The education system in Botswana is said to be in crisis following string of poor results from primary School Leaving Examinations (PSLE), Junior Secondary Education results and Botswana General Certificate of Secondary Education (BGCSE).
According to Botswana Examination Council (BEC) the performance of candidates of the 2014 examinations in BGCSE has gone down by 1.07% on candidates that were awarded 5Cs or better compared to 2013.
In some quarters the blame for poor performance of students has been placed on the doorstep of teachers due low morale in the teaching cadre. Since the 2011 industrial action teachers are accused of dragging their feet in disseminating education to learners as government fails to address their grievances. This has been vehemently dismissed by teacher unions’ leaders labelling it a hogwash excuse from the real problems facing the education system in Botswana. Secretary General of Botswana Teachers Union (BTU) Ibo Kenosi said people have to understand that the grading system has been changed from the norm reference testing to criterion reference testing system. “In the past students were graded looking at the highest mark attained in the examinations but nowadays grading system is standard and not based on the overall performance of students,” said Kenosi.
Kenosi said teaching services is under resourced and expected to produce quality results under stressful conditions. There is a popular term used in the teaching cadre called ‘improvise’ and that is one of the reasons that lead to poor results, he said. The BTU scribe added that the teaching environment is frustrating to both teachers and students noting that buildings are dilapidated, which demoralises them. “The other problem is that schools have been militarised and no longer social institutions through school heads who treat teachers like school children and shout orders at them and unless that is changed results will continue to take a nose dive,” said the militant unionist.
Students’ indiscipline has been pointed out as one aspect affecting the performance of students and hooliganism is said to be rampant in schools.“Teachers nowadays are afraid to discipline students because they want to safeguard their career as nowadays if you discipline a student government won’t support you in a court of law should the parents of the student take you to court,” said Kenosi.
Botswana Sector of Educators Trade Union (BOSETU) Secretary General Tobokani Rari shared Kenosi’s sentiments that the strict regulation of corporal punishment could also contribute to hooliganism in schools which affects students’ performance.“This has led to lawlessness in schools and teachers are cautious to discipline students lest they find themselves on the wrong side of the law,” he said.
He said that there is need for a presidential inquiry on the decline results of students and produce empirical evidence. According to Rari, the most worrying thing is that the performance is going down every year and added that atleast if it was consistent at a certain percentage it would be understandable. The introduction of the new Public Service Act in 2008 worsened the situation as it stated that all public service workers should work for eight hours, meaning that teachers will no longer have extra time with students. “Teachers were ready to work overtime for remedial teaching but government felt that paying overtime was hurting its purse,” he said.
Currently government through Directorate of Public Service Management (DPSM) is reviewing the Public Service Act. DPSM Director Ruth Maphorisa revealed at a media briefing on Tuesday that one of the amendments will be to address gaps in the act created by the repeal of other employing authorities acts like the Teaching Service Act. The teacher student ratio is another aspect that government must address as currently is around one teacher to 50 students and interactive learning is compromised, said Rari. He added that even the National Revised Policy on Education commonly known as Kedikilwe Commission recommended on the reduction of teacher student ratio. “There is also a need to introduce preschools as part of formal education and rolled out to all the areas in Botswana and make it compulsory as the Kedikilwe commission recommends,” said Rari.
Asked what they are doing as teacher unions to help the situation as their members are also involved and affected, Rari revealed that BOSETU has appointed a four team member to investigate what could be leading to deploring results. “We will of course share the findings with the public after our team has compiled the report,” said BOSETU chief scribe.
Another problem that is bedeviling the MoESD according to Rari, is the chopping and changing of ministers. He argued that the past immediate Minister of Education Pelonomi Venson Moitoi was doing a great job and they were disappointed that she was mysteriously removed. “We had differences with her but she was able to marshal her charges who were technocrats to address issues affecting teaching service and was about to get to the root of the problems facing our education system,” said Rari.
Rari said that under the Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi, the ministry went through its worst period and has reversed what Venson-Moitoi achieved. He said that there is nothing one can point and say Masisi achieved during a short stint at MOESD. Though many view Moitoi as the worst minister at education since results started to deteriorate under her command, Rari said that she found the ministry in a mess and was trying to put things in order. This was supported by Kenosi who reasoned results have always been poor only that a wrong system was used to grade students and also feels Moitoi was the right person to turn things around at MOESD.
Rari who is also the Secretary General of Botswana Federation of Public Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU) said that they will give the new Minister Dr Unity Dow a chance to prove herself and her two assistants.
Contacted for comment, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education and Skills Development Richard Matlhare said that they will call a press briefing tomorrow (Monday) to address the issue of poor performance of students saying he cannot say much at the time of press.