Friday, June 21, 2024

Schools must not be used as political platforms

Politicians use donations as an essential part of their political campaign. Such donations take different forms such as food, blankets, or they could be party branded merchandise. Politicians are cunning and calculating individuals. They rarely donate to individuals out of sheer benevolence. Their donations are seeds which at some point must bear fruit. They understand that human allegiance is largely purchasable. There is rarely free lunch in politics. After many years of experience, they know that gifts, donations, or presents can alter individual perceptions. They can be used to endear a politician to the voters. In this country we have seen the previous president use food, specifically diphaphatha and soup, as well as the distribution of blankets amongst the poor and disadvantaged, as part of a political campaign. Go ithatisa batho is an essential part of politicking. And in Botswana, as in many African countries, this is achieved, not through clear policies and service delivery, but through food distributions, donations, and gifts of all sorts.

It is therefore essential that in currying favour with the voter, politicians must stay clear of school grounds. Schools and all learning institutions are teachers and learners’ sanctuaries. They must be shielded from the political tussle between all political parties and their operatives. Both the students and staff should not be politicized and turned into pawns in a sophisticated political game of various national political players. Their principal role must remain learning and teaching respectively. We should avoid a situation where one headmaster with a certain political persuasion invites operatives from his party to use school grounds for political campaigns, while another headmaster blocks operatives from a certain party from coming into the school ground to campaign. That certainly cannot be right. Politics and politicians must stay clear of school grounds. This doesn’t mean that teachers, headmasters and students don’t have a political view; however, it does mean such political activity should be exercised outside the school grounds. Teachers, students, and school management must all focus on education without any political interference from politicians.

I should not be misunderstood. I am not against politicians and any individual for that matter contributing to schools to the advancement of education. All national and international organizations, businesses and individuals should be encouraged to contribute to the improvement of national quality education. There is therefore a need to rethink how such gifts and donations are handled so that that they are not used as propaganda material. It appears to me that to protect schools from being political battlegrounds and to ensure that donations to schools are not misconstrued as political campaign, all donations should be made directly to the Ministry of Education and Skills Development so that only ministry officials can deliver such donations to the benefitting schools. The ministry officials will therefore make such donations to a school without accompanying journalists and television cameras which have recently turned school grounds into a circus. This proposed arrangement will literally kill the public campaigning in schools and yet allow the politicians to continue contributing to schools minus any political circus. While the giver of gifts will be acknowledged in the school, they will be denied the opportunity to campaign when the gifts are handed to a school. It must be acknowledged that many politicians have a long history of working with schools to sponsor school events. For instance, there are many politicians who for many years have donated cattle, goats, or sheep to many school prize-giving day events.

Such politicians have made these contributions without any media frenzy. They have quietly made donations to assist institutions in their own constituencies. These donations should also be allowed since they are not accompanied by press conferences and media pomp that attempt to trump up support and attention for the politician. The politician who make the donation does so like any responsible member of the community. He is not driven by any desire for media attention but by a sense of civic duty. The second proposal is hereby crafted in the following manner: All donations made to schools made to a school by any individual, society or organization should be made to a school head and should be received without any press conference or media attention. The donation may be acknowledged publicly in a school, but the school head should be wary that such acknowledgment is not made to promote any political, or religions grouping. The proposals as outlined here are not exhaustive but as a way to curb political campaigns on school grounds. Indeed, the proposals may be attacked by some, as it has already happened.

However, what is important is for individuals and organizations to propose strategies of dealing with political campaigns in schools through donations. We must not deny that politicians use donations to schools for political gain. Rather we must acknowledge that such an activity is fraught with multiple problems. To deal with these challenges, proposals have been put forward in this article. I am keen to hear alternative proposals to how we can eliminate political campaigns in schools through donations.

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