THEME: THE TEACHER, KEY TO EDUCATION, HEALTH AND
PROPERITY IN THE NEW NORMAL
As a preamble to the speech that I am going to give today, it is important that I give a precursor of the background of this important day. Our national teachers’ day has been adopted from World Teachers’ Day, also known as International Teachers Day. While our national teachers’ day is celebrated every first Friday of the month of June each year, the International Teachers’ Day is celebrated each and every year on 5th October. The International Teacher’s Day is meant to commemorate the signing of the 1996 UNESCO/ILO recommendation concerning the status of teachers.
I need to however you remind comrades, and the entire fraternity of teaching, that today, I share with you this message at a time when the world is re-awakening to a new order. A new order across all its socio-economic routines. This is an order that has come to be known as the “The New Normal”. This is an order that is likely to forever redefine the way we conduct all our daily personal and professional business.
The 2020 National Teacher’ Day Theme
This year’s national teachers’ day theme is, “The Teacher, Key to Education, Health and Prosperity in the New Normal.” This theme was coined against the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic, challenges it now poses to the professional practice of teaching and the learning processes, as well as the advantages which can be derived from the crisis. The theme points to the effect that the new arrangement in learning environments place a teacher at a pivotal role in terms of offering education, and simultaneously maintaining the COVID – 19 health protocols. This year’s theme, no doubt, cannot be more appropriate under the prevailing circumstances, in the midst of the Novel COVID - 19. It is a forgone conclusion comrades that the role and duties of a teacher is bound to become extremely sensetive, complex and more challenging and this we should accept would be the new normal in the work of teacher. This new normal calls for all of us comrades to gear up and be equal to the challenge.
The Closure of Schools Owing to COVID – 19 & Consequent Shut Down
All over the world, educational institutions had to be abruptly shut down as a result of the escalation of the threat to life caused by Covid-19. Learning was disrupted as the world, ourselves inclusive, had to tamper the right to life with the right to education. Comrades, this difficult decision, immediately challenged educators and education administrators to engage in a paradigm shift towards unorthodox routines and approaches of taking education across this challenge and beyond.
Comrades, our public schools were hurriedly closed on the 23rd March 2020 in response to the Covid-19 threat. This decision was taken by the Ministry of Basic education under immense pressure from Teacher Unions, who held an informed view that the longer the schools remained open, the greater the risk of exposure for Teachers and Students. During the COVID – 19 school closure, students remained confined to their homes and the physical contact teaching also seized to exist.
Education as an Economic Driver & Individual Upliftment
While this situation prevailed, BOSETU maintained and still maintains that education is a critical driver of the economy and a catalyst to the advancement of the individual lives. Education comrades is irreplaceable as a priority sector in any economy, especially in Botswana, as the country dreams of a knowledge driven economy. Aspiring for a knowledge driven economy as His Excellency the President of the Republic of Botswana always proclaims, should never just be some mere lamentations and paying of lip service, but such should be actualized through deeds and channeling resources into education for its reformation.
Our Education System Lagging Behind
The closure of schools as a result of COVID – 19, has terribly exposed our education system, casting some aspersions to the country’s commitment to invest on education. As the debate around whether students, owing to the loss of teaching and learning time, should repeat a standard or not, ragged on, it became apparent that our education is more examination based rather than being geared towards inculcating lifelong skills. The absence of a sound continuous assessment system in our education is indicative of an examination - based education that is not only orthodox, but also uninspiring. We have during this period of COVID – 19 witnessed helplessly, an education system that lags behind in matters of digitalization and technological advancement. The absence of e – learning, and other technological based learning platforms did not help the situation during the lockdown period. The disparity between the haves and have nots within our society made the situation even worse. They are children within our society who come from disadvantage backgrounds whose parents could not afford a smart phone nor a television set, and any attempts made to reach out to them through technological learning became futile. This is quite telling comrades, and it’s a challenge to the government of the day that the country needs to invest in technology - based teaching and learning. There is dire need for the introduction of e – learning in our schools, provision of internet and tablets for students.
Teachers & Students exposed to COVID – 19
As the lockdown conditions of various countries started to easy up, schools started re – opening under the new normal. We have seen governments under duress and breaking some health protocols in an endeavour to have schools re – opening. In our case here in Botswana, we have seen schools re -opening on Tuesday this week. In spite of the agreed upon guidelines spelling out protocols that needed to be observed, schools have re – opened with glaring cases of non – compliance such as compromised hygiene standards, absence of hands washing stations, absence of running water in the toilets, use of cold water, absence of SHE Officers for enforcement of the agreed standards, compromised social distancing in the hostels in case of boarding schools, and in classrooms. These has left educators in the non – compliant institutions vulnerable and susceptible to contracting the CORONA virus. This conduct by government should be condemned with the contempt that it deserves. It shows insensitivity to the plight of the teachers. Teachers work in the most sensetive and fragile industries as they deal with thousands young people at a go who are difficult to control. Any lapses in observing the protocols might mean an escalation of the disease. We would like to point out that we are utterly disappointed that Director of Public Health does not step in to ensure compliance by schools.
Increased Teaching Loads
In an endeavour to achieve social distancing in classrooms, we have seen government through the Basic Education Ministry introducing a shift system in schools. We need to point out that we are not in agreement with this system as it is bound, not only to increase the load of teachers outside the existing policy, the Establishment Register, but it is bound to as well compromise quality teaching and learning. If a teacher teaches across shifts with the proposed increased load, the teacher would not have time to prepare, carry out enrichment and remedial activities, and assist students in course work. These, we warn that if government persists with them, we would be headed for a disaster with our already fragile and ailing education system, and we are likely to experience the worst of the disasters in terms of results at the end of the year.
In conclusion of this message comrades, I need to deal with the issue of student – teacher ratio that has become topical over the past few weeks. First, I need to point out that from time immemorial in this country, the concepts of student – teacher ratio and class size have been treated as synonymous even within government circles. The Revised National Policy on Education (RNPE) of 1994 which has been adopted by government, talks of student – teacher ratio, referring to the number of students in class. For government to deviate from that and want to adopt a definition that suggests that students - teacher ratio is all students enrolled in government schools divided by all teachers employed in those schools, is unfortunate and is meant to purposely deviate from the real issue at hand. The student – teacher ratio as defined by government does not assist anyhow as it seems to suggest that, for the purposes of teaching, students are divided equally between the teachers, which definitely, is not the case. The truth of matter is that the student – teacher ratio / class size in this country is generally very oscillating on average at 45 students in a class. We need therefore to face reality and find honest and genuine ways in which the challenge could be addressed in order to achieve social distancing in classrooms instead of being evasive.
I on behalf of all BOSETU structures wish all educators in this a joyous and fruitful teachers’ day.
HALALA MATICHARA HALALA !!!!!!