Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Japan shakes up Botswana

Very few Batswana have heard of Shoko Inove. That is not surprising. She is not exactly signing autographs, but when the history of Botswana’s education is written, she is likely to be up there, jostling for the pride of place with the country’s best and brightest.

From a humdrum classroom at an obscure primary school in Kanye, the bow legged short and sturdy vicenarian with a quick smile is blazing a trail through the country’s education order.

The Japanese volunteer may not have planned to light a fire under Botswana’s education system when she signed up with Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) to teach mathematics at Legaba Primary School, but she is on the cusp of a silent revolution that may shake up Botswana.

“There is a magical rapport between her and the children. We have seen a marked improvement in our math results in the few months that she has been with us. I wish we could have another volunteer like her”, gushed Tiny Batsalelwang, the school headteacher.

Shoko is the teacher of the moment, an education phenom, one of the most discussed and sought-after mathematics teachers in the country right now.

The Ministry of Education Special Support Services Education Officer responsible for the Southern District a Ms. Botshabelo revealed that “Shoko’s innovative teaching technique is so effective that we have asked her to conduct workshops for math teachers in the district.”

The Ministry of Basic Education has also noted pupils’improvement and learning interest in math and science.

At first glance, this may not look like such a big deal, but Shoko and half a dozen of her compatriots teaching in different parts of Botswana are actually storm troopers of a quiet revolution. 

Botswana has one of the biggest income disparities in the world, and the division between the “have’s” and the “have nots” begins early. For thousands of Batswana children sitting behind their desks in classrooms, the difference between a life of promise and a life in peril hinges not on their potential but on the quality of the education. The country has a longstanding issue with economic disparity in education. Botswana’s school system is socially segregated. The best academic resources and teachers are snatched up by well-to-do families in cities to nurture their children.

This leaves children from rural villages and lower-income families with little access to high-quality education. Often times, they end up on the wrong side of a lifelong gap in employment, earnings, even life expectancy.

Shoko and scores of volunteers teaching in rural public schools have the potential to correct the lopsided education system that favour the rich, level the learning playing field and actually make education “the great equalizer of the conditions of men”, capable of lifting less advantaged children and improving their chances for success as adults.

JICA has in the past two years dispatched six mathematics and science Japanese teachers through the Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteer (JOCV). These are just a small part of JICA’s “perfect storm” chasers who are deployed to harness social, and economic winds that are blowing all around us – to achieve sustainable change.

Japan is convinced that instead of throwing money at Botswana’s problems, it can bring its skills and expertise to bear in a more productive way.

Mmoloki Masole from the Ministry of Local Government and Rural development can not stop waxing lyrical about JICA’s creative use of professional skills and time to solve social problems.

He should know better. After a JICA sponsored training stint in Japan, Masole is now pioneering a ground breaking project that will revolutionize the way Botswana relates with trash. To use his words, “Botswana is sitting on a waste ticking time bomb.” Mmoloki is not just scaremongering, he has compiled a paper complete with statistics and official data detailing how Botswana risks chocking in its own dirt unless something is done. As Botswana’s income and spending power continue to rise, we consume more goods creating even more waste. For example, the greater Gaborone area which has a population of 326206 according to the last population census, generates about 77392 tons – 212 tons of waste a day and is running out of space to dump it. “South Africa has closed its recycling markets for Botswana waste, our landfills are rapidly filling up and there is no space to site future landfills”, he says.

With the help of JICA, Mmoloki has since January 2019, started piloting a project in the Greater Gaborone area, to turn the huge waste we produce every day into money-making products. It’s such a brilliant idea that will profit our pockets and the environment at the same time.

In an interview with Sunday Standard, Mmoloki spoke about his plan to set up a “sound material cycle society.” His action plan is “to facilitate setup of waste reduction, reuse and recycling partnerships in Gaborone, Tlokweng and Mogoditshane by improving local authorities, central government, recycling companies, communities, NGOs and JICA.” Under the pilot project which will run for 36 months from January 2019 to 2021 Mmoloki will among other things, “conduct a waste generation and composition study under the ongoing waste to energy feasibility study project.” He will also collaborate with research institutions to conduct waste reduction, reuse and recycling survey in Gaborone, Tlokweng and Mogoditshane. “This will include conducting a recycling market survey.”

Mmoloki is one of 349 Batswana who have trained in Japan under JICA between 2014 and 2018.

During the period, 208 Japanese experts and 169 experts were dispatched all over Botswana to help in primary school education, community development, sports(softball) social work, waste management and vocational training.”

JICA does not only offer technical assistance to Botswana, but also “sustainable loans.”

One recent freezing Wednesday afternoon I was at JICA offices in Tokyo, with Takashi Ooka, Director General Africa Department and Komatsuzaki Yoshihisa, the Africa division Special Adviser discussing Japanese aid to Botswana. I quickly learnt that you do not mention the A word in the company of Japanese officials. “We do not speak of aid. Aid suggests giving by the rich to the poor. We speak of international cooperation which is joint work by equals” Ooka corrected me.

They explained how the Botswana-Japan international cooperation is tailor made to dovetail with Botswana’s Vision 2036, National Development plan 11 and the country’s Millennium development goals.

The discussion on international cooperation then veered off to the Kazangula bridge project.

As it turns out, once the bridge is complete, it will be much cheaper, faster and easier for Batswana to do business with regional countries through Kazungula.

Currently the Botswana, Zambia border post is an endless long an unforgiving queue of heavy-duty trucks. “It takes seven to 10 days for the trucks to go through the customs process before crossing over from Botswana to Zambia. But once the bridge is complete and the customs procedures are harmonized and simplified, it will take only a few hours for Botswana trucks to cross over to Zambia”, explained Yoshihisa.

The multi-million-dollar bridge, which is sited at the African quadripoint where Botswana, Zambia, Namibia and Zimbabwe meet along the Zambezi River near Kazungula border post, started as a bilateral project between Botswana and Zambia in 2014.

Zimbabwe was brought on board as a stakeholder in March 2018 after the country’s current President Emmerson Mnangagwa sat down with the then President of Botswana, Ian Khama, and Zambian President Edgar Lungu and later toured the project site.

The Kazungula bridge as well as the OSBP which is targeted for completion in 2020, is expected to link and open up markets for over eight African countries.

As the first wave of vehicles and pedestrians begin to use the new bridge, the regional economy will receive a much-needed boost through increased traffic through the north-south corridor, a key trade route linking the port of Durban in South Africa to Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Mozambique, DR Congo, and up to Dar-es-Salaam in Tanzania.

The facility will effectively serve as a gateway for goods from landlocked Zambia and Botswana to the afore listed countries straddling the north-south corridor, a geographical zone of about 279 million people, larger than the populations of France, Germany, the United Kingdom and Spain combined.

When completed, the bridge and one-stop-border-posts facilities will enhance regional trade, spur increased global competitiveness due to reduced time-based trade and transport costs, and reduction of transit time for freight and passengers from between three to eight days to less than half a day.

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