In what may leave opposition parties feeling vindicated the UN Special Rapporteur, Farida Shaheed, has emphasised the need for adoption of other indigenous languages in the education system. Shaheed says there is growing worldwide evidence that using mother tongues in the initial years of learning significantly increases the quality of education.
“It allows children to learn and develop life skills as well as self-esteem,” she says.
Opposition parties have throughout their campaigns leading up to the recent general elections stated as part of their manifestos, the need for incorporation of non-Setswana indigenous languages into the education system.
Shaheed’s observations are contained in a preliminary report which will be presented at the 28th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in March 2015 in Geneva.
She says despite the government’s good intentions to promote and accommodate all indigenous mother tongues in the education system as evidenced by the 2001 National Policy on Culture, the intentions have not translated into concrete implementation.
The Vision 2016 document states that “Botswana’s wealth of different languages and cultural traditions will be recognised, supported and strengthened within the education system.” The document goes on to state that no Motswana will be disadvantaged in the education system as a result of a mother tongue that differs from the Botswana’s two official languages (Setswana and English).
“It is through language that culture is communicated to future generations,” the document states. Shaheed says however that the implementation policy is uneven. “Several key provisions remain largely unimplemented such as those relating to the documentation and further development of languages; the acceptance and respect of other cultures as integral parts of the national stream as cultural diversity does not imply a homogenous culture; the reorientation of cultural practices and values to achieve a society culturally supportive of the rights and status of women.”
Shaheed says the current system further disadvantages children in remote areas who have no or minimal exposure to Setswana in their families and communities. This, she says, is especially the case of pupils residing in hostels.
“I am, however, encouraged by the fact that teachers’ aides have been introduced in Ghanzi and elsewhere. I recommend that in places where it is needed, more robust measures must be taken to ensure that language is not an obstacle to learning.” She stresses the importance of measures being formulated on the basis of research results and analysis of the Department for Curriculum Development and Evaluation.
Throughout the 13 day visit Shaheed has observed that many Batswana feel excluded from the ‘main’ society and lack recognition of their cultural heritage and distinct way of life, including of their own historical narratives.
She visited Gaborone, Maun, Ghanzi, Dkar, Old Xade, New Xade, Shakawe, Ramotswa, Tsodilo hills as well as several other villages along the Okavango Delta. She held meetings with government officials, traditional leaders, artists, academics, civil society representatives, and the Ombudsperson. The purpose of her visit was to identify, in a spirit of co-operation and constructive dialogue, good practices in and possible obstacles to the promotion and protection of cultural rights in Botswana. She addressed key issues such as the rights of individuals and communities to participate in cultural life by accessing, taking part in, and contributing to cultural life in all its facets. This includes enjoying and having their cultural heritage recognised through participation in the identification, interpretation, classification, and stewardship of heritage as well as expressing creativity in the areas of artistic expressions, sports and culture.
Shaheed took her functions as Independent Expert in the field of cultural rights in 2009 and continued as a Special Rapporteur on the same issue following the Human Rights Council Resolution 19/6.