Sunday, June 23, 2024

Education is the most important and critical resource

Dear Editor

Education is the most important and critical resource in any given economy.

It is of paramount importance that education should be well resourced and managed by people who understand it and have passion for its growth. Political interference has badly affected the quality of Botswana education for years now. The Van Rensburg’s Education with Production is a case in point, where his great ideas and proposals were sidelined due to his alleged affiliation to the opposition Botswana National Front. His practical and theoretical approach could by now have taken Botswana to greater heights and made Botswana self-sustaining and independent. As a nation, we now look back at his proposal in shame and regret, and do not know how to embrace it now. The time is ripe again to review our education and give it a new lease of life. The nation has to rise and radically call for a systematic and professional review of our education system. The country has relatively good infrastructure which unfortunately has not been properly looked after. We also have experienced professionals in education, and due to petty political interference, numerous School Heads and other teachers were constructively dismissed. And the authorities stated that there were many other teachers who can be promoted into leadership position.

Experienced and committed School Heads resigned in large numbers while they were still in their prime years. If High Court Judges are allowed to retire at 72 years, we should therefore appreciate that School Heads in their 50s and 60s can still impart a lot of knowledge and experience and should be retained, retrained and strategically utilised to improve our education system. Most developed nations have those in all sectors of their economy. BOFESETE (and now BOSETU), strongly believed in education and its importance to the Botswana’s economic, social and political sectors. BOSETU still preaches the same.

The organisation has argued that education can effectively help fight poverty and unemployment. A well educated citizen can create opportunities for self sustenance compared to someone who is poorly educated. An educated citizen can try out many business portfolios and has more confidence than one who is not. An educated person can easily become a global citizen and therefore move out of poverty and unemployment circle. Most families were poor at independence and we all know what education has done to them!

Education can drastically help fight diseases like HIV/AIDS; TB; etc. An educated person is more enlightened and appreciates different diseases. Education helps dispel a lot of myth and ignorance and helps one to read and research more on diseases. Most educated people today google to understand diseases and their causes; for medication, its side effects and so on. We all know how complicated the health system is in terms of diseases, medication, staffing, etc. Education therefore plays a crucial role in the fight against diseases.

All the social ills that are fast increasing especially crime can be fought through good education. Most criminals indulge in criminal activities due to poor education which has led to poverty and unemployment. A well educated society can reduce crime levels.

Education should therefore be at the centre of national development as it has more advantages. There are no shortcuts! Teachers’ welfare has been pathetic in Botswana. Motivated teachers are badly needed for good education. The 1994 Revised National Policy on Education (RNPE), which was the best policy, was poorly implemented, leading to the current poor standard of education. The policy did warn that “teachers can make or break the system”. To avoid that, the policy called for a package of incentives for teachers, but 20 years down the line, the packages are not forthcoming! The teachers have called for better salaries and clear progression; they have called for decent accommodation; for overtime payment and 26 days; reasonable class sizes; full salary when on further studies; clear nominations for further studies; etc. Deserving teachers should be recognised and even fairly promoted. In service workshops and subject associations have been key to quality education in the past. Most newly employed teachers go for years without such workshops. Even the old horses need refresh courses in all areas ÔÇô subject content and management. The workshops help to provide modern management skills, quality tested content, teaching and learning pedagogies and methodologies. So at the centre of good quality education, the teacher’s morale and skills should be seriously considered.

Professionalism is equally critical at the centre of quality education. The Teaching Council should take off as a lot of work has been produced. The draft document is collecting dust and should have long been presented to parliament. With incentives in place for teachers, high standards of professionalism should be expected and those not fitting should be procedurally removed.
Ironically, Parliament has given education a lot of money annually for years now and millions had to be returned! The European Union also gave the Botswana Government close to billions of pulas (if not more), in budget and infrastructural support. In addition, they even sponsored the Ministry of Education to come up with incentives for teachers. Despite all the efforts, the education system is instead fast going down the drain!

The citizenry must rise for good education to be realised by this beloved nation. It is unreasonable for the nation to be ‘shocked’ every year by the poor national examination results and not doing anything about it! The results next year will be bad again, unless something drastic is done!

Civil society organisations should seriously help bring change and do something about it. Petitioning the Office of the President should be the beginning for the call to change. Peaceful demonstrations and petitions are a democratically accepted practice, as we did see the President accepting the Francistown West bye-election petition. The petition should call on the OP to among other things:

1. Institute a high level team of local and international professionals to review, benchmark and advise on our ailing education system. Our education is bad Mr President and the recent Cabinet School visit was a non ÔÇô starter and cannot solve the mammoth problem.

2. Create a sound, practicable and reasonable curriculum.

3. Create a package of incentives for teachers which should include separate and good salaries; decent and free accommodation; an acceptable student-teacher ratio; remuneration for qualifications beyond first degree (Masters and PHD); Full salary when on Full time study; good incentives for rural teachers; transparent transfers and further studies nominations; clear progression routes; etc.

4. Expedite the Teaching Council to help promote professionalism within teaching. Quality standards and principles should be upheld for the nation to move forward.

While the President does not like trade unions and will have them wiped out should he win the forthcoming elections, he should seriously engage them to reconcile the costly differences. While we are afraid of the current State President and the government agents for fear of losing our jobs, promotions, tenders, and other related good opportunities, we are seriously committing a crime of betrayal, especially for the coming generations. A peaceful demonstration is the lowest civic action by the CSOs and citizenry as litigation and regime change should follow. Let democracy and free speech thrive!

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