Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Universities fundamental to Botswana education strategy

The African Union adopted the Continental Education Strategy for Africa (CESA 2016-2025) as the framework for transformative education and training system in Africa. The strategy has so much relevance than ever to the development of Botswana.

The Continental Education Strategy for Africa 2016-2025 is mainly driven by the need to achieve high-quality, high-equity education system and training that provides the continent with “efficient human resources adapted to African core values and therefore able to achieve the vision and ambitions of the African Union”. 

The (CESA 2016-2025) comes at a time when inadequate education is one of the critical issues facing Botswana. Currently, Botswana’s education system appears ill-equipped to prepare all young people for the future. Good literacy and numeracy skills are important foundations for future learning, but these are only a starting point, not an end point in education. Education needs to go beyond using achievements in literacy and numeracy as principal benchmarks. 

Simply put, Botswana has not fully grasped the importance of education to the individual and the nation. Until and unless Botswana grasps the concept that knowledge societies are driven by skilled human capital, equitable education, accountability and leadership, then there is likelihood that we will always fall in the annual exams trap.

Among other things, the Continental Education Strategy for Africa urges African governments to honour their commitment to spend 1% of GDP on research and to create “conducive environments” for research and innovation by providing adequate infrastructure and resources. According to CESA, tertiary education provides an environment for the development and exploitation of science, technology and innovation to support sustainable growth and development. This improves competitiveness in research, innovation and entrepreneurship. Unfortunately, Botswana just does not have a culture of innovation and what needs to happen is that culture needs to change. We need to recognise that to gain big, we’ve got to invest in big cultural-changing ideas. Education is indeed a key but it must be comprehensive, well thought out and fundamentally, it must be centred on learning rather than teaching. 

In this strategy paper, tertiary education and research have been given more stress than in previous education statements, reflecting the African continent’s realisation of their importance to growth and development. Concerning tertiary education, (CESA 2016-2025) stresses that: “All development players now concur that for any meaningful and sustainable economic growth to be realised and sustained, tertiary education must be centrally placed in the development agenda of nations.”

However in Botswana this falls flat on its face because most private providers of vocational and technical education are just interested in profit and care less about the quality of training they provide. To put it bluntly, Botswana must not build the tertiary education sector under pressure like most African countries, but as part of its priority strategic development plan, as in the developed countries.

It is quite concerning that Africa’s education pyramid has a broad base of 79% participation at the primary level, a 50% participation at secondary level and 7% at tertiary level. This results in the education sector failing to articulate with economic and social sectors, resulting in inequalities and exclusion at all levels. These confronting numbers demonstrate why we need our government to rethink how our education system caters for students, especially tertiary students. Despite the amount of money invested in education over the past years by the Botswana Government, student outcomes have barely shifted. It seems the results are becoming worse.

Botswana must as a matter of urgency heed the call and strengthen universities and research as espoused by the new Continental Education Strategy for Africa 2016-2025. There is also need for more international research cooperation and expanding centres of excellence and institutional links.

Despite reasonable growth in tertiary education in the past two decades, enrolment across Africa still averages at only about 7%. According to CESA strategy, Postgraduate education remains underdeveloped and its contribution to research and innovation remains minuscule. Worryingly, tertiary education in Africa is also faced with an aging population of professors and trainers. This is a clarion call for Botswana to renew the teaching force.

For Botswana to achieve meaningful and sustainable economic growth, tertiary education must be centrally placed in the development agenda. We must change our education system – review what we teach, how we teach and assess it. The future economies will no longer reward people for what they know but for what they can do with what they know.

Needs-based funding has an important role to play – but dollars alone are not a guarantee of success. We need to secure an affordable funding model and shift our focus from funding to transforming the education system. We must provide educational opportunities for all and in doing so build the talent that this nation needs now and into the future.

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