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Dow calls for reforms to save public schools

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.

TEMPORARY TEACHERS

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.

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Households spending to drive economic recovery

17th January 2022

A surge in consumer spending is expected to be a key driver of Botswana’s economic recovery, according to recent projections by Fitch Solutions. Fitch Solutions said it forecasts household spending in Botswana to grow by a real rate of 5.9% in 2022.

The bullish Fitch Solutions noted that “This is a considerable deceleration from 9.4% growth estimated in 2021, it comes mainly from the base effects of the contraction of 2.5% recorded in 2020,” adding that, “We project total household spending (in real terms) to reach BWP59.9bn (USD8.8bn) in 2022, increasing from BWP56.5bn (USD8.3bn) in 2021.”  According to Fitch Solutions, this is higher than the pre-Covid-19 total household spending (in real terms) of P53.0 billion (USD7.8bn) in 2019 and it indicates a full recovery in consumer spending.

“We forecast real household spending to grow by 5.9% in 2022, decelerating from the estimated growth of 9.4% in 2021. We note that the Covid-19 pandemic and the related restrictions on economic activity resulted in real household spending contracting by 2.5% in 2020, creating a lower base for spending to grow from in 2021 and 2022,” Fitch Solutions says.

Total household spending (in real terms), the agency says, will increase in 2022 when compared to 2021. In 2021 and 2022, total household spending (in real terms) will be above the pre-Covid-19 levels in 2019, indicating a full recovery in consumer spending, says Fitch Solutions.  It says as of December 6 2021 (latest data available), 38.4% of people in Botswana have received at least one vaccine dose, while this is relatively low it is higher than Africa average of 11.3%.

“The emergence of new Covid-19 variants such as Omicron, which was first detected in the country in November 2021, poses a downside risk to our outlook for consumer spending, particularly as a large proportion of the country’s population is unvaccinated and this could result in stricter measures being implemented once again,” says Fitch Solutions.

Growth will ease in 2022, Fitch Solution says. “Our forecast for an improvement in consumer spending in Botswana in 2022 is in line with our Country Risk team’s forecast that the economy will grow by a real rate of 5.3% over 2022, from an estimated 12.5% growth in 2021 as the low base effects from 2020 dissipate,” it says.

Fitch Solutions notes that “Our Country Risk team expects private consumption to be the main driver of Botswana’s economic growth in 2022, as disposable incomes and the labour market continue to recover from the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic.”
It says Botswana’s tourism sector has been negatively impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic and the related travel restrictions.

According to Fitch Solutions, “The emergence of the Omicron variant, which was first detected in November 2021, has resulted in travel bans being implemented on Southern African countries such as South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Eswatini. This will further delay the recovery of Botswana’s tourism sector in 2021 and early 2022.”  Fitch Solutions, therefore, forecasts Botswana’s tourist arrivals to grow by 81.2% in 2022, from an estimated contraction of 40.3% in 2021.

It notes that the 72.4% contraction in 2020 has created a low base for tourist arrivals to grow from.  “The rollout of vaccines in South Africa and its key source markets will aid the recovery of the tourism sector over the coming months and this bodes well for the employment and incomes of people employed in the hospitality industry, particularly restaurants and hotels as well as recreation and culture businesses,” the report says.

Fitch Solutions further notes that with economies reopening, consumers are demanding products that they had little access to over the previous year. However, manufacturers are facing several problems.  It says supply chain issues and bottlenecks are resulting in consumer goods shortages, feeding through into supply-side inflation.  Fitch Solutions believes the global semiconductor shortage will continue into 2022, putting the pressure on the supply of several consumer goods.

It says the spread of the Delta variant is upending factory production in Asia, disrupting shipping and posing more shocks to the world economy. Similarly, manufacturers are facing shortages of key components and higher raw materials costs, the report says adding that while this is somewhat restricted to consumer goods, there is a high risk that this feeds through into more consumer services over the 2022 year.

“Our global view for a notable recovery in consumer spending relies on the ability of authorities to vaccinate a large enough proportion of their populations and thereby experience a notable drop in Covid-19 infections and a decline in hospitalisation rates,” says Fitch Solutions.
Both these factors, it says, will lead to governments gradually lifting restrictions, which will boost consumer confidence and retail sales.

