Outdated framework for Education
Currently the framework upon which our education system is based and anchored is the Revised National Policy on Education of 1994. The policy was born of the 1994 Education Commission that was headed by Dr. Ponatshego Kedikilwe. The year 1994 is 22 years ago and there is no doubt that the policy has become rather outdated in view of the ever changing educational and manpower needs. But even then, we need to commend Dr Kedikilwe and his fellow commissioners for having done a sterling job in carving a good path for that matter during those times. The policy has lived up to the challenges of the past and the time is nigh to evaluate the current challenges of the Botswana Education System with a view to holistically address them. There is doubt currently that, we, as a country are faced with ever dwindling school final year results and high rate of unemployment. The school final year results, no doubt, are at their lowest currently and unemployment is at its highest. High rate of unemployment may indicate a mismatch in what the education system offers and the current job market which calls for a serious re – alignment of the two. High unemployment could also be a result of a poor education system. This should be a cause for concern for the country, creating the need to institute a commission to consider the current trends. It has to be noted as well that although outdated as it may be, government has dismally failed to adopt and implement some progressive recommendations contained in the 1994 Revised National Policy on Education. For example, the recommendations on reduction of class sizes have been ignored.
The Policy Issues
The Revised National Policy on Education (RNPE) has back then, 1994, recommended for reduction in class size to at least 30 at senior schools to 35 in Junior Schools. Government has failed dismally in this regard. Even as we make this brief, we still have class simmering at between 45 and 50 students, this in spite of the recommendation made almost 15 years ago. There is no need for us to overemphasize the importance of student teacher ratio in delivery of instruction in the classroom. Research has indicated that the less the students are in a classroom for teaching, the more the teacher could individually interact with each one of them. The teacher could pay attention and assist each one of them if they are not too many in a class and he or she could easily use learner centred methods. But on the other hand, teachers who teach classes with many students are likely to use ineffective transmission methods. This in our view is one of the factors that contribute towards poor learning in schools hence the ever-dwindling results. There are qualified teacher graduates who are currently unemployed and as such there is no reason why they could not be absorbed to deal with the issue of class sizes. This is one of the policy issues that in my view government could deal with in accordance with RNPE recommendations hence failing the nation as it has impacted negatively on the quality of education of this country.
The education system of Botswana got it all wrong by the absence of the two–tier system or the dual pathway up until this time. 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. Our considered opinion is that in desperate attempts to attain universal access in line with the Education for All (EFA) goals, government has compromised quality in many respects. Students are being 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 year results across all levels. My considered view on this matter is that, the education system of this country should promote a two – tier system where the theoretical academic orientation education is not the main emphases 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, talents and potentials 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 the vocational education is relegated and is regarded as an education for failures and such institutions such as brigades and vocational training centers are have now been stigmatized. Though belatedly, we need to appreciate that government has of recent adopted the Pre–Primary education as part of the government policy, meaning that Pre–Primary schools become part of the official mainstream public schools. This in my view is commendable move which government deserves a pat on the back for.
However my worry is that it looks like government did that before she was ready for this rather plausible innovation. We take a dim view of government’s seemingly stop - gap conduct of using teachers who were teaching the standard seven classes each year to teach the Pre–Primary school pupils. This in my view should cease to occur in that the said teachers do not have the requisite skills to teach such Pre – Primary school pupils. As part of re – building and re –energizing our education system, there is need to really reflect on this matter of specialization of teachers at primary schools and provide guidance as to the way forward. Teachers have been teaching all subjects to students at primary schools from time immemorial, making them jack-of-all-trades. Obviously teachers have their strength and areas of specialty. This is one factor that has resulted in inefficiency in delivery of instructions by teachers, hence the poor results. There is a worrying phenomenon in our education system, that of the commercialization of education. We are worried as a teacher trade union that, now, especially, in the tertiary sector is being sold to the highest bidder. Private tertiary institutions mushroom on a daily basis and they offer irrelevant courses in terms of the market demands. Our view is that this is an unacceptable situation that cannot be left to go as it is. As we speak, some public tertiary institutions are being pushed out of the government infrastructure that they currently occupy in favor of private institutions.
