Senior officials from Ministry of Basic Education led by Minister, Dr Unity Dow, have warned the nation not to expect radical changes in the Junior Certificates (JC) results in the near future. This comes in the heels of a dismal showing of the JC results.
A panel of ministry officials which accompanied the minister comprising of her deputy, Moiseraela Goya; Permanent Secretary, Grace Muzila and Botswana Examinations Council Executive Secretary, Prof Brian Mokopakgosi relayed what could be exasperating news to parents who take their children to public schools at a press conference this week.
Minister Dow has conceded that there is a disturbing disparity between rural and urban schools, which she said is caused by various factors including the involvement of parents in urban areas compared to those in rural areas. Another aspect which Dow added as a factor is the socio-economic variable.
From the Top 10 performing schools in Botswana; six of them are from Gaborone and the other four from; Orapa, Jwaneng, Francistown and Selibe Phikwe, which are all urban areas. Meanwhile the bottom 10 schools are all from rural areas, the worst performer being Tshimologo Junior Secondary School in Kalfontein, Ghanzi District. The recently released results indicate that 88.8 percent of pupils at Tshimologo JSS failed to get a grade of C or better.
The top 10 performing schools have also been experiencing decline of their own. In 2015 the top three schools Nanogang JSS, Orapa JSS and Makhubu JSS registered pass rate of 82.9 percent, 79.5 percent and 73.8 percent respectively. This is year the three schools garnered a pass rate of 72.1 percent (Nanogang JSS), 68.6 percent (Orapa JSS) and 63.4 percent (Makhubu JSS) respectively.
Although the results have been dwindling since 2010, and took a worse turn in 2012, Dow said she has no idea why the schools are performing dismally. Since 2012, after the introduction of a new syllabus and marking system, the JC results which were released never bettered those of the preceding year; actually they are becoming consistently worse in subsequent years.
“In the absence of an in-depth research into the root cause, we cannot certainly pin-point a singular cause for this,” Dow told the press conference earlier this week. “A tracer study of the candidates who progress from PSLE (Primary School Leaving Examinations) for instance can help us understand if pupils improve or become poorer as they transit from primary to secondary,” she said.
Dow said the tracer study will be used to establish various factors among them; if they are accepting into mainstream, pupils who should otherwise be receiving specialized education, if the automatic progression had an impact on pupils who proceed to the next stage before having mastered the one they are currently in, the influencing social factors on the subject choice of young people and how it affects the way they perform in examinations.
Muzila added that government is already working on addressing disparity between rural and urban schools by prioritising resource allocation in their budgeting. “It will take a long term to see the desired results, but we are putting measures in place to ensure that results improve going forward,” she said.
THE NEW MARKING AND GRADING SYSTEM
In 2010 government introduced the revised Junior Secondary curriculum and was first used on the JC examination of 2012. BEC was required to come up with new assessment designs that are aligned to the philosophical and outcome intentions of the new curriculum. “The new system is completely different from the previous one. For you to grade a student you look at the manner in which he answered the question, not just looking at whether the answer is right or wrong,” said Prof Mokopakgosi.
The new grading system has attracted a lot of criticism of the general public with some opining that it is designed to fail the students while some are of the view that it does not reflect the real performance of the pupils. The introduction of the new curriculum came at a point when BEC was in the process of changing the assessment at JC with regard to the way syllabuses were graded. Starting with 2012 examinations, JC syllabuses were graded using a Standards-Based grading procedure and not the Norm-Referenced grading procedure used in previous examinations.
According to BEC, the move to adopt a Standards-Based grading procedure was motivated by the fact that it provides more informative evaluation of student’s performance and allows year to year comparisons of national performance patterns.
The Norm-Referenced grading procedure focuses on rating a student’s performance relative to that of others in the same cohort, while the Standards-Based grading procedure shows the extent to which the candidates achieved specified outcomes of learning. This allows for detailed reporting on actual capabilities of candidates since their performance is judged against defined standards. Such reports provide information that is critical for informing the education system, policy and school improvement initiatives.
Meanwhile other school of thought is that government should make pre -school mandatory so as to give all pupils a chance to undergo early childhood mentoring. Nonetheless the Minister said, “Government does not have enough resources to help schools in rural areas. We wish we could be able to do that [make pre-school mandatory] but we do not have resources.”
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.
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.