Thursday, May 23, 2024

WHEN A NATION HAS A SHORT MEMORY

In law, it is said that context is everything. Consistent with this thinking, Botswana has always sought to create a context by comparing herself to something. In the process, our leaders have elected to compare Botswana with failed states, invariably because this made them look like geniuses when it comes to governing a developing state. Our commentators, on the other hand, have elected to treat current events as context in the process giving a somewhat biased picture of what is happening.

I read the Watchdog column dealing with the Junior Certificate results. It seemed to create context by telling us about Rre Khama’s lack of academic qualifications and how education had opened up the world for both Rre Masire and Rre Mogae. The column suggested that Rre Khama was indifferent to education because he had not needed it to get to where he is.

In my view, we have to go back to the time when Rre Ray Molomo was Minister of Education to create context. Those who were around at the time will know that we had a two year Junior Certificate program. Most people started secondary school at the age of 13 or 14 years. They, therefore, completed their Junior Certificate at the age of 15 or 16 years. At these ages, an average Motswana is very much a child. Yet we for nearly ten years churned out these half baked Batswana into the streets. I believe the last batch of these half baked Batswana was that of 1995.

A lot of the young girls who did not proceed to Form Three or senior schools, became pregnant the following year after they were churned out. Chances are some of the children who wrote and failed the Junior Certificate exams in 2012 are the offspring of the lot that we threw out into the streets in the two year junior Certificate experiment. This experiment took place under the supposedly pro education watch of Rre Masire and Rre Mogae.

Imagine a situation where a semi literate parent has to look after a half baked Motswana, who then has their own child to look after. We cannot treat the current results in isolation from the social and education experiment of Rre Masire and Rre Mogae. To suggest as some people do, that somehow what is happening is a unique and discreet event under Rre Khama’s watch is to fail to seriously look at how Botswana has been governed in the last 50 years.

I remember that whilst a student at the University of Botswana one of my lecturers at the time, Dr Molutsi, talked about certification. This related to how Batswana were more interested in certificates than actual knowledge. This culture of certification has become so entrenched that people only do what is necessary to get their certificate without actually acquiring any knowledge.

It is this culture of certificates that makes it acceptable to parents of children with grade D to be happy that their children will proceed to Form Four. To these parents it is more important for their children to have a piece of paper that says their child wrote the Form Five exam than for their children to acquire any knowledge. These parents have joined the bandwagon of certificates. Even within the public service people attend seminars or workshops without bothering to understand what they are about, only to get a certificate that says they attended. With this piece of paper they can then motivate for an increased salary or promotion.

If we ignore this change in our nation’s attitude to education we will fail to fully appreciate that it is not so much what Rre Khama does that matters, but rather that our approach to justification for a salary has moved from what we actually do, to what pieces of paper we have. This is further compounded by the pretence in some quarters that promotion in the public service was at some point in the past based on merit. I will admit that there may have been instances of merit being the dominant consideration, but there are many instances in the past where one can point out to the party affiliation and factions being the dominant factor.

We even have what I call illiterate corruption being practiced in our procurement regime. A typical example is where someone with no knowledge in roads designs and construction, through their influence, determines who gets awarded a road design or construction job. Because the powerful person is functionally illiterate as to what is required in roads design and construction, both the consultant and the contractor can do as they please with the job, in the knowledge that all they have to do is give the illiterate but powerful individual his share. In the process the nation suffers for it gets a poor quality job.

The problem is that we very often want to look and individuals and what happens at any given time. The seeds are very often sown well before the individual comes onto the scene. Batswana do not have a jaundiced view of education by mistake. Successive BDP governments pushed the notion that a school building, a group of teachers, students and some parents make a school. The notion of quality never mattered. The end result is that we have a significant portion of parents to whom quality of education is a very difficult concept.

I remember that as students at Gaborone Secondary School we used to joke that people like Rre Masire were top of the class with a D mark because they were in the same class with older people whose brains had hardened. Later on we used to joke that Rre Mogae must have read economics books upside down when you look at the failure when it comes to economic diversification and growth. The assumption that somehow Rre Masire and Rre Mogae actually valued other people’s education highly is with respect misplaced. The majority of unemployable graduates were produced under Rre Masire and Rre Mogae’s watch.

I remember reading a footnote in Rousseau’s that an army general did not particularly care whether his soldiers died of battle or the cold weather. The point I suppose was that a dead soldier is of no use to a general so it does not matter as to what caused his death. But can we stretch this to education to suggest that a general does not really care as to the cause of a citizen’s lack of education. If my economic interests are in tourism would I really care about education of people? If I can get elected by giving out blankets and food hampers why should I invest in education of people? After all tourism does not need an educated people, rather it needs nearly primitive people who can serve high paying white tourists in loges without having funny ideas about equality.

If mining brings in money and I can limit and control people’s ideas and education to stay in power, why should I really care about the quality of their education? The thing is in our form of government I only need people to say “yes” on one Saturday in five years that I have the right to control state power for five years. I do not need them to agree with me or to see progress in their lives for a period of five years. All I need is to get their agreement on the Saturday and I am home and dry.

The unfortunate thing about some of our opposition politicians is that they fail to see that getting people to agree with you for four years and three hundred and sixty four days is useless. All you need is for them to agree with you on the one Saturday that matters. Everything that those who are not in power say or do in between the two special Saturdays is pointless. They can shout, think brilliant ideas about how to run the country and improve people’s lives but you need not worry. They are spending their energy and resources on an irrelevant and ineffective exercise.

It is only when people understand the value and significance of the special Saturday that they will make our leaders appreciate them. I have read of people who are frustrated and feel left out of how our country is governed. These are people who have not fully appreciated the nature of our form of government. If you give up the one Saturday that you have to be heard lightly, then do not bother making noise, for it is noise, in the period in between the Saturdays.

The opposition can form alliances or refuse to do so but for so long as they do not get people to appreciate the significance of the special Saturday then they are wasting their time. Parents who stress over the school results and then ignore the special Saturday are not serious. The same applies to teachers and public servants. Botswana has had at least 10 special Saturdays. If you speak only ten times in nearly 50 years and do so with a low voice do not be surprised if no leader hears you.

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