“As of December 6 2021, 38.4% of people in Botswana have received at least one vaccine dose. While this is low, it is higher than the Africa average of 11.3%. The vaccines being administered in Botswana include Pfizer-BioNTech, Sinovac and Johnson & Johnson. We believe that a successful vaccine rollout will aid the country’s consumer spending recovery,” says Fitch Solutions.  Therefore, the agency says, “Our forecasts account for risks that are highly likely to play out in 2022, including the easing of government support. However, if other risks start to play out, this may lead to forecast revisions.”

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BHC to increase rent again effective 1st April 2022

17th January 2022
BHC

Botswana Housing Corporation (BHC) will increase rental prices effective 1st April 2022. Tenants have already received letter of rent increment dated 09 December 2021 signed by the Regional Director, Kesebonye M. J. Khimbele. The letter stated that BHC has completed review of its rentals for implementation in the financial year 2022/2023.

The letter further states that, “the review comes on the backdrop of annual rental adjustments approved for the Corporation affecting all tenants (Government, Local Authorities, Parastatals, Private Companies, individuals and other corporate bodies). To this end, notice is hereby given that with effect from 1st April 2022, the Corporation will adjust current rental for your lease. The new rentals will be payable from 1st April 2022 to 31 March 2023. Please note that all other terms of your lease agreement remain the same including the service charges where applicable.”

BHC sensitized the public about its decision to adjust rent in 2020, they stated that they will be increasing their rentals for the next five years in order to meet the market price. When addressing the media about the decision to increase rent to meet the market rate in 2020. BHC officials indicated that the Corporation decided to increase rent and that the decision was backed by the government. Furthermore, BHC had not increased rent in the past 16 years. The Corporation pointed out that it was time to adjust the rent in order to match the market dynamics.

Minister of Infrastructure and Housing Development, Mmusi Kgafela when addressing the media in 2020 about the decision to increase rent by BHC, stated that it is still priority to ensure that they reach BHC’s objective of being at par with the current rental market rates.
The first increment after the public was addressed by BHC and the Minister of Infrastructure and Housing Development was last year 1st April, and the second increment will be on the 1st April 2022.

According to BHC website, BHC is a Parastatal under the Ministry of Infrastructure & Housing Development. The Corporation was established by an Act of Parliament (CAP 74.03) of 1971. The Corporation’s explicit mandate is outlined under section 14 of the BHC Act: To provide for the housing, office and other building needs of the government and local authorities; To provide for and to assist and to make arrangements for other persons to meet the requirements above; To undertake and carry-out and to make arrangements for other persons to undertake and carry-out building schemes in Botswana.

Execution of the explicit mandate covers provision of housing to the general population through a variety of initiatives and structures such as: Government housing pool; Sales of houses to government and its agencies; Provision of project management services; Undertaking housing projects for government departments such as the BDF, BURS etc. The Corporation’s implicit mandate is expressed through Government Policy pronouncements; Directives; Economic/business imperatives; Public & other social considerations.

Effective from 1st April 2012, the Corporation’s mandate has been expanded in accordance with Presidential Directive Cab 20 (B)/2010. The directive pronounced that all Government housing implementation programmes be transferred to BHC to operate as Government’s Single Housing Authority (SiHA). In compliance with the directive, BHC is as from 1st April 2012 responsible for the construction of turnkey SHHA projects as well as District Housing and other housing programmes pronounced by government from time to time such as the Public Housing Initiative and Youth Housing Initiative.

In executing the implicit mandate, the Corporation has to raise money through the market to sustain itself. For instance, 1990’s, government announced cessation of PDSF loans to parastatals. This meant that BHC had to do the following: Raise money from financial markets; Diversification of income stream; Reduced dependence on government.

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Thiite, Lesaso, Letsholo tipped for Ministerial posts

17th January 2022

At least three new faces are expected to join cabinet before or during the second meeting of the third session of the 12th parliament scheduled for the 1st of February 2022. This publication is reliably informed that there are currently three names from the backbench that are being assessed by the principals for possible inclusion in the Ministerial bench.

Businessmen in Gantsi North Member of Parliament (MP) John Thiite, Kanye North legislator Thapelo Letsholo and Shoshong MP Aubrey Lesaso are possible candidates for the executive arm of government. The decision on the three, according to informants, pivots on the claim that the President Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi finds it “very difficult to rope in MPs who have served during the era of ex-President Ian Khama.” It is not clear as to what reasons could be, except that Masisi wants his own team that will diligently articulate his game plan until 2028.

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