Friday, July 30, 2021

Ministry’s Plan, policy should have prevented Molefi Senior Secondary School incident

If the Ministry of Basic Education (MoBE) spent millions of pula putting together a comprehensive plan to ensure the safety and security of learners in schools, why did teachers at the Molefi Senior Secondary School in Mochudi digitally milk the sight of a female student in great pain for every second of its social-media value?

For the sake of memories that need jogging, the incident in question is captured in a video clip that shows a girl writhing on the ground in what looks like excruciating pain. Her school uniform and hair smudged with dust, the girl is desperately asking for her mother. The number is unclear but two or three teachers are following her around, one filming the spectacle with a camera phone. A lone male voice, which is bereft of any note of urgency, is heard to casually, sarcastically deadpan that the student must have enjoyed whatever illicit substance she had taken. The deadpanning complements the general lack of urgency that the teachers bring to what, with each passing second, looks every inch like a life-and-death medical emergency.

An educational plan that was developed with the assistance of the European Union should have prevented this spectacle. Called the Education and Training Sector Strategic Plan (ETSSP), it was to be implemented between 2015 and 2020. Like one too many beautifully-crafted plans from the Government Enclave, the Plan was an another opportunity to pour millions of pula down the drain and move on to another multi-million pula plan that would also not be implemented. 

The overall goal of ETSSP’s Programme 7 is titled “Improved Security and Safety of Children in Secondary Schools.” This Programme’s overall goal is “to ensure child and youth security and safety in all secondary schools” – all schools, including Molefi Senior Secondary School. Two of the outcomes include the establishment of a national policy, guidelines norms and standards on school security and safety as well as school security and safety inter-sectoral committee at each primary school integrated with members of the community and government agencies (like police, social department, health, bogosi and civic society).

By now, each individual school should have established a school security and safety inter-sectorial community with members of the community (police, social department, health, bogosi, civic society, family etc.); developed and established a national policy and guidelines on school security and safety; developed school security and safety norms and plans with the security inter-sectorial committee; trained the school security inter-sectorial committee and of regional staff on issues of prevention and intervention strategies that meet school safety needs; trained school staff on issues of security and safety of children; conducted annual risk audits and assessments for school safety and security; developed a communication campaign on the security of children and of care facilities; and be holding an Annual Forum on School Security and Safety at the regional level.

The bogosi (inherited traditional leadership) mentioned on the Plan’s to-do list has come into the picture but in a way unrelated to the ETSSP framework. Addressing a kgotla meeting in Mochudi last month, Basic Education Minister, Fidelis Molao, encouraged Bakgatla Regent, Kgosi Bana Sekai, to continue dispensing doses of quasi-judicial corporal punishment in effort to mould the youth. The Plan’s main architects wouldn’t approve of corporal punishment because going back to the 1970s, the European Court of Human Rights has progressively condemned corporal punishment of children in a series of judgments.

Within the ETSSP is recommendation for the establishment of “an effective and efficient Teaching Council for Botswana.” The Council will set the standards and competency frameworks for teaching staff in the country. By 2017, Teaching Council policies, guidelines and systems were to be fully implemented, reviewed and improved; by 2018, 50 percent of teachers would have been licensed by the Council; and by 2020, “all” teachers were to be licensed by the Council. The Teaching Council Act has been promulgated but the Council itself is not yet operational. The standards and competency frameworks outlined in the Plan would have provided precise guidance on how the Molefi teachers should have handled the incident in question. Likewise, it would have provided on sanctions to be applied when teacher-members deviated from the Council’s code of ethics. If the teachers were found guilty, one possible penalty was striking them off the roll of licensed teachers.

There is yet another document with an even more self-explanatory title: the decades-old Learner Protection Policy which provides much more comprehensive protection for learners, including the protection of life and limb. The basic principle of this policy is that learners must always have the benefit of doubt – which was contradicted by the attitude of the Molefi teachers that the student was getting just her desserts for drinking ethanol to get high. Oddly, the status of the Learner Protection Policy is akin to that of a state secret because even teachers themselves can’t get their hands on it. Some teachers have never even heard about it.

As described above, the situation has forced individual schools to arbitrarily implement policies that are dissimilar and in some cases, unlawful. In the particular case of Molefi, it has been alleged by the Botswana Sector of Educator’s Union that the school management has, outside privacy laws and codified policy, authorised teachers to film incidents of student indiscipline. Photographs, films and other recordings of individuals constitute personal information and protected by privacy law in the same way as any other personal information. School policies are supposed to comply with the law and any filming of students outside these legal parameters exposes both the Ministry and the officials involved to grave legal risk. What happens outside the law and official policy also exposes school managers to personal liability because all policies they implement in schools should have official sanction. 

All this happens at a time that student indiscipline has reached a historic high. At Madiba Senior Secondary School in Mahalapye, a male student has assaulted a teacher in front of other students and hundreds of kilometres away in Moshupa, a group of male students went on the run after threatening to kill a teacher. Not too long ago, a student hauled before a school disciplinary committee for kicking a teacher said that he couldn’t understand what the fuss was all about because he had actually been unsuccessful in what he had intended to do – “castrate” the teacher. “Ke mo hositse,” he said nonchalantly, meaning “I missed.”

As part of broader uptake of western culture, MoBE officially recommends behaviour modification techniques from the west and has made caning wayward students a process so complicated it almost requires a project management plan with its own Gantt chart. Home-training by parents and guardians is another debacle because this training also borrows from western culture. However, at this point it is clear that “Junior! Go to your room!” or assuming the role of a civil aviation authority by “grounding” a problem child as punishment is never going to work. The Ministry knows this full well and Minister Molao did in Mochudi, is unofficially urging traditional leaders (like Kgosi Bana Sekai) to do its “dirty work.” That is because its officials know that the cane works better than western-origin Guidance and Counselling. One excellent demonstration of that is that when Kgosi Kgafela’s age-regiments set out to rein in lawlessness in Mochudi, student lawlessness at Molefi dropped to below zero percent. Oddly though, neither the ETSSP nor the Learner Protection Policy acknowledge this fact.

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