As she steps into the new office today the new minister of Education and Skills Development (MoESD) Unity Dow better be warned that she is stepping on a landmine, an exit ministry as some choose to call it. The MoESD ranks as the most controversial at government enclave not only because it holds the fragile future of the next generations but also because it has failed to impress, perennially recording poor performance by learners and deteriorating examination results for learners. This despite that the ministry continues to be among those that enjoy the largest share of the national budget – in billions of Pula. Could it be that government is throwing money at the problem and hoping and praying that it goes away naturally? That can never be an acceptable solution.
For the umpteenth time we join the chorus of those calling on government to stop paying lip service to investigating and addressing the root causes of such disastrous performances before the future of our learners is thrown into disarray, right before us while we stand aside and watch. New challenges emerge for learners and the teachers as the world becomes a global village. We can no longer afford to be trying to resolve challenges of the information age using some backward recommendations by some commission which carried out an assessment on the challenges in the education sector some two decades ago. Relics of the past cannot adequately deliver quality education and should be relegated to the dustbin of history. If not so then a total revamp of the 1994 Revised Policy on Education is needed as urgently as yesterday. We need current solutions for current problems.
That President Ian Khama has confided to some that he does not see anything wrong with the education system is shocking, to say the least. It is not rocket science that our education sector is on the verge of total collapse and the current administration does not appear to have any vision on how to resurrect it.
Just this week Botswana Examination Council (BEC) released BGCSE showing that the performance of candidates of the 2014 examinations has gone down by 1.07% on candidates that were awarded 5Cs or better compared to 2013. To add insult to injury BEC goes on national television and try to make it look like because the poor performance is somewhat close to last year is normal. No! It cannot be business as usual when only 23.20 per cent of candidates from government and government-aided schools were awarded Grade C or better in 5 syllabi. This means that the remaining 77 per cent got grade D or worse.
And government is always quick to recite their monotonous line that parents should participate in the learning process of their children. Granted, we are agreed that they should but shouldn't government be looking inside before shouting from the roof tops apportioning blame to other stakeholders. It is common knowledge and we need not repeat here that the low morale that has come characterise the teaching cadre is precisely because government is stubbornly and arrogantly refusing to address their concerns about conditions of service. Why does it take forever to address issues that government herself has conceded that indeed they should be resolved as a matter of urgency?
We cannot talk about technical issues like changes on the grading system when we are aware that children in government schools more often than not attend lessons in dilapidated classrooms. There is acute shortage of textbooks in some instances and students are forced to make do with what they can salvage. The high student/ teacher ratios as repeatedly cited and aggravate the already grave situation.
Students’ indiscipline will continue to accelerate as long as teachers have been disarmed from administering punishment on learners. It is no surprise that school going kids openly indulge in drug and alcohol abuse right in front of the teachers neglecting learning as no one can touch them. Yes, the strict regulation on corporal punishment contributes to hooliganism in schools which affects students’ performance. This will lead to lawlessness in schools. Lest we be misunderstood we are not advocating for the abuse of learners under the pretext of punishment. We expect some form of empowerment for teachers to maintain order in their classrooms.
We are keeping our fingers crossed hoping and wishing that the arrival of Dow will bring a breath of fresh air to the ailing ministry. After all as the cliché’ goes a new broom sweeps cleaner! We hope it does.