Academics and teacher unions are in agreement that there are no surprises in the 67% failure by Junior Certificate candidates for the 2015 examinations, and have put the blame squarely at the door of government for failing to address issues be-devilling the education system. For the past five years there has been a consistent decline in examination results, and the trend looks to continue into the future. Silas Sehularo, the Ministry of Education and Skills Development (MoESD) spokesperson, said on Thursday that the poor results, which show a decline from about 40% pass rate in 2012 to just over 30% in 2015, is a cause for concern to them. He said they are awaiting a full report from the ten regions and individual schools, because performance varies from one place to the other, and between subjects.
With a comprehensive report they will be able to undertake a deeper analysis to establish if some of the interventions they have introduced are working or not, he said. "Last year we launched a five-year turnaround strategy – ETSSP - Education and Training Strategic Sector Plan 2015-2020 to revive the education system. The strategy includes among others in-service training for teachers, intensive inspection of schools, equipping laboratories in schools to improve performance in science subjects where students are not doing well, and boosting/empowering school management," said Sehularo, adding that they will also look at the impact of interventions like Back-to-School on the results.
In the 2015 state of the nation address (SONA) President Ian Khama said the development of ETSSP, approved by Cabinet in May 2015, is a reform strategy for improving the quality of the education sector’s performance. At its core, ETSSP is focused on improving governance through enhanced educational administration to deliver better coordination and resource allocation, as well as strategic planning. ETSSP also provides for standards setting and more robust monitoring and evaluation to reduce the implementation gaps that have resulted in the recent trend of declining school performance.
"Consistent with the ETSSP objective of closing the existing skills mismatch between too many school leavers and actual labour market demands, as well as our ESP commitment of accelerated job creation, Government has set up the “Target 20,000 Initiative” for the rapid up-skilling and retooling of unemployed youth to meet current industry demands. This will be done in phases starting with an intake of 5,000 students during the 2015/16 financial year. The training will focus on industry areas identified as being in high demand, including finance and business services, tourism, creative industries, mining, energy and water resources, agriculture, construction and transport. Moving forward the mix of training needs will be as guided by the Human Resource Development Council," said Khama.
Teachers union Botswana Sectors of Educators Union (BOSETU) Secretary General Tobokani Rari, on the other hand blames the MoESD for failing to address teacher grievances. He traces the deterioration in results as far back as 2010 since:
• The 2010 invigilation standoff between teachers and Botswana Examination Council (BEC), where non-teachers were used to invigilate examinations, kicked off the downward spiral;
• The 2011 public sector strike dominated by teachers further exacerbated the problem, leading to a dramatic drop in results.
• In 2012 there was another dramatic fall due to the introduction of MALEPA system. The switch from norm-referencing testing (based on the comparison of results of students to determine pass rate) to criterion testing (tests students against the objectives of a Syllabus to determine what the student grasped in class) resulted in further decline.
• In 2015, only 33.4% students registered grade A-C.
Rari said "there are no surprises there. We have always had low results in the last five years and we did not expect to see any improvement because government refuses to address teachers' grievances. The drop is unfortunate but it was expected, owing to the lackluster attitude of government in dealing with policy and welfare issues besieging the ministry". He said teachers (BOSETU) have always harped on the same issues but government refuses to address them, and this spells doom for the learners.
BOSETU view: Policy and Legislative Issues; class sizes
The view of the union is that while it is important to have universal access to education, it should also be coupled with quality assurance; it should not only be universal access for the sake of quantity. In desperate attempts to attain universal access in line with the Education For All (EFA) goals, government has compromised quality in many respects. Students have been pushed through the theoretical academic studies route in spite of them having shown that they are deficient or incapable to pursue that route. This has been done through the automatic promotion policy of government, where irrespective of students having challenges and having failed the academic theoretical orientation, they would be promoted automatically to pursue that route of education.
This policy of automatic progression with the aim of catapulting all students towards academic theoretical education irrespective of capability to attain the EFA goals, has contributed significantly to the degrading standards of education in this country and consequently resulting in the ever-dwindling final examination results across all levels. Our considered view of the union on this matter is that, the education system of the country should promote a two – tier system where the theoretical academic orientation education is not the main emphasis as is the case now. We advocate for a system where the same emphasis and opportunities are given to students to pursue either the vocational educational or the academic theoretical education.
This two– tier system of education would provide for dual pathways in which, during the early years, talent and potential are identified and students are channeled to the relevant persuasion and orientation. In this case vocational education is given equal status with the academic theoretical education. The current situation is such that vocational education is regarded as an education for failures and such institutions as brigades and vocational training centers have now been stigmatised.
