My plea for a better, dignified education system for all Batswana

Here is a letter that I wrote to the President of The Republic of Botswana. The letter was hand delivered to His Excellency’s office on Teachers’ Day, July 2018.

He promised to take action to better the standard of education in Botswana. I look forward to this positive action.

In this letter I quote a speech by one of the former presidents of the United States of America, in which he passionately speaks about the responsibility of the educated to defend the pursuit for learning… if the pursuit for learning is not defended by the educated citizen, it will not be defended at all…

Presentation2

This letter is written from a human rights point of view. If you hear any politics in it, it is because politics permeate every aspect of our lives. That being said, I humbly request that you take off your political lenses and replace them with those of an ‘advocate’ for children’s rights. Their right not just to education, but to quality education.

Now allow me to assume the personae below in penning this letter. It is the only way I can escape the risk of sounding chaotic, a characteristic of our education system in the last eight years.

A Student

Children Playing
Picture Credit: Vector Stock

Here I speak about my years as a student versus the life of today’s student.

When I was a student, the school was a safe place for learning, socialising and growth. We got inspiration and dreamed. Big dreams! Our teachers cared about our welfare and demonstrated this in so many ways. Probably because the government of the day supported them.

We were fed. [excuse my foodie tendencies]. Unlike today when students can go for days without meals.

Back in our days, bullies did exist, but they only fisted or slapped their victims. There were no weapons similar to those found in a police station, which were confiscated from hard hat area crime scenes.

It’s not just the student who is scared. The teachers are scared too, because some of them have been victims of the angry students found in every school today.

And then there is the danger that stares the student today in the face, every day; from broken infrastructure: exposed electrical wires and hanging ceilings.

I dare speculate that research into the psycho-social and economic issues that our society has faced in the past two decades will bear fruit in terms of finding solutions to the problems outlined above.

Educator/Teacher

When I started teaching in 2001, July 06, I was enthusiastic, inspired and looked forward to serving this nation to the best of my ability. Oh yes. And there were systems in place to equip us (new teachers) with the necessary skills so that we could develop into the professionals many of us became. There were scheduled in-service training workshops that every new teacher had to attend in the first two years of their joining the profession.

We had resources. We could afford language games like Scrabble, games that not only promoted learning, but also made it interesting.  Our libraries were well equipped with reading material to cater for a range of academic needs. Do we still have the P30 per student policy which was meant to buy books for the library every year?

Your Excellency, may you make an enquiry regarding these issues from the relevant officers?

Academic

 

Image of books, mortarboard and model globe
To globally competitive graduates

I have been teaching at a teacher education institution for the past eight years and this is my unpleasant experience.

The working conditions are simply uninspiring and sometimes demeaning. In this age, if we are expected to carry books and write with free hand then there is a serious problem. Libraries have become digitised and this means up-to-date information is not found in hardcopy traditional textbooks.

Presentation techniques have advanced, leading to efficiency in preparation and delivery of instructional material. This includes embedding additional references in the form of URLs, videos and other digital media for learners to explore later and enrich their learning. All one needs to operate optimally in an academic institution is a laptop/computer and internet. Ask for these in our current state and it would seem like you are trying to get blood out of a stone. We are jeopardising the future of our children.

We can not even talk about intellectual stimulation which should be the cornerstone for keeping our education system up to standard. You know how excited I was with the separation of the ministry of education into basic and tertiary! We were given a new name: Ministry of Tertiary Education, Research, Science and Technology. The name encompassed everything our institutions should be doing, particularly if we want to compete globally, little did I know this is one of the many gimmicks.

I have found it very difficult to complain because it makes me feel selfish. I can buy myself a laptop. I have bought myself a laptop, connected internet at my house (which I use to research for my students). I have also paid my way to a few conferences. It is the student at a public institution that I shudder to imagine what they are going through. It is evident form their residence that no one cares about their welfare. There are no recreational amenities like decent sports grounds, a swimming pool, a tuck shop or a bar. I bet by the time our students graduate they have become socially retarded, intellectually deficient and confused, compared to their counterparts who went to “well resourced” institutions. When we finally start offering degree program for teachers, perhaps graduates from the cohort above should be our first priority, not as a way of easing our conscience, but as a genuine attempt to restore the quality of our education system to what it used to be.

