The life-long learning cycle that the National Human Resource Development Strategy (NHRDS) puts at the centre of driving the human resource development agenda for Botswana was made simple in a response to Reginald Richardson by the former Minister of Defence, Justice and Security, Dikgakgamatso Seretse. He said: ‘Ipelegeng is a stop-gap measure and cannot permanently sustain people’s livelihoods.’ I laughed when Seretse broke down issues into simple, but intelligent manner by borrowing the metaphor of a water tank (drum), where water is drawn but none is pumped into the drum. ‘In the end, you have an empty drum,’ Seretse said.
The subject of the water tank is not far from the water pipeline that I have employed two weeks ago to explain how our education system needs to be watertight that the leaks around the pipeline are sealed. Let us talk of the recent abomination ever witnessed in the history of this nation with respect to the results of the form five students. Never before has this nation recorded such high failure rates, at least not in any immediate past when I was intelligent enough to understand the difference between pass and failure. Every citizen is certainly praying and hoping this sorry history does not repeat itself. But others with keen eyes would tell us that this eyesore was long in waiting, given the grade D students who get pushed up through forms one to five.
Honestly, what were we hoping for? They ask rhetorically. Imagine 42, 697 primary school leavers certificate candidates in 2014 with only 65 percent accounting for grades A, B, C and D. That means 35 percent or 13, 600 thereabout have dismally performed in their standard seven examinations. If you study closely the years preceding 2014, the pattern is consistent that quite a large chunk of failed students met their fate as survival prospects dimmed before their eyes. In fact the trend is consistent at junior secondary and senior secondary with a total cumulative average of 32 percent who are not absorbed into junior high school, senior secondary and it rises even sharper when it concerns vocational and tertiary levels.
Put simply, these youngsters over these years have gone ahead to elongate the Ipelegeng scheme that was intended as a temporary social safety net while sustainable means to life could be explored. Men and women wake up to embracing Ipelegeng as a source of livelihood hence it is treated by many as a job because of the monetary incentive they draw from it every month. But Seretse is right, pretty soon this water tank shall be empty. Where else could these failed students go to earn a living besides enlisting on this scheme? The NHRDS’s model of a life-long learning cycle therefore is relevant in this context in that it merges with the principle of capability poverty which suggests that poverty is not just the lack of material wealth, but that for the most part, it deals with intellectual deficit. While food hampers, clothing and other material needs alleviate poverty, we cannot graduate from the condition unless we have the skills and education that prepared us to withstand the bitterness that life may throw our way ÔÇô precisely what the Chinese proverb is famously known for: don’t give a man a fish, rather teach him how to catch fish!
Our daughters and sons who failed in such large numbers according to the recently released results will be scrambling over a rake or spade with fairly older people who enlisted in the Ipelegeng scheme some years back. This extension of the Ipelegeng pipeline surely means that the life-long learning cycle is shortened and more of our people concentrate on the ‘stop-gap measure’ to borrow Seretse’s phrase, viewing such a program as what the doctor ordered for cure. This attitude is dangerous for a developing economy as ours. Just like we know that a solution to the problem of HIV and AIDS is not the supply of the anti-retroviral drug therapy because of its cost implications, Ipelegeng’s budget keeps ballooning and therefore unsustainable in the long term. The solution is to capacitate these boys and girls through capability poverty strategy that opens up their eyes to the reality that beyond failure in a national examination, there is life that they can pursue to enrich themselves and remain relevant.
The form five results point out one thing: we are sitting on a ticking time bomb because as they slug it out for Ipelegeng yet nothing substantive comes out of their participation in the scheme, these youngsters are hardened into criminals who shall visit all forms of social vices on the law-abiding citizens. Obviously our prisons don’t have the capacities for every offender we pick from the streets, thus we end up with a much worse situation soiling our hands. It is now that the subject of the past three weeks of ensuring a watertight pipeline from the foundational education blocks in pre-school through post-graduation are maintained throughout every stage of the learning cycle.
We definitely need to think fast enough to engage these youngsters in extra-curricular activities where they can learn a vocation that shall assure them a loaf of bread on a daily basis. It may be bricklaying or tapping into their creative minds to paint or sculpt something to earn a decent livelihood. The results cannot be blamed on one individual or Government! Like the Permanent Secretary Richard Matlhare stated on national radio: the results are indicative of so many things gone wrong ÔÇô hence we need to take those factors one by one and address the weaknesses with the view of finding a permanent remedy. What remains true though is this; the whole nation failed these students by not paying attention to the multi-faceted factors that have borne the results we are ashamed to accept as our children’s.
From now onwards, let every family do something about paying attention to what their children are learning and consistently offer support. Let the churches infuse sermons that are uplifting to the children to show them the wisdom of learning from those that have longer life experiences. Let the schools first and foremost be safe learning environments, and the teachers act as moral torchbearers of those whose lives are entrusted in their care on a daily basis for long hours on end. Let communities get together and fashion out support groups where the unfortunate students are moulded and turned into songstresses, dramatists, praise-poets, girl guides and boy scouts, all these pursued in the spirit of guiding them that failure is not when people trip and fall down, rather; it is when people are not able to rise and dust themselves up to overcome challenges. These mentorships shall intellectually enrich the young minds and thus dissuade them from destructive ways of viewing life.
The Human Resource Development Council (HRDC) as the driver of the NHRDS is interested in all these interventions because to develop the nation is multi-dimensional: equipping people with vocational skills to perform tasks so they can fend for themselves.
Everyone should find it easy to admit that with such high rates of failures from the 2014 Botswana General Certificate of Secondary Education (BGCSE) results, the pipeline has not just leaked this time around; we are flooded after a massive pipe-burst and that it is upon us as the nation to seek ways to stockpile our individual taxes to order a whole new educational pipeline that shall ensure that we have a solid hard foundational block in pre-school and throughout the continuum. This is what the NHRDS Life-Long Learning Cycle is about.