Class sizes are critical in any educational system as they translate into a workload for a teacher. It is actually a ratio of students to a teacher and it signifies the workload of a teacher in relation to teaching and learning. The government of Botswana does not have a clear-cut policy on class sizes. The Revised National Education Policy on Education of 1994 recommended that class sizes be reduced to 35 in elementary schools and 30 in secondary schools. In spite of the fact that government adopted the recommendation, it was never implemented, and on the contrary, classes keep on increasing as we currently have schools with 50 students in a class.
The large class sizes have adversely affected the quality of education in this country. There is abundant evidence from research that the less students are in a class room, the more likely that a teacher would have more time with each one them and more likely that the teacher would use student centred methods that are more effective. On the other hand, the more students are in a classroom, the more likely that the teacher would not be able to give each student enough attention in a classroom and is likely to use transmission methods that are less effective. The view of BOSETU is that class size policy of government should put the ratio at 1:25, which would be in line with the international standards.
The Education International, an international body affiliated by teacher organisations and teacher trade unions worldwide, puts the affordable student – teacher ratio at 1:25. It is in this same vein that we contend that there is no saturation of teachers in the market, as classes in schools need to be divided into two the need for more teachers. It is with regard to the view above that the trade union BOSETU would this year vigorously pursue the issue of reduction of class sizes to 1:25.
In-Service training for teachers
It is paramount to note that the dynamics of the teaching profession is such that the teaching content and methodologies keep on changing and as such there is a dire need for teachers to be upgraded and up skilled. Any government that endeavours to have efficient and effective teaching service needs to have due regard for an in–service policy aimed at upgrading, up-skilling and re–tooling its serving crop of teachers. The teaching methodologies change and so is the syllabus content. Our view is that government is concentrating more on inspectorate to the negligence and detriment of in- service training. BOSETU’s view on this matter is crisply clear that government should develop and adopt a clear in–service policy.
Disparity in resources
It is quite evident from the recently released JC final examination results that schools in towns and major villages are doing significantly well when compared to schools in the far–flung areas in the not so developed areas of this country. It is common cause that such disparity in terms of resources needs to be addressed. Our view as BOSETU is government needs to move swiftly to provide as a basic fundamental right, the internet, computers and even Ipads to all students, especially those in rural areas to use for research in their studies. This will go a long way in closing the gap of resources between schools in towns and those in rural areas.
As has always been BOSETU’s consistent view that since the commencement of the Public Act No. 30 of 2008 in 2010, teachers have been working for eight (8) hours a day, different from the previous dispensation whereupon they were working for close to 12 hours day. In view of the reduction of the hours of work for teachers as stipulated in Public Service Act, the contact time between the teachers and students reduced dramatically hence affecting productivity of teachers at the work place. Activities that used to be done after hours such as course work projects, remedial lessons, and enrichment activities are no longer being carried out due to deficient time.
The union BOSETU has on several occasions pointed to a hazard in this respect, that the reduced contact time would cause a calamity in the education system of the country. This has come to pass. We have on several occasions requested for the adoption of the 26-day model that would enable teachers to work longer hours with a little extra pay. Rari further cites the example of a clear pattern where schools in far flung areas (remote) do not appear in the top 20 schools that have registered performances above 50% (half of the candidates passed). All the schools in the top 20 are either in cities or towns.
But Sehularo differs with Rari saying, “we disagree with such view. We have partnerships with other stakeholders, particularly teachers who are very critical in the development of learners. We meet them regularly in different fora to discuss issues; we even met towards the end of last year. For example we have even jointly formed a task force to look into the issue of Levels of Operation to find a solution".
Khama also said as a matter of urgency government has initiated an extensive programme of construction and maintenance works in schools country wide. As part of ESP this includes the construction of 5,885 additional houses for both primary and secondary school teachers, along with 1,153 new classrooms in the primary and secondary schools, as well as an additional 175 science labs and 1,280 upgraded ablution facilities. "We will also convert two junior secondary schools into unified schools," he said.
2015 JCE TOP 20 SCHOOLS IN ORDER OF PERFORMANCE
Schools Percentage Pass (of Grade A-C)
1. Nanogang 82.9
2. Orapa 79.5
3. Makhubu 73.8
4. Moselewapula 72.4
5. Meepong 70.5
6. Mannathoko 67.8
7. Bonnington 66.4
8. Tlogatloga 60.2
9. Montsamaisa 60.1
10. Setlalekgosi 58.9
11. Phatsimo 58.3
12. Bakwena Kgari 57.4
13. Maikano 56.9
14. Donga 56.6
15. Marulamantsi 56.4
16. Sir Seretse Khama 56.2
17. Pitikwe JSS 56.2
18. Lebogang JSS 56.2
19. Kgalemang Motsete 54.3
20. Selepa 53.3