge forward as a nation-we ought to rethink the need to tailor our education system such that it could nurture the production of autonomous citizens who can actively participate in the democratic process.
The future of our democracy lies within the palms of our children today and those to come in generations, hence the need for our education system to help shape them into becoming vibrant spear headers of the process of democracy cannot be overemphasized. Urban (1978:1) observes that education in the one unfailing remedy for every ill to which men is subject, whether it be vice, crime, war, poverty, riches, injustice, racketeering, political corruption, race hatred, class conflict, or just plain original sin. As such, I cling to the faith that education plays a vital role in the reconstruction process of society by bringing in a new social order which cherishes the welfare of the masses. Therefore, it is within the natural realm for any progressive nation to take its education system seriously.
In view of the fact that democracy is one of Botswana’s key national principles, it goes without saying that the learned and the wise graduates we produce should have the confidence to rigorously scrutinize, question and realistically and positively own and or subscribe to the ideas that govern society.
The struggles that societies get engulfed in once in a while compel nation-states to produce citizens whose educational horizons can help ameliorate a crisis by ushering forth reasonable liberal views and conceptions that can help troubled waters come to rest. Therefore, for us in Botswana, our civic education should be molded in a way that contemporary issues pertaining to the democratic theory and governance are covered. Here I am alluding to the fact that citizens should be made to understand the process of democracy beyond just the definition of government of the people, by the people and for the people.
Our current learners ought to be made aware of the fact that democracy is about participatory engagement whereby a dialogue is used mutually to resolve issues and also coming to the understanding that differences of people’s opinions are healthy for the process of democracy more so as human beings we have the autonomy of reflecting on issues diversely. The survival of any process that subscribe to the ideals of democracy should come to terms with the fact that respect for autonomy of thoughts cannot be avoided or be wished away.
Therefore, the process of educating in Botswana should enforce and nourish the ideal that learners ought to be provided with meaningful ways to develop and exercise their intellectual autonomy. Educating for tests and examinations in many instances compromises pragmatic critical thinking since learners tend to focus on passing exams rather than developing their mental faculties to confidently engage each other on critical issues.
Hanson & Rowe share that if an education system is shaped along the lines of deliberative democracy it should make participants acknowledge the autonomy of others and the accompanying fact that they each have a moral stand to hold different opinions on public issues. Correctly so, we have to educate in a way that learners understand that in a democracy the people should be allowed to voice their concerns and that they have to be given equal platforms to engage without necessarily feeling threatened.
Good faith engagement is a crucial factor within the democratic process and let me add that in the event that citizens are educated such that they do not know the essence of critical dialogic engagement-chances are that they will fail to function socially, economically and politically because they will tend to think that the world should only be painted within the spectrum of only one brush.
The good thing about education for autonomous democratic participation is that it trains citizens to partake in societal moral controversy within the classroom discourse and even beyond. If learners can survive those sensitive and uncomfortable moments of discussion, then chances are they are likely to survive operating within a pluralistic democratic setup.
Democratic capitalism and the fever of globalization which we find ourselves engulfed in today as nation-states calls for us to revisit and dichotomize our education system so that it can produce intellectually sound and democratically active citizens who can question issues and also suggest solutions.
The health and the future of Botswana’s democracy is dependent upon new educational policies which would embrace the fact that educating for deliberative democratic engagement is important if at all we are to continue conquering the socio-economic and political turbulences of our time. We cannot afford to produce graduates who are mere bystanders in the democratic process who are deformed in critical thinking.
The vibrancy of the citizenry is what oils the wheels of any democracy. As John Dewey has noted, it is important for every society to devote itself to finding out just what education is and what conditions need to be satisfied so as for education to become a reality and an experience that benefits the citizens and the nation rather than it becoming a mere slogan.
May God Almighty help us as we reshape our education system along the lines of liberal plausible education that empowers citizens to become autonomous active patrons of the process of democracy.
We can shape and reform our democracy today by giving education the due attention it deserves be it regarding students, teachers or policy makers-failure to do so will result in a fading citizenry from the socio-economic and political front.
(Ibo Kenosi is the Secretary General of Botswana Teacher’s Union)