Hours of work in the Teaching Service
This issue remains a pie in the sky. As you might be aware, it was tabled several times at the sector forum level. At some point last year, a sort of an understanding was arrived at between the Ministry of Education and Skills Development and the teacher trade unions being BOSETU and BTU that teachers could either be migrated to the 26/24 days model or be given a professional allowance. The Ministry of Education requested however to consult the main employer, DPSM on the matter. Upon return the Ministry of Education indicated that DPSM could not accept either proposal. Since then this issue has remained unresolved but remains alive on the table of the employer. This is one issue that needs constant and persistent campaigning to make stakeholders aware how it affects the delivery of the teacher and ultimately the education system of the country. It is on the basis of the above that the union has led campaigns on hours of work for quality education. Those campaigns were carried out during the open days that were mounted in Gantsi and Masunga. This also explains this year’s BOSETU Annual Conference Theme; “More Time for Every Student; Changing the Future of each Learner.” The unresolved issue of hours of work has reduced contact time of teachers and learners hence affecting teaching and learning, which contributes to the dwindling quality of education and results.
This has remained the dominant source of conflict in schools due to either different interpretation of the clauses of the statutes that regulates overtime or that managements would do anything and everything to exploit employees. Currently the dominant issues surrounding overtime are refusal to pay overtime as per the hours worked and wanting to force teachers to cut on the number of hours worked. It is quite worrying that in some instances, teachers have yielded to pressure and have allowed themselves to work more hours and get compensated for less. This volunteerism attitude has led to the employer getting relaxed in resolving the hours of work issue. If teachers could stop to work exactly at the time that they are told their overtime payment stops, them some work would come to a halt and the employer would hasten to resolve the hours of work issue. It on the basis of the above that we still call upon all BOSETU regions to mobilize for a campaign on these issues of overtime and hours of work. Meanwhile the lawyers have been instructed to provide an opinion on the issue of whether the Employment Act clause that regulates the total overtime hours to be worked in a week refers to a working week or it includes weekends / rest days
Promotion for teachers
The Ministry of Education has been oscillating between promoting teachers through interviews and promotion through recommendations. It is common knowledge that it is within the ambit of Trade Unions to negotiate both procedural and substantive issues. This has brought confusion as to which procedure for promotion is used for teachers. This has caused disgruntlement among teachers due unpredictability of the promotion procedure. Even then, comrades, the Ministry of Education has been very erratic when it comes to promotions, ranging from taking too long to fill vacant posts after interviews to traces of dubious promotions that smell corruption. It is common knowledge that sometimes last year, we had incidences of alleged selling and buying of posts which were reported to our offices (union) and in turn were reported to the Ministry. While it is important to have universal access to education, it should be coupled with quality assurance; it should not only be universal access for the sake of quantity.
Vocational Education in Brigades
It seems that when the decision that brigades will be taken over by government was made, not much thought had gone into the idea. It seems also that government was not ready. Some employees in brigades were not absorbed and were referred to as temporary full time employees, a status that has made their employment conditions deplorable. When government took over, the brigades had no proper organizational structure resulting in unavailability of progression path for employees in those institutions. Employees in these brigades are made to carry out some responsibilities without being compensated for such under the pretext that they are caretakers. Even after the courts declared that such abuse is unlawful, and ordered that they should be compensated for the work they did, government refuses to compensate them.
It is evident that institutional houses cannot take up all the teachers in schools and such there is acute shortage of accommodation for teachers. Sometimes in 2014, the Ministry of Education and Skills took a decision that teachers could find accommodation outside institutional houses and be subsidized by government. This was even communicated to all regions. However such decision was never implemented. We are of the strong view that this is the best way to resolve teacher accommodation crisis.
The None Adherence to the transfer policy
It should be noted that we recognize that there is an existing Transfer Policy that is supposed to be in use. We further note though that the transfer policy is quite old and has not been negotiated with trade unions. However we stress that the existing transfer policy is in operation. Our grave concern is that although such policy is in operation, it has been disregarded with impunity. It is paining comrades that in spite of the fact that this policy is there and is quite crisp about the duration of stay of a teacher in a station, our comrades especially in far - flung areas have remained fixated in those not so conducive environments. The transfer boards have collapsed, especially inter – regional transfer boards, and have remained totally defunct leaving teachers stranded in same working environments for too long.
* Rari is the Secretary General of Botswana sectors of Educators Union (BOSETU)