The Ministry of Tertiary Education, Research, Science and Technology has drastically reduced the number of students who will be sponsored during the 2017/2018 financial year for both local public and private institutions.
Only 3 897 students will be sponsored this year, a record low in recent years. Last year a report, titled “Tertiary Education at a Glance” published by the HRDC, indicated that government’s decision through its policy to sponsor students in registered private tertiary institutions in the country has resulted in significant involvement of the private sector in the provision of tertiary education.
The report stated that the enrolment at tertiary level had almost doubled, rising from 31 129 in the 2007/08 financial year to 60 583 in the 2014/15 financial year. During the 2014/15 financial year, out of the 60 583 students enrolled in tertiary institutions, private tertiary institutions accounted for 42.6 percent of the students. A drastic growth experienced by almost all private institutions.
Since the Tertiary Education Policy (TEP) was approved by parliament in April 2008, a total expenditure of over P2 billion was spent on student tuition fees and allowances. The projections also indicated that private institutions would be enrolling more students than public schools.
However, this progress has seen government taking a different stand in tertiary education financing. In the last three years the number of students sponsored in both public and private has been declining against expected growth. Last year Minister of Tertiary Education, Dr Alfred Madigele told the Tertiary Education Financing Pitso organised by the Human Resource Development Council (HRDC) that the current tertiary education funding model used by government is not sustainable.
Madigele told the Pitso that Botswana, like many other countries face the challenge of tertiary education financing occasioned in part by what he called “massification”: a massive increase in tertiary education enrolment; ever increasing costs; equally important competing priorities and dwindling financial resources.
In their effort to achieve prosperity for all and accumulating an educated and an informed nation, the government seems rather to be moving in a reverse gear as many continue to be chopped off the cycle of the government’s expectation. The decline in the number of students in the financial year 2016/2017 who will be receiving a portion of their sponsorship will leave out a lot of potential candidates despite the fact that they are eligible or have obtained an excellent number of cut-off points.
This is because the pass rate of Botswana General Certificate of Secondary Education (BGCSE) has declined gradually. In 2015, 6291 pupils passed their examinations compared to 6368 pupils in 2016, which is the latest examination sitting. “Government has traditionally been the sole sponsor of tertiary education students. We have provided loans and grants to students to cover both tuition and students’ upkeep. In addition, the Government provides 100% funding to the public tertiary institutions to meet both their recurrent and development expenditure,” he said.
“The sponsorship evolved overtime from a bursary to a grant/loan scheme where beneficiaries were expected to contribute towards the cost of their training through recovery.” Madigele explained that in 1995, under the bursary scheme, sponsorship was availed to everyone and graduates were expected to pay 5% of their initial salary at the time they started, tied to the duration of the programme. Whereas under the grant/loan scheme, sponsorship was availed to all those who completed senior secondary school and could find admission to local public tertiary institutions.
Botswana is the highest spender on education in proportion to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the region but remains inferior to countries like South Africa, Namibia and Mauritius in terms of access to tertiary education. According to the HRDC, there are many students who are eligible for tertiary education but do not have access to it. HRDC has recommended that the Ministry of Education expands the current system in order to meet the rising demand.
The Global Competiveness Report, compiled by World Economic Forum has also repeatedly stated that Botswana’s enrolment remains lower by international standards especially for an upper-middle income country. In the 2014/15 report Botswana was ranked 114 out of 144 countries in the world, while Finland has been consistently ranked higher than almost all competing economies
As per the government admission, the upcoming generation will have to pay for government’s failure to recover scholarship loans from students who were previously sponsored by government. “Need I point out at this juncture that our recovery efforts have not been the best and I think I will be correct to say we could be having amongst our midst here, individuals who still have not paid back. In addition, Government provides 100% funding to the public tertiary institutions to meet both their recurrent and development expenditure,” he noted.
