Sunday, May 9, 2021

Tertiary education ‘not a priority’ in Ministry

A report by a South African think tank describes an uncommonly chaotic situation in the Ministry of Education and Skills Development (MoESD). Not only are successive permanent secretaries at the Ministry said to lack the expertise to assess technical reports submitted by experts of the Human Resource Development Council (HRDC), they also don’t place high enough premium on tertiary education issues. The study that makes these revelations was conducted by the Centre for Higher Education Transformation (CHET) when HRDC was still called the Botswana Tertiary Education Council (BTEC).

An unnamed interviewee “described how the lack of expertise in the Ministry often led to delays after the BTEC had drafted a policy or given policy advice, because there was no one in the Ministry to assess it and decide on a way forward.” The CHET researchers audio-taped the interview and the words of the interviewee in question are transcribed as follows: “[The Ministry needs] a moderator of what we submit, but there has been that gap. And as I say, it has been good for us in the sense that it gave us a lot of space and even penetration into the Ministry to talk to the ministers.

That has been good. But when it comes to our recommendations, it has caused a lot of delay because there was nobody to sit and say: okay this is what is right; I agree with them here but I don’t agree with them there, and advise the Minister accordingly. So that is the technical expertise.” At the time that the interviews were conducted, a Tertiary Education Unit had just been established a month earlier.

That notwithstanding, a respondent argued that tertiary education was still not yet a priority in the Ministry. “You will find that at all the levels of education ÔÇô pre-primary, primary, secondary ÔÇô they have departments, and you will find that in the department that deals with higher education there is nothing. So issues of higher education, we take them directly to the [Permanent Secretary (PS)] and then to the Minister. But you will find that it is not even a priority for the PS. We really struggle. I will give you an example: it is several years since we submitted the funding model to the Ministry and they still haven’t tackled it,” the respondent is quoted as saying.

The point about lack of substantive focus on tertiary education has also been made by the Research, Advocacy and Communications Unit of the Trainers and Allied Workers Union (TAWU) in a paper it published in February 2013. Referring to Africa in general, TAWU said that there was undue emphasis on basic education (primary and secondary education) which does not educate for the labour market.

“The Dakar Summit on Education for All in 2000 advocated only for primary education as a driver of broad social welfare neglecting the higher education. Higher education is mostly not prioritized within development initiatives because of the old ideology that there is no evidence that higher education affects economic growth and poverty reduction,” TAWU said, quoting scholarship that some early economists hypothesised that higher education may contribute to social unrest and political instability.

“It can be suggested that Botswana still holds the old ideology of putting more emphasis on basic education. This is typical of post-colonial development where the initial emphasis was to replace or takeover the colonial administration. For instance, in the 2013/2014 budget proposal, P1.18 billion was given to MoESD from which P997.4 million is allocated to expansion of basic education alone.”

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