Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Technical and vocational education is the best hope for Botswana

As is the case with infrastructure development, the Botswana government has, over the years, gone full lengths to spend enormous resources on human resources.

That is commendable. Given the amount of resources so far spent in developing our human resources as a nation, we cannot help but give credit to the Government of Botswana.
Education is the best opportunity a country can give to its citizens.

Experience from East and West Africa teaches us that even as national economies collapsed, negative effects tended to be immensely mitigated in instances where a sizeable proportion of the population had been trained with life skills, gained through education.

In Botswana, we know how, over the years, the country has literally had to live off the skills of the East and West Africans.

That situation continues to this day, especially in the area of engineering and architecture.
In the meantime, the East and West Africans exported to their countries the much needed foreign currency to sustain their families and countries.

From a handful of graduates at independence, Botswana is now said to be oversupplied in other areas like humanities. It’s time to change the focus.
The trend shows that the countries that will be most successful in future as to effectively participate in the world economy are those that have already started training their young people in technical fields which are increasingly in short supply across the globe.

The world is experiencing an acute shortage of engineers, mechanics, machinists, artisans, doctors, plumbers, builders and related craftsman.
These are the areas into which Botswana government should be channeling its resources, attention and focus.

What we need now is to build more vocational institutions across the country to produce cadres trained in such fields.

Of course, because of our history, resources will also have to be spent in changing our mindset towards vocational education.

For historical reasons, Batswana have always looked down upon vocational training.
It holds true that, in the past, the students with the best grades at high school were encouraged to go and study such subjects as law and humanities at tertiary levels.

That has to be changed.
The Ministry of Education has to impress upon students at a very early age that the future of a successful and fulfilling career no longer lies with the white collar kind of job attained through a certificate in soft arts but rather in blue collar job which one can only land by way of going through a vocational institution.

To achieve this, government has to start taking the best and brightest students to vocational colleges and related institutions. In short, we have to reverse our history.

Because of the mindset, it may prove difficult to convince students that technical training is the future, in which case real life incentives may have to be introduced for those who buy the government story line that technical training is where everyone should be headed.

We note that with reassurance that government is planning to build a multi-billion Pula technology university in Palapye.

While that is commendable, we hope it will not derail the government from a comprehensive parallel programme of building technical colleges across the country.

Given the trend of the global economy, we cannot emphasise enough the importance of these colleges together with Brigades that were started in the 1960s.

We can only hope that government will, in the interest of this country’s current and future human resource needs and planning, redevelop a new and energised interest in the Brigades movement.
Recent reports indicate that countries like China and India, which are, at any rate, going to become world economic power houses in the next few decades, expend their resources towards training more and more of their people in technical skills we have just alluded to.

Botswana should emulate China and India in that regard.

Of course, it may not be easy when it comes to setting up the necessary infrastructure.
But we know that in the past development partners like the European Union have come in handy in helping finance the building of world class structures, such as the state of the art technical college in Francistown which, for some strange reasons, is underutilized.

The Botswana government should, once again, approach such partners with a clear vision of expediting the process of producing technical human resource base that will take this country to another level.

Shortage of trained skills is an issue we can no longer afford to skirt around.
Coming to think of it, technical education can now be used as an economic diversification tool to replace the increasingly shaky mining base which seems to be approaching its sell by date.


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The Telegraph September 23

Digital edition of The Telegraph, September 23, 2020.