A plan by then Ministry of Education with Botswana Unified Revenue Services (BURS) died a natural death. The initial idea, which was the brainchild of then Director of Department of Tertiary Education Financing (DTEF) Marcos Maedza, was for BURS to track all taxpaying individuals who are beneficiaries of government sponsorship and have them start paying what they owe to government. BURS was to be the custodian of recovery of scholarship loans.
Due to this decline there is a likelihood of a restructuring in tertiary institutions as many lecturers and service providers are likely to be retrenched. A number of tertiary institutions, including the University of Botswana (UB) since last year were forced to lay-off both their academic and support staff. At the beginning of this year, Limkokwing University retrenched 80 employees, with school authorities explaining that the decision to do so was necessitated by the general decline in enrolment experienced by the entire tertiary education sector.
Lebang Mpotokwane, one of the conveners who presided over the opposition cooperation talks that resulted in the formation of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC), has advised against changing the current umbrella model in favour of a merger as proposed by others.
The Botswana Congress Party (BCP) leader, Dumelang Saleshando recently went public to propose that UDC should consider merging of all opposition parties, including Alliance for Progressives (AP) and Botswana Patriotic Front (BNF).
Saleshando has been vehemently opposed by Botswana National Front (BNF), which is in favour of maintaining the current model. BNF’s position has been favoured by the founding father of UDC, who warned that it will be too early to ditch the current model.
“UDC should be well developed to promote the spirit of togetherness on members and the members should be taught so that the merger is developed gradually. They should approach it cautiously. If they feel they are ready, they can, but it would not be a good idea,” Mpotokwane told WeekendPost this week.
Mpotokwane and Emang Maphanyane are the two men who have since 2003 began a long journey of uniting opposition parties in a bid to dethrone the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BCP) as they felt it needed a strong opposition to avoid complacency.
Tonota born Mpotokwane is however disappointed on how they have been ejected from participating in the last edition of talks ahead of the 2019 general elections in which BCP was brought on board. However, despite the ejection, Mpotokwane is not resentful to the opposition collective.
He said the vision of opposition unity was to ultimately merge the opposition parties but he believes time has not arrived yet to pursue that path. “The bigger picture was a total merger and we agreed that with three independent parties, members might be against merger eventuality so the current model should be used until a point where they are now together for as long as possible,” he said.
“UDC should gradually perform better in elections and gain confidence. They should not rush the merger. We have been meeting since 2003, but if they rush it might cause endless problems. If they are ready they can anyway,” he advised. For now the constituent parties of the umbrella have been exchanging salvos with others (BCP and BNF).
“There are good reasons for and against merging the parties. Personally, I am in favour of merging the parties (including AP and BPF) into a single formation but I know it’s a complex mission that will have its own challenges,” Saleshando said when he made his position known a week ago.
“Good luck to those advocating for a merger, it will be interesting to observe the tactics they will use to lure the BPF into a merger,” former BNF councillor for Borakalalo Ward and former BNF Youth League Secretary General, Arafat Khan, opined in relation to BCP’s proposed position.
Mpotokwane, who is currently out in the cold from the UDC since he was ejected from the party’s NEC in 2017, said the current bickering and the expected negotiations with other parties need the presence of conveners.
“We did not belong to any party as conveners so we were objective in our submissions. If party propose any progressive idea we will support, if it is not we will not, so I would agree that even now conveners might be key for neutrality to avoid biasness,” he observed. Despite being abandoned, Mpotokwane said he will always be around to assist if at all he is needed.
“If they want help I will be there, I have always been clear about it, but surely I will ask few questions before accepting that role,” he said. UDC is expected to begin cooperation talks with both AP and BPF either this week or next weekend for both upcoming bye-elections (halted by Covid-19) and 2024 general elections and it is revealed that there will be no conveners this time around.
The Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) moved through its lawyers to attach the property of Umbrella for Democratic (UDC) President Duma Boko and other former parliamentary contestants who failed in their court bid to overturn the 2019 general elections in 14 constituencies.