Premised on the current standards and practices, this is how I can describe our education system.

Fraudulent

With curricula, syllabi, vision and mission that are so beautifully crafted but have nothing to do with what goes on in classrooms. Do we cram 50 students inside a classroom and check the box under the goal ‘Universal access to basic education’ just so we appear to be compliant to international reforms?

Un-dignifying

Because for a country with an economy like ours, and a workforce of teachers who received very good education (locally and internationally), what our children are getting is so poor we could be seen to mean that is what they deserve. Nothing better!

A violation of children’s rights

Remember the 2011 fiasco when students wrote exams under the worst conditions imaginable. They went into the examination room with the full knowledge that they were going to be confronted by questions for which they were not equipped because they had not finished the syllabus, following the longest industrial strike the country had ever seen. As if that was not enough, some students wrote their exams under the invigilation of army officers. That according to my understanding of education philosophy and psychology of learning is an unacceptable, traumatic state of affairs. It is a pity society decided to look the other way instead of standing up for the rights of the child.

We might have forgotten about these incidents, but the victims are there somewhere, with shattered hopes and a grim future.

I am also a parent, and the sight of many children of school going age walking the streets during school hours gives me chills. I wonder how many of us have realised that this has become a norm, that it is unattractive and needs to be addressed. The value of education has been so downplayed in the last decade to a point where even a graduate comes back from university to be an ordinary citizen, a dependent to parents who pulled all the stops to send him/her to school. But then there are those of us who are a living proof of how education can change one’s life for better.

Maybe we need to reflect and see how we arrived at the current state of affairs. And then we can retrace our steps to take our education system back to where it used to be. This should be a collective effort, but it is the educated citizen that should be at the forefront in defending the pursuit for learning. Below is an extract from a speech given by former president of the United States of America, J.F. Kennedy:

I quote

If the pursuit of learning is not defended by the educated citizen, it will not be defended at all.

For there will always be those who scoff at intellectuals, who cry out against research, who seek to limit our educational system.

Modern cynics and skeptics see no more reason for landing a man on the moon which we shall do than the cynics and the skeptics of half a millennium ago saw for the discovery of this country.

They see no harm in paying those to whom they entrust the minds of their children a small wage than is paid to whom they entrust the care of their plumbing.

But the educated citizen knows how much more there is to know.

He knows that knowledge is power-more so today than ever before.

He knows that only an educated and informed people will be a free people; that the ignorance of one voter in a democracy impairs the security of all; and that if we can, as Jefferson put it, “enlighten the people generally,” “tyranny and the oppression of mind and body will vanish like evil spirits at the dawn of day.”

And, therefore, the educated citizen has a special obligation to encourage the pursuit of learning, to promote exploration of the unknown, to preserve the freedom of enquiry, to support the advancement of research, and to assist at every level of government the improvement of education for all Americans from grade school to graduate school.

Secondly, the educated citizen has an obligation to serve the public.

He may be a precinct worker or a president.

He may give his talents at the courthouse, the White House.

He may be a civil servant or senator, a candidate or a campaign worker, a winner or a loser.

But he must be a participant and not a spectator.

Your Excellency, I trust that you will meet the ministers of both basic and tertiary education in a bid to respond to the issues raised in this letter. Please ask them to bring the Revised National Policy on Education of 1994. It provides an excellent starting point to addressing many of the problems our education system faces today.

Post Script
While working on the modalities for getting things in shape, kindly ask the relevant stakeholders to ponder on the idea of exporting education.

Thank you for taking your time to read this letter. I look forward to your comprehensive response.

Yours in patriotism
Basetsana Tlhobogang

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