Sunday, September 27, 2020

Free education is not sustainable!

Much of this week’s editorial space has been dedicated, in one way or another, to a decision by Government, specifically the Ministry of Education, to scale down on the number of students sponsored from the public coffers.
While we reject the manner with which this decision has been handled, just for the record, we won’t be joining those who dismissively sneer at the principle.

We are of the opinion that free education cannot be sustainable under the economic circumstances facing Botswana today.

Of course, no one can make light of the shoddy conduct of the Ministry of Education over the whole matter.
The casual and appalling manner in which officials therein handled the whole announcement is reminiscent of the one a few weeks ago, which led to students at the University of Botswana going on a strike.

The decision, together with its announcement, failed to capture, let alone underscore, the seriousness of the matter at hand.
The Ministry of Education handled this important matter like they were announcing the score of some school league games, yet this is a weighty matter over which a government can very easily lose power.

That said, the important point is that when school fees are free across the board, it is often taken for granted that it is the poor who are beneficiaries of such a system.

Yet that is so patently not the case.
The true beneficiaries of free education are undeserving children from wealthy families whose parents can afford to pay for their tuition but are, instead, allowed a free ride by government to also get free tuition.
Children from wealthy families should pay school fees, with government only coming in to assist children who are from disadvantaged backgrounds but who, through their extraordinarily high performances, would have demonstrated beyond doubt the merits for government intervention.

Thus, it is a matter of grave sadness for us to observe that Batswana in general are so weighed down with a culture of entitlement and handouts from government so much so that they see it as criminally irresponsible for Government to ask them to pay tuition fees for their children.

Unless something is done to insist on Batswana to pick the tabs on those things that matter most to them, like school fees, this country will, in the near future, collapse under an unbearable yoke of social welfare and excessive socialism.

Handouts have become so internalized and institutionalized that individuals seem to be losing even a sense of what they have to do to uplift themselves and their loved ones.

The tragedy of it all is that it is the people who have the means who are most vocal when it comes to demanding state sponsored handouts.
The poor and most deserving are often drowned out, in the end losing out as resources go to people who are totally undeserving.

The naïve belief, cultivated by successive BDP governments, that diamonds money could not be depleted, has brought us into this mess.
Our government has recklessly cultivated a society where entitlement and welfarism go hand in hand, where everyone expects something from government, without them giving back anything in return.

It is exactly because Government has elected to pay for everyone’s school without any exercise of means testing that Botswana has over the last few years produced semi illiterate graduates from bush colleges including in Europe and the United States, not to mention South Africa, Australia and some parts of East and Northern Asia.
In the United States, brilliant students dream of going to Harvard, Yale, Princeton, or some other such university in that league.
In the United Kingdom, brilliant students aspire to go to some of the finest and most reputable technical colleges. They dream to go to Oxford or Cambridge; their parents pay tuition, of course.

Yet, as Batswana, we are excited and jump over the moon when government sends our most brilliant students to some obscure, bogus college simply because they happen to be abroad.
As Sunday Standard, we have followed with keen interest the unfolding public debate sparked by the Ministry of Education’s rather untidy announcement.
We have been dismayed by assertions by some business people who provide what passes for tertiary education that their schools will collapse and they will be left in heavy debt.
To those business people, we say they made their choices by risking their investments in education.

Like every investor, they should be prepared for whatever consequences that may befall them or their investments. They have no cause for complaint if things do not work positively.
That is sad, but such is life.
At another level, we have also been saddened by insincere rebuttals in the newspapers by the Tertiary Education Council at insinuations and suggestions that Botswana’s standards of tertiary education were declining.

Those of us who are in the real life workplace know what we are talking about when we talk about the diminishing standards.
Many of the students who have graduated in the last few years can hardly put together a properly constructed sentence.

Writing a memo is for them an onerous task that takes hours if not days.
Remarkably, the Tertiary Education Council is headed by a distinguished scholar who spent decades of his career teaching at the University of Botswana at a time when standards at that college were comparable to any in the world, yet he high-mindedly refuses to agree, let alone detect, that the education offered by the many colleges that have since mushroomed in Botswana is below that which the University of Botswana offered during his days as an academic at the university.

In the end, the BDP Government should face the nation and tell them that the Days of Father Christmas are over, even if that may, of course, be at a cost of losing power.

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Sunday Standard September 27 – 3 October

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of September 27 - 3 October, 2020.