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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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13 AUGUST 2022 Publication

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DIS blasted for cruelty – UN report

26th July 2022
DIS BOSS: Magosi

Botswana has made improvements on preventing and ending arbitrary deprivation of liberty, but significant challenges remain in further developing and implementing a legal framework, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention said at the end of a visit recently.

Head of the delegation, Elina Steinerte, appreciated the transparency of Botswana for opening her doors to them. Having had full and unimpeded access and visited 19 places of deprivation of liberty and confidentiality interviewing over 100 persons deprived of their liberty.

She mentioned “We commend Botswana for its openness in inviting the Working Group to conduct this visit which is the first visit of the Working Group to the Southern African region in over a decade. This is a further extension of the commitment to uphold international human rights obligations undertaken by Botswana through its ratification of international human rights treaties.”

Another good act Botswana has been praised for is the remission of sentences. Steinerte echoed that the Prisons Act grants remission of one third of the sentence to anyone who has been imprisoned for more than one month unless the person has been sentenced to life imprisonment or detained at the President’s Pleasure or if the remission would result in the discharge of any prisoner before serving a term of imprisonment of one month.

On the other side; The Group received testimonies about the police using excessive force, including beatings, electrocution, and suffocation of suspects to extract confessions. Of which when the suspects raised the matter with the magistrates, medical examinations would be ordered but often not carried out and the consideration of cases would proceed.

“The Group recall that any such treatment may amount to torture and ill-treatment absolutely prohibited in international law and also lead to arbitrary detention. Judicial authorities must ensure that the Government has met its obligation of demonstrating that confessions were given without coercion, including through any direct or indirect physical or undue psychological pressure. Judges should consider inadmissible any statement obtained through torture or ill-treatment and should order prompt and effective investigations into such allegations,” said Steinerte.

One of the group’s main concern was the DIS held suspects for over 48 hours for interviews. Established under the Intelligence and Security Service Act, the Directorate of Intelligence and Security (DIS) has powers to arrest with or without a warrant.

The group said the “DIS usually requests individuals to come in for an interview and has no powers to detain anyone beyond 48 hours; any overnight detention would take place in regular police stations.”

The Group was able to visit the DIS facilities in Sebele and received numerous testimonies from persons who have been taken there for interviewing, making it evident that individuals can be detained in the facility even if the detention does not last more than few hours.

Moreover, while arrest without a warrant is permissible only when there is a reasonable suspicion of a crime being committed, the evidence received indicates that arrests without a warrant are a rule rather than an exception, in contravention to article 9 of the Covenant.

Even short periods of detention constitute deprivation of liberty when a person is not free to leave at will and in all those instances when safeguards against arbitrary detention are violated, also such short periods may amount to arbitrary deprivation of liberty.

The group also learned of instances when persons were taken to DIS for interviewing without being given the possibility to notify their next of kin and that while individuals are allowed to consult their lawyers prior to being interviewed, lawyers are not allowed to be present during the interviews.

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention mentioned they will continue engaging in the constructive dialogue with the Government of Botswana over the following months while they determine their final conclusions in relation to the country visit.

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Stan Chart halts civil servants property loan facility

26th July 2022
Stan-Chart

Standard Chartered Bank Botswana (SCBB) has informed the government that it will not be accepting new loan applications for the Government Employees Motor Vehicle and Residential Property Advance Scheme (GEMVAS and LAMVAS) facility.

This emerges in a correspondence between Acting Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance Boniface Mphetlhe and some government departments. In a letter he wrote recently to government departments informing them of the decision, Mphetlhe indicated that the Ministry received a request from the Bank to consider reviewing GEMVAS and LAMVAS agreement.

He said: “In summary SCBB requested the following; Government should consider reviewing GEMVAS and LAMVAS interest rate from prime plus 0.5% to prime plus 2%.” The Bank indicated that the review should be both for existing GEMVAS and LAMVAS clients and potential customers going forward.

Mphetlhe said the Bank informed the Ministry that the current GEMVAS and LAMVAS interest rate structure results into them making losses, “as the cost of loa disbursements is higher that their end collections.”

He said it also requested that the loan tenure for the residential property loans to be increased from 20 to 25 years and the loan tenure for new motor vehicles loans to be increased from 60 months to 72 months.

Mphetlhe indicated that the Bank’s request has been duly forwarded to the Directorate of Public Service Management for consideration, since GEMVAS and LAMVAS is a Condition of Service Scheme. He saidthe Bank did also inform the Ministry that if the matter is not resolved by the 6th June, 2022, they would cease receipt of new GEMVAS and LAMVAS loan applications.

“A follow up virtual meeting was held to discuss their resolution and SCB did confirm that they will not be accepting any new loans from GEMVAS and LAMVAS. The decision includes top-up advances,” said Mphetlhe. He advised civil servants to consider applying for loans from other banks.

In a letter addressed to the Ministry, SCBB Chief Executive Officer Mpho Masupe informed theministry that, “Reference is made to your letter dated 18th March 2022 wherein the Ministry had indicated that feedback to our proposal on the above subject is being sought.”

In thesame letter dated 10 May 2022, Masupe stated that the Bank was requesting for an update on the Ministry’s engagements with the relevant stakeholder (Directorate of Public Service Management) and provide an indicative timeline for conclusion.

He said the “SCBB informs the Ministry of its intention to cease issuance of new loans to applicants from 6th June 2022 in absence of any feedback on the matter and closure of the discussions between the two parties.”  Previously, Masupe had also had requested the Ministry to consider a review of clause 3 of the agreement which speaks to the interest rate charged on the facilities.

Masupe indicated in the letter dated 21 December 2021 that although all the Banks in the market had signed a similar agreement, subject to amendments that each may have requested. “We would like to suggest that our review be considered individually as opposed to being an industry position as we are cognisant of the requirements of section 25 of the Competition Act of 2018 which discourages fixing of pricing set for consumers,” he said.

He added that,“In this way,clients would still have the opportunity to shop around for more favourable pricing and the other Banks, may if they wish to, similarly, individually approach your office for a review of their pricing to the extent that they deem suitable for their respective organisations.”

Masupe also stated that: “On the issue of our request for the revision of the Interest Rate, we kindly request for an increase from the current rate of prime plus 0.5% to prime plus 2%, with no other increases during the loan period.” The Bank CEO said the rationale for the request to review pricing is due to the current construct of the GEMVAS scheme which is currently structured in a way that is resulting in the Bank making a loss.

“The greater part of the GEMVAS portfolio is the mortgage boo which constitutes 40% of the Bank’s total mortgage portfolio,” said Masupe. He saidthe losses that the Bank is incurring are as a result of the legacy pricing of prime plus 0% as the 1995 agreement which a slight increase in the August 2018 agreement to prime plus 0.5%.

“With this pricing, the GEMVAS portfolio has not been profitable to the Bank, causing distress and impeding its ability to continue to support government employees to buy houses and cars. The portfolio is currently priced at 5.25%,” he said.  Masupe said the performance of both the GEMVAS home loan and auto loan portfolios in terms of profitability have become unsustainable for the Bank.

Healso said, when the agreement was signed in August 2018, the prime lending rate was 6.75% which made the pricing in effect at the time sufficient from a profitable perspective. “It has since dropped by a total 1.5%. The funds that are loaned to customers are sourced at a high rate, which now leaves the Bank with marginal profits on the portfolio before factoring in other operational expenses associated with administration of the scheme and after sales care of the portfolio,” said the CEO.

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