WeekendPost has established that this week, Deputy Sheriffs were commissioned by Bogopa Manewe Tobedza and Company who represented the BDP, to attach the properties of UDC elections contents in a bid to recover costs. High Court has issued a writ of execution against all petitioners, a process that has set in motion the cost recovery measures.
Botswana Sectors of Teachers Union (BOSETU) says COVID-19 as a pandemic has negatively affected the education sector by deeply disrupting the education system. The intermittent lockdowns have resulted in the halting of teaching and learning in schools.
The union indicated that the education system was caught napping and badly exposed when it came to the use of Information System (IT), technological platforms and issues of digitalisation.
“COVID-19 exposed glaring inefficiencies and deficiencies when it came to the use of ITC in schools. In view of the foregoing, we challenge government as BOSETU to invest in school ITC, technology and digitalization,” says BOSETU President Kinston Radikolo during a press conference on Tuesday.
As a consequence, the union is calling on government to prioritise education in her budgeting to provide technological infrastructure and equipment including provision of tablets to students and teachers.
“Government should invest vigorously in internet connectivity in schools and teacher’s residences if the concept of flexi-hours and virtual learning were to be achieved and have desired results,” Radikolo said.
Radikolo told journalists that COVID-19 is likely to negatively affect final year results saying that the students would sit for the final examinations having not covered enough ground in terms of curriculum coverage.
“This is so because there wasn’t any catch up plan that was put in place to recover the lost time by students. We warn that this year’s final examination results would dwindle,” he said.
The Union, which is an affiliate of Botswana Federation of Public, Private and Parastatal Union (BOFEPUSU), also indicated that COVID-19’s presence as a pandemic has complicated the role of a teacher in a school environment, saying a teacher’s role has not only transcended beyond just facilitating teaching and learning, but rather, a teacher in this COVID-19 era, is also called upon to enforce the COVID-19 preventative protocols in the school environment.
“This is an additional role in the duty of a teacher that needs to be recognized by the employers. Teachers by virtue of working in a congested school environment have become highly exposed and vulnerable to COVID-19, hence the reason why BOSETU would like teachers to be regarded as the frontline workers with respect to COVID-19,” says Radikolo.
BOSETU noted that the pandemic has in large scales found its way into most of the school environments, as in thus far more than 50 schools have been affected by COVID-19. The Union says this is quite a worrying phenomenon.
“As we indicated before when we queried that schools were not ready for re-opening, it has now come to pass that our fears were not far-fetched. This goes out to tell that there is deficiency in our schools when it comes to putting in place preventative protocols. In our schools, hygiene is compromised by mere absence of sanitizers, few hand-washing stations, absence of social distancing in classes,” the Union leader said.
Furthermore, Radikolo stressed that the shifting system drastically increased the workload for teachers especially in secondary schools. He says teachers in these schools experience very high loads to an extent that some of them end up teaching up to sixty four periods per week, adding that this has not only fatigued teachers, but has also negatively affected their performance and the quality of teaching.
In what the Union sees as failure to uphold and honour collective agreements by government, owing to the shift system introduced at primary schools, government is still in some instances refusing to honour an agreement with the Unions to hire more teachers to take up the extra classes.
“BOSETU notes with disgruntlement the use of pre-school teachers to teach in the mainstream schools with due regard for their specific areas of training and their job descriptions. This in our view is a variation of the terms of employment of the said teachers,” says Radikolo.
The Union has called on government to forthwith remedy this situation and hire more teachers to alleviate this otherwise unhealthy situation. BOSETU also expressed concerns of some school administrators who continuously run institutions with iron fists and in a totalitarian way.
“We have a few such hot spot schools which the Union has brought to attention the Ministry officials such as Maoka JSS, Artesia JSS, and Dukwi JSS. We are worried that the Ministry becomes sluggish in taking action against such errant school administration. In instances where action is taken, such school administrators are transferred and rotated around schools.”