Dilapidation, vandalism and disrepair has forced students and teachers in some schools to abandon their workstations for alternative 'shelter' under trees and in open spaces for some learning to continue. One such school is Masilo Community Junior Secondary School to the west of Molepolole village. Opened in 1996, perched on top of a hilly terrain overlooking the village, the once admirable Masilo has deteriorated in academic performance and its dilapidated infrastructure has become an eyesore, endangering the lives of learners and instructors. A recent visit by The Patriot on Sunday uncovered a terrible state of disrepair in almost all the classrooms and laboratories where students attend lessons on a daily basis. All around the classrooms in the school there were falling ceilings, precariously hanging roofing materials, no doors, no lighting/electricity, no water, no window panes, filth all over the place, cracked floors, no storage lockers, and no science equipment in what used to be science laboratories. The destruction is evident long before a visitor gains access to the administration block and classrooms. Right at the main entrance to the school, the guard room lies in a sorry state of dilapidation with smashed windows. Workers at the school explain that everything collapsed during the ill-fated nationwide public sector strike of 2011, when civil servants, among them teachers took to the streets for eight weeks demanding an improvement of working conditions and a salary increase. Left to their own devices students went on rampage during the 2011 strike, destroying property around the school protesting the absence of teachers and lack of teaching. Recognising the destruction in schools at the time, government quickly classified teachers (together with other professions) as essential service in an attempt to force them to return to class while refusing to engage their trade unions to address their grievances. In the end Government refused to budge, and instead fired over 2 000 civil servants in retaliation soon after declaring them essential service employees. The decision, which was later annulled in court, hardened feelings between the parties with teachers up to now resolving to abandon any other duties outside their core mandate. Some teachers at Masilo told The Patriot on Sunday that they have given up trying to find a solution to the crisis as the school head always gives the same response over the years: "The school is due for cyclical maintenance". "It a sickening to imagine any human being reporting to such facilities on a daily basis and expected to produce brilliant graduates who will advance to upper secondary levels. This school has dropped from being among the best in the region to the worst," said one teacher at the school.
Not benefited from ESP
It is evident that Masilo CJSS is one of the schools that missed opportunities created under the Economic Stimulus Programme (ESP) with a budget of P2.2 billion during the 2016/17 financial year. President Ian Khama, when launching ESP on 24 February 2016, specifically singled out "improved maintenance of existing school facilities on an accelerated basis" as a priority area. ESP was a response to unfavourable economic climate caused by the world economic recession of 2008/9. The infrastructure development component of the ESP was divided between the Health Sector, Transport and Communication Sector, Education sector, Lands and Housing and local Government. Khama said under the Ministry of Education and Skills Development (MoESD) funds will be dedicated to overcome the backlog of maintenance and new construction needed to ensure that all schools are quality teaching environments. He said in 2017 Government will construct 1,153 new classrooms in the primary and secondary schools, along with an additional 175 science labs and 1,280 upgraded ablution facilities and further construct 5885 new teacher’s quarters. In addition, the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development was to construct an additional 401 classrooms, 1280 toilets and 486 teachers’ houses in 123 schools across all districts. Khama said particular attention had been given to the geographical spread of the projects so that all sectors and regions of the country are impacted by this stimulus programme. The expected impact is improved lives through health and education, growing diversified economy and increased levels of employment. Secretary General of teacher union BOSETU, Tobokani Rari, says although they do not have specific information or database on the state of each schools' infrastructure around the country they are very much aware of the terrible state of most of them. He said their members, spread out in all schools around the country, have reported being forced to teach under trees and/ or in open spaces to escape the hazards posed by falling ceiling, doors, smashed windows and exposed electrical wiring in what used to be classrooms. "This does not augur well for a conducive learning environment. How does government expect learning to take place under such horrible conditions? The problem is further compounded and exacerbated by serious shortage of teaching aids like books and other equipment," said Rari, citing examples of schools hostels and other buildings which caught fire and burned to ashes due to lack of maintenance. Recently when addressing a BOSETU congress in Palapye the minister of Basic Education, Dr Unity Dow disputed claims by some teachers that most schools were in a dilapidated state, saying while they were aware of the problem it was not affecting most schools.