The Minister of Basic Education, Dr Unity Dow has called for reforms in Botswana’s governance and education system. She contends that unless a major paradigm shift is adopted the current state of affairs in public schools will not go away.
“As long as our education system is primarily academic, we are always going to have a cohort of kids who cannot handle purely academic subjects. We need to reform the education system so that we can have multiple path ways,” said Dow in a wide ranging exclusive interview with this publication.
Dow said, although Botswana has impressive retention rate in primary school, ranked among the best in the world, there are problems that come with such nobility. Botswana has 96 percent of its children who are supposed to be in school, in school. “It is good; it means we have every child in school; the smart child, the average child and other types of children. But there is a problem there, because we do not have enough specialised schools,” she said.
Not every child should be in a regular primary school. Some of them are slow; some have sight problem, some hearing problem and should be in specialised schools. If we were in Finland or Australia, such kids would be in specialised schools that deal with their particular problems.” Dow concedes that the Ministry does not have resources yet, with only few testing centres; one in Tlokweng and a satellite one in Francistown.
Dow said, even though she is a minister, it is not an easy thing to implement or change existing government policies. She said sometimes the problem is not the existing policy, but poor implementation which is a result of the inefficient procurement processes.
“One of the major problems in government process is the procurement system. I have had discussion with people telling me that it is almost impossible to have a brilliantly executed idea in government. We can all love it and agree that the idea is brilliant but it will never work,” she said. “The system is not set-up for innovation; it is not set-up for creativity. We are suspicious of innovation; we are suspicious of new ideas, we are suspicious of everybody. The system suspects everybody is corrupt, so nobody does anything as a result.”
STUDENT TO TEACHER RATIO
Student to teacher ratio is considered an important factor in achieving better student performance. In recent years, owing to growing population, migration to other factors affecting the country, class sizes have been growing. While the number of students grows every year, the number of teachers has remained the same. As various experts and education rating agencies indicate, it is easier for some students to fall through the cracks and not get the individualised attention they need to succeed academically.
Various studies have shown that when there is a lower student-to-teacher ratio, students will receive more attention from their teachers. Teachers themselves have more manageable workloads as they have fewer students to keep track of, which in turn translates into them having more time to spend one-on-one with students. More time can be spent on instruction rather than managing a classroom or discipline. The Revised National Policy on Education (RNPE), also known as the Kedikilwe Commission recommended less than 35 students per class.
Dow conversely believes as much as she agrees that student-to-teacher ratio is a factor, the problems contributing to poor performance are many and more entrenched, and would need more than just reducing classes but availing other resources as well. “You would find that in some schools we still have class sizes as small as 15, sometimes 10, and then you have some classes which have 35 or 45 and still do better. The numbers does not necessarily lead to better results, of course it is one of the factors that contributes,” argues Dow.
“You will be surprised in other countries their schools are doing great with classes which have 60 pupils. So it is not just about the number of classes but also about what resource you have there. If you are delivering education through other means such as internet, and also having assistant teachers, you could afford to have classes that are bigger.” Dow said, it is also necessary to put into consideration issues like age, when talking about student-to-teacher ratio.
“If you are looking at eight year olds, it is better to have smaller classes. That is why universities have bigger classes. You would find that, a student is in a class of 35 students at secondary level, and then a class of 100 the following year at a university. Clearly it is more than the numbers, but also how education is delivered in that set-up,” she said. “On average class sizes there is a consensus, we need smaller classes. But we are also concerned that even schools with small classes are not delivering good results.”
SHORTAGE OF BOOKS
One of the criticisms that faces Dow’s ministry is persistent shortage of text books in public schools. Dow admits that shortage has been ongoing, but indicated that it is caused by various factors, chief among them the public procurement system. “One of the problems is our procurement system and this is across government. In our bid to have the fairest of the fairest procurement system, it takes on average three times longer to buy anything by government, than in other countries like the United States, Germany or wherever. Even if you buy a cup, you have to look for three quotations for that,” she argued.
“We are said to be the least corrupt country [in Africa], but the downside of that is that it takes longer to buy anything, and we will continue like that as long as there is little freedom for the executive in decision making.” Dow said the procurement system does not allow senior public officers to make quicker decisions as and when is necessary, the result of which the students are feeling the pinch because of failure to deliver text books every single year.
“The system does not say, this person is a director, we trust them. If I want to buy a juice, I still have to look for quotations, even when we know how much a juice costs,” she observed. “We should be able to say, go and buy that juice, as long as it does not cost more than this much.” The former High Court Judge is of the view that government’s financial year cycle does not help because it is too short and constrains government ministries and department from planning ahead.
