Tuesday, September 28, 2021

How grade-grabbing has defiled Botswana’s education system

“My son got A stars in all his subjects. This one is going to be a doctor”, that is the usual laudatory remark from proud parents waxing lyrical about their kids who get good grades.  Getting good grades is considered a surefire route to a good career, but is it?

Dr Kgomotso Jongman, a lecturer at the University of Botswana and founder of Jo’Speaks in Gaborone says, “The structure of our education system essentially begins at home. At home, we are never trained to give learning as an appreciation of knowledge. We are often asked what do we want to be when we grow up and that question alone starts a down spiral. When kids get to school, they associate qualification with jobs this is why our education system is based on memory more than on actual implementing. This is evident in the way test questions are setup. When students are asked to apply themselves and what they have learnt it becomes a challenge to them. Furthermore, it is again evident when a student finishes their first year, they sell off the material they used that year because to them they are done and finished. It is engrained in kids from a young age at home to cram and not learn. Parents aren’t giving their kids the opportunity to read widely on a variety of things for them to see that there is a lot to learn outside of Mathematics and Science which most parents highly value. Parents are guilty of pushing the “what do you want to be” (which is a role you want to become) and not “who do you want to become which encourages a child to discover the best version of themselves. The formal education system is created to count how many students got an A and a B, after which it concentrates on those and neglects on the Cs and Ds which have skills that can be used on nation building. “

From a very young age, Batswana children are taught that good grades trumps everything. Because grades matter more than learning, students readily copy homework off each other. Not because they don’t want to learn it, but because they don’t have time to learn it and copying the answers is the only way they would be able to get a good grade. Botswana’s civil service and private sector is led by university graduates who went through a system that encouraged good grades even by hook or crook. For decades, cheat sheets have been part of Botswana’s tertiary education culture. The genteelism of these cheat sheets has been evolving over the years to reflect the pop culture and lingo of the period. In the 1990s and early 2000 these cheat sheets were called Mopako or Skaptin in the later years they were re-christened “Hard Drive”.

Too often, the value of education is shunted aside as students are focused on pleasing lecturers and parents or impressing potential employers with the GPA on their report cards rather than actually being educated. As a result, the Mopako and Drive culture have become as much part of Botswana’s tertiary education as textbooks and lecturers.

Sophie Pogiso a Form Four Social Studies teacher at Kgari Sechele Senior Secondary School in Molepolole says good grades are the be all and all for most students with absolutely no care for actually learning. “Unfortunately, this is a culture, socialization. Kids are taught that they should have good grades to pass to eventually get a good paying job and live a good life. I think with private schools it is slightly different than government schools, the students enjoy and love learning and they apply themselves. The school system is sadly flawed in that they are concerned with good results and it shows in an instance when students fail your subject you are chastised. The truth behind schoolwork for most students is that many don’t care about learning the actual curriculum itself but rather what will get them that A on the test or what they need to do or know to pass? Yes, there are students that actually learn it as well as get a good grade, but most often, people learn what they have to just to please the teacher or get that good grade. Students are programmed to just worry about numbers rather than what they are learning. Working hard will inevitably produce good grades, but what is learned during the hard work put in for those good grades can produce a feeling of accomplishment that lasts a lifetime.”

Blaming the kids however would be unfair seeing as how they are only adapting to the circumstances set by the school staff and parents who also play a big role in students losing sight of the true purpose of school. Many students argue that grades don’t determine their intelligence, claiming that the students who get good grades aren’t necessarily the smartest. You can cheat your way out of school and your grades will show you that you’re the smartest person but are you really? But it doesn’t matter right just as long as it shows you are. Just like grades, a standardized test doesn’t really show how capable you are. It is a way for colleges to see how well students will do compared to students at other schools. Many kids however, have a hard time handling the pressure of tests and grades while balancing other things outside of school. The reality is, tests create stress, some kids do well with a certain level of stress. Other students fold. Unfortunately, this issue goes beyond the walls of the classroom and starts at home. Parents are quick to encourage their kids to get good grades and test scores forgetting that grades do not define their children’s intelligence. The amount of emphasis placed on grades in the educational system pushes many students to a point where they forget grades do not define them. Instead, they should remember self-definition comes from the process undertaken which actually includes learning. This remains one of the most undervalued goals in varsity education. Value now is placed on the number of A’s achieved, the degree and the amount offered in the paychecks following university.

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