The escalation of figures in the overall budget and in the recurrent expenditures in relation to the Education sector is not motivated by sufficient recognition of the challenges, and therefore will have no significant bearing on the prospective outcomes of the current system.
Kwenasebele Modukanele, Secretary General of Botswana Secondary Teachers Union (BOSETU), said, “This comes out more as a calculated strategy at readjusting to crisis oriented inflationary changes that would otherwise, adversely stifle realization of some initially anticipated projects.”
Modukanele pointed out that it was imperative that government should have made categorical pronouncements as to how they intend to elevate the quality of education and at the same time acknowledge the link between that and the improved welfare of teachers.
He found it unfortunate that while the budget speech alludes to a newly perceived need to employ training and development of skills as an economic development strategy, and therefore increase the education expenditure, no specific mention is made of plans to implement recommendations of the last revised national policy on education (RNPE) which called for a maximum number of 35 students per class per teacher.
On the contrary information passed to the Sunday Standard show that classes in most schools both at secondary and primary education level have an average of 45 students against one teacher. The import of this continued trend is that in the first place, it will not be possible to divide the teachers’ attention adequately among all the attending students, thereby negating achievement of the desired quality output.
So the irony of it all, in the view of the teachers’ union, is that whereas, the appropriate and practicable student teacher ratio is supposed to be 1:35, and instead it stays at 1:45-47 as is the case in many specified schools, the actual ratio of teachers in total against the number of students at any given point ends up translating into overworking of teachers.
The latest Global monitoring report on education for all(EFA) by the year 2015 emphasizes that for the same reason that countries must ultimately ensure that children in each locality find a school within easy reach, the quality of education is equally inseparable from the student teacher ratio.
“Thus, we feel that even before we discuss the merits of the education budget, the welfare of teachers should have been given due consideration as it impacts very directly on any envisaged innovation in the sector,” posited BOSETU’s chief executive.
Paradoxically, according to Modukanele, it would suffice to consider the same logic that challenges presented by two teenagers in a single family should naturally make it a questionable spectacle keeping more than 2200 teenagers in an environment where they have been disproportionately distributed, and still expect sanity to prevail.
The idea of building state of the art colossal structures which are later vandalized due to unmanageable class sizes was criticized as being incompatible with belt tightening, as opposed to small schools of not more than 1000 students, which make the recurrent expenditure in education worth its value.
In addition to this deplorable student teacher ratio, the union expressed concern that there are some schools where the students’ choice of subjects is restricted, such that some special subjects are not at all available, because there are no qualified teachers to deliver on the particular subject groupings.
Another factor that also baffled BOSETU about the budget was government’s decision to exclude the public sector unions from the budget processes despite professing democracy and consultation in her manner of doing things.
Consequently, the unilateral move to pronounce on issues that verge on salaries, in particular the decision not to increase teachers’ income despite 2007 market recommendations by consultants to make a 30-35% adjustment was questioned, whereupon the authorities only decided to go as far as 15% then.
“Specific and chosen parts of the work force have, however, since been given increases, e.g. upper management in the E salary scales and above in November ,2007 and a year later, through the scarce skills exercise, which for reasons only best known to Directorate of Public Service Management(DPSM) thought teachers were not worthy of this benefit,” Modukanele lamented.
Despite common knowledge that the budget was conceived under difficult circumstances, the union maintained that the increase of VAT and other levies, amounted to searching and taking from workers pockets, especially given the fact that their salaries remained unchanged.