She said this also prevents ministries from budgeting outside the financial cycle, therefore being unable to even buy books for future. “Our financial year starts from April to March the following year. In the normal life of a country, that is too short. Most countries do not have annual budgets; they budget three to five years. Government must be able to commit to five year contracts, not annual contracts,” she contended.
“As long as we do the annual contracts and we budget the way we do, we will always have this problem [shortage of text books]. The whole procurement system is a problem, whether you start the process early or not. I believe we need reforms in the procurement system,” she said. The second problem, which according to Dow contributes to shortage of textbooks, is the entitlement mentality of free education and lack of accountability in public schools. She said under normal circumstances, government should not be replacing text books year-in year-out.
“Since we told everybody that education is free, there is no accountability. I think we should start sending invoices to parents on yearly basis, indicating the cost of teaching a student,” she said. “Maybe they would not break the windows and the tables. We have been begging students to return the books, but they do not, yet there are no consequences. If I were to take radical measures to correct the situation, the unions, the media and the MPs will be on my bag, criticizing me.”
She said, in contrast, you will never see students in private schools destroying infrastructure because there is a sense of responsibility from students and from pupils emanating from the fact that they know the cost associated with offering education there.
Dow agrees that employing teachers on temporary arrangement is affecting school performance. She noted that this is not because teachers who are hired on temporary basis are less qualified but because they do not have security of tenure. “I know some of them are great teachers, but if they do not have security of tenure, it affects their productive. I would have happier teachers and secure teachers if they were not temporary,” she stated.
However this is matter as far as government is concerned; it is beyond Dow’s control. Even if she had wished to employ more teachers on permanent basis, Directorate of Public Service Management (DPSM)’s decision to set a limit on number of people employed by government proves to be a headache.
“Unless the system creates vacancies we cannot hire anybody on permanent and pensionable basis, only temporary,” she said. According to the minister, she needs more than 3000 teachers in public schools to deal with the shortage. The teaching service currently has 26 000 teachers employed on permanent basis.
URBAN SCHOOLS VS RURAL SCHOOL
Results in recent years have indicated the growing gap in terms of pass rate between urban schools and rural schools. Several countries around the world have been drawing up policies aimed at addressing the disparity that exist as the government start acknowledging the socio-economic factor in schools performances. In a country like Botswana, which is considered among the most unequal societies in the world, the problem is even more retrenched.
Dow acknowledge this problem and said, to date, they have tried several incentives to uplift school in rural areas, especially those in remote areas, but with no improvement. “As for incentives, we have come up with many, like additional meals in rural schools. We know when kids are hungry are unable to be attentive. You go to a school like D’kar for example, we have a partner in De Beers which has helped to build libraries, but still the results do not improve,” Dow said.
Former Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) Member of Parliament for Gaborone North, Haskins Nkaigwa has confirmed his departure from opposition fold to re-join the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP).
Nkaigwa said opposition is extremely divided and the leadership not in talking terms. “They are planning evil against each other. Nothing much will be achieved,” Nkaigwa told WeekendPost.
“I believe my time in the opposition has come to an end. It’s time to be of value to rebuilding our nation and economy of the country. Remember the BDP is where I started my political journey. It is home,” he said.
“Despite all challenges currently facing the world, President Masisi will be far with his promises to Batswana. A leader always have the interest of the people at heart despite how some decisions may look to be unpopular with the people.
“I have faith and full confidence in President Dr Masisi leadership. We shall overcome as party and nation the current challenges bedevilling nations. BDP will emerge stronger. President Masisi will always have my backing.”
Nkaigwa served as opposition legislator between 2014-2019 representing Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD) under UDC banner. He joined BMD in 2011 at the height public servant strike whilst Gaborone City Deputy Mayor. He eventually rose to become the mayor same year, after BDP lost majority in the GCC.
Nkaigwa had been a member of Botswana National Front (BNF), having joined from Alliance for Progressives (AP) in 2019.
Botswana has received assistance worth over P100 million from Japanese government since 2019, making the latter of the largest donors to Botswana in recent years.
The assistance include relatively large-scale grant aid programmes such as the COVID-19 programme (to provide medical equipment; P34 million), the digital terrestrial television programme (to distribute receivers to the underprivileged, P17 million), the agriculture promotion programme (to provide agricultural machinery and equipment, P53million).
“As 2020 was a particularly difficult year, where COVID-19 hit Botswana’s economy and society hard, Japan felt the need to assist Botswana as our friend,” said Japan’s new Ambassador to Botswana, Hoshiyama Takashi.
“It is for this reason that grants of over P100 million were awarded to Botswana for the above mentioned projects.”
