When the Minister of Finance read out his budget speech last Monday, it happened that, not for the first time (and hopefully not last) the Ministry of Education received a lion’s share of the appropriation.
Botswana’s education system has a long way to go. It, therefore, is in order for government to channel a significant portion of the national resources into education.
But then we should quickly add that money alone is not enough.
Over and above money, imaginative leadership is going to be an integral ingredient for Botswana’s education system to emerge from the abyss into which it is currently gliding.
The Ministry of Education has lately been getting itself involved in a behaviour that, under normal circumstances, would pass out as either cheating the public or telling the nation outright lies.
The case in point is the school fees issue.
Before elaborating on circumstances surrounding the re-introduction of school fees, it is worth noting that of the entire government bureaucracy, the Ministry of Education is the one ministry that enjoys the biggest manpower base in terms of political leadership. The ministry is run by three political leaders. This is not to mention a host of Permanent Secretary level staff.
The Ministry has a senior Minister in Hon. Jacob Nkate, who is assisted by two deputies, Honourables Moggy Mbaakanyi and Peter Siele.
No other ministry enjoys this high generosity in concentration of cabinet ministers.
When Siele was added to the contingent during the last cabinet reshuffle, we ululated.
We thought time for delivery was upon us.
That has not been the case.
Resources at the Ministry of Education have not been matched by an improvement in quality of service delivery?
It is not a secret that there is a groundswell of disillusionment among Botswana students studying abroad. That disenchantment has come back to local institutions as shown by recent class boycott by students at Gaborone Technical College.
Parents and guardians are also up in arms.
There is ample evidence to prove that schools where students are sent to outside the country are not properly assessed.
This leads to students being sent to second class institutions which, in turn, lead to government losing a lot of money that could be spent wisely elsewhere.
There is also no proper audit of how many students on government bursaries are actually sent abroad.
This leads to loss of money as some students go without allowances while others are paid more than is due to them.
Aware of the lapses, education attach├®s at various embassies and High Commissions are also helping themselves to government money.
Owing to poor structures and lack of supervision from the centre, service providers, like accommodation and medical aid providers, are having a field day ransacking the government coffers.
Moving to the quality of education itself, a lot is still to happen on this front.
Rather than progress, Botswana’s education quality has taken a big leap backward.
The country is today not only producing an army of semi-illiterate graduates from the University of Botswana; the scope and direction of our education policy are also not in tandem with industrial human resource needs of the country.
Hence the contradictions of so many graduates roaming the streets unemployed while various economic sectors have many unfilled vacancies.
The situation is worse in the technical fields like engineering, craftsmanship and other artisanship.
Wedded to the past of giving white collar office work undue recognition and prominence, the Ministry of Education continues to blindly give undue preference to students studying soft arts at the University of Botswana vis-├á-vis their colleagues at technical colleges.
The disparities in treatment between these two cadres are appalling.
The amount of resources spent in students at the University of Botswana, many of whom are studying courses that have become irrelevant to Botswana’s economic needs, is disproportionately astronomical compared to those spent on students at technical colleges on whose skills the economy will have to be re-powered if we are to go up another level.
Talk of misplaced priorities!
We call on the Tertiary Education Council to intervene in as far as advising the Ministry of Education as how best to utilize its budget with the sole aim of meeting the country’s manpower needs.
While we abhor the manner in which the students of Gaborone Technical College recently went about in registering their gripes with government, it has not escaped our attention that many of the grievances as outlined by the same students are not only true and honest but also valid.
The Ministry’s carefree attitude is responsible for the failures in meeting the schedule of the much anticipated second university earmarked for Palapye.
We urge the Ministry of Education to also move to address the simmering tensions at the University of Botswana; tensions that are rife among both the students and the lecturers.
More importantly, there is need for a second look at the semesterisation curriculum currently adopted by the University of Botswana.
The disenchantment among the University of Botswana Lecturers can be directly traced to the Ministry.
These are serious issues which cannot be resolved by getting the bulk of the government money.
There is need for intuitive and imaginative leadership.