Japan is now the world’s fourth highest ranking donor country in terms of Official Development Assistance (ODA).
From 1991 to 2000, Japan continued as the top donor country in the world and contributed to Asia’s miracle economic development.
From 1993 onwards, the TICAD process commenced through Japan’s initiative as stated earlier. Japan’s main contribution has been in the form of Yen Loans, which are at a concessional rate, to suit large scale infrastructure construction.
“In Botswana, only a few projects have been implemented using the Yen Loan such as the Morupule “A” Power Station Rehabilitation and Pollution Abatement in 1986, the Railway Rolling Stock Increase Project in 1987, the Trans-Kalahari Road Construction Project in 1991, the North-South Carrier Water Project in 1995 and the Kazungula Bridge Construction Project in 2012,” said Ambassador Hoshiyama.
“In terms of grant aid and technical assistance, Japan has various aid schemes including development survey and master planning, expert dispatch to recipient countries, expert training in Japan, scholarships, small scale grass-roots program, culture-related assistance, aid through international organizations and so on.”
In 1993, Japan launched Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) to promote Africa’s development, peace and security, through the strengthening of relations in multilateral cooperation and partnership.
TICAD discuss development issues across Africa and, at the same time, present “aid menus” to African countries provided by Japan and the main aid-related international organizations, United Nations (UN), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the World Bank.
“As TICAD provides vision and guidance, it is up to each African country to take ownership and to implement her own development following TICAD polices and make use of the programmes shown in the aid menus,” Ambassordor Hoshiyama noted.
“This would include using ODA loans for quality infrastructure, suited to the country’s own nation-building needs. It is my fervent hope that Botswana will take full advantage of the TICAD process.”
Since then, seven conferences where held, the latest, TICAD 7 being in 2019 at Yokohama. TICAD 7’s agenda on African development focused on three pillars, among them the first pillar being “Accelerating economic transformation and improving business environment through innovation and private sector engagement”.
“Yes, private investment is very important, while public investment through ODA (Official Development Assistance) still plays an indispensable role in development,” the Japanese Ambassador said.
“For further economic development in Africa, Japan recognizes that strengthening regional connectivity and integration through investment in quality infrastructure is key.”
Japan has emphasized the following; effective implementation of economic corridors such as the East Africa Northern Corridor, Nacala Corridor and West Africa Growth Ring; Quality infrastructure investment in line with the G20 Principles for Quality Infrastructure Investment should be promoted by co-financing or cooperation through the African Development Bank (AfDB) and Japan.
Japan also emphasized the establishment of mechanisms to encourage private investment and to improve the business environment.
According to the statistics issued by Japan’s Finance Ministry, Japan invested approximately 10 billion US dollars in Africa after TICAD 7 (2019) to year end 2020, but Japanese investment through third countries are not included in this figure.
“With the other points factored in, the figure isn’t established yet,” Ambassador Hoshiyama said.
The next conference, TICAD 8 will be held in Tunisia in 2022. This will be the second TICAD summit to be held on the African continent after TICAD 6 which was held in Nairobi, Kenya, in 2016.
According to Ambassador Hoshiyama, in preparation for TICAD 8, the TICAD ministerial meeting will be held in Tokyo this year. The agenda to be discussed during TICAD 8 has not yet been fully deliberated on amongst TICAD Co-organizers (Japan, UN, UNDP, the World Bank and AU).
“Though not officially concluded, given the world situation caused by COVID-19, I believe that TICAD 8 will highlight health and medical issues including the promotion of a Universal Health Coverage (UHC),” said Hoshiyama.
“As the African economy has seriously taken a knock by COVID-19, economic issues, including debt, could be an item for serious discussion.”
The promotion of business is expected to be one of the most important topics. Japan and its partners, together with the business sector, will work closely to help revitalize private investment in Africa.
“All in all, the follow-up of the various programs that were committed by the Co-Organizers during the Yokohama Plan of Actions 2019 will also be reviewed as an important item of the agenda,” Ambassador Hoshiyama said.
“I believe that this TICAD follow-up mechanism has secured transparency and accountability as well as effective implementation of agreed actions by all parties. The guiding principle of TICAD is African ownership and international partnership.”
Directorate on Intelligence Services (DIS) Director General, Brigadier Peter Magosi is said to be hell-bent and pushing President Mokgweetsi Masisi to reshuffle his cabinet as a matter of urgency since a number of his ministers are conflicted.
The request by Magosi comes at a time when time is ticking on his contract which is awaiting renewal from Masisi.
This publication learns that Magosi is unshaken by the development and continues to wield power despite uncertainty hovering around his contractual renewal.