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Last week I intimated that our education system continues to let us down despite spending close to P12 billion from our public coffers annually. I also offered a possible solution that could be implemented if the powers be really wanted to improve our education fortunes.  I want to continue this week to try to explain further why I believe the results we get from our education system are what the authorities have inadvertently planned for.

They say if you fail to plan you are planning to fail. If we want different results we must simply plan; plan differently and meticulously. I will also repeat the Finnish education experience for emphasis and public internalisation.

Few weeks ago I was in South Africa with my family. My wife made a very profound observation that left a lasting impression on me. As we drove past some maize and dairy farms, with a keen eye she observed that the quality of maize and dairy cows in the farms were strikingly high and very impressive.  She was delightedly amazed. ‘Look at this corn field, the maize is all remarkably green, standing equidistant apart, all of them same height and each carrying three healthy cobs; how is this possible,’ she remarked rhetorically.

As we passed a dairy farm, she made the same observations on the dairy cows in the field; we slowed down to have a closer look; they all looked decidedly the same and very healthy. She commented that it looks like each one of these cows will produce the same amount of quality milk daily. I said to her, how amazing?  Although, the observations may seem mundane to some, they remained tightly stuck in my head as I pondered on our agricultural and other similar situations back home.  

Pondering on, it became very clear in my mind that each plant and each cow receives the same quality treatment. How is this possible, I wondered quietly? It means that the farmers do not only plan meticulously but they also execute the plans meticulously. 

They leave no room for chances.  The farmer must know exactly what is required to achieve a certain yield in his farm. This yield must be what the market requires and it must be achieved at all costs. He must then understand what nutrients the field needs and in what quantities; how much water is required when; what is the best watering method; what is needed to prevent crop damage and failure. He must know what resources and supervision is required to achieve the desired yield.

The dairy farmer must also have planned meticulously to achieve a certain yield from his dairy cows to meet the market needs. Only natural disasters would prevent these farmers from achieving the required yields from their farms. The observation remained tightly stuck in my head; it will continue to challenge me and hopefully many of us to plan, execute diligently and meticulously going into the future.  

Later during the week I was having a conversation with one of my colleagues and we talked casually about our failing education system. He then said to me, ‘education is like farming, imagine if you are a farmer and only prepare a tenth of your farm well, you apply the right amount of fertilizer, you plant in rows and you apply the required insecticides, you irrigate regularly and you look after the crop well following a prescribed plan until harvest time; you do this only on the 10 % patch of your farm. 

In the remaining 90 % of the farm you rip the ground apart with a tractor, you scatter the seeds, you apply no fertilizer, no insecticides; you pass by the field once a while’, what do you think the yield from the two sections of the farm would be?  I said, ‘it’s obvious; the 10 % of the field is likely to produce a yield that would by far exceed the yield from the 90 % of the field by whatever measure you would apply.  ‘This is what is happening in our education system’, he said. The private schools are well resourced compared to the public schools and you know the results they achieve annually. 

So we are only investing adequately on 10 % of our population leaving the rest to struggle on their own for survival.

From my last week submission, this observation is correct for our education system. In 2014, 7.84 % of the students who wrote the secondary leaving examination where from the well resourced private schools. So it is true, only about 10 % of the population is likely to succeed and benefit disproportionately from our natural resources, leaving the rest behind lingering in the streets, doing ipelegeng and any other odd jobs.

Like the farms we casually observed in South Africa, our education system can achieve high quality yields if we apply uniform standards across all schools; treating all our children the same way, giving them the same educational infrastructure and resources, ensuring that the quality of teachers is same, then expecting and demanding exceptional performance from each child.

I would like to repeat the Finnish education experience here, hoping that our leaders will pick it up, interrogate it and run with it as possible.
I have borrowed some few lessons from Finland below with the hope of motivating our leaders to do something different for our education system, if they really what a world class education system for all our children.

Finland is one of the world’s leaders in the academic performance of its secondary schools; a position she has held for many years since 2000.  This performance is remarkably consistent across all schools. There is political will and consensus to educate all children together in a common school system; there is an expectation that all children can achieve high levels of performance regardless of family background, financial status or regional circumstances; there is a single minded pursuit of teaching excellence and collective responsibility for learners who are struggling; the modest financial resources available are tightly focused on the classroom and there is a strong climate of trust between educators and the community.

The ‘Finnish schools have become a kind of tourist destination, with hundreds of educators and policy makers annually travelling to Helsinki to try to learn the secret of their success.’  Maybe we should send an apolitical delegation to have a look. The average per pupil expenditure on education is well below that of the highest spending countries in their region including the United States of America.

Remarkably ‘teaching has become the most popular profession among Finnish young people attracting the top quartile of high school graduates into its highly competitive teacher training programmes.’ The question is what specific steps were made to make teaching so competitive and rewarding to these young people?

The key drivers for this success seem to be political consensus across party lines and the nation at large for an education system that reflects the aspiration of the ordinary Finnish people; a collective vision for an education system that is responsive to the growing demand for equitable opportunities for all young people; an equitable, humanistic, child centered, common education system that serves all children equally regardless of social status.

To support this, the quality of teachers and their motivation is outstanding; the self driven quality assurance and accountability is remarkable; the curriculum is a guideline for the teacher; the teacher is responsible for shaping the curriculum depending on the needs of his or her students,  the success of the student is paramount; a high level commitment to education and to the child is visible across the nation; It is not about the money spent on education, teacher’s salaries are modest, school budgets are modest, schools are small with minimum overheads, principals teach and resources are squarely focused on the classroom.

The key seems to be the strong political will; the autonomy of the schools and the teachers; the trust between the teachers, the school, the community and the political leaders; the total focus by all to get the best educational experience for each child.

In conclusion, yes, it possible to have an all inclusive education system in Botswana that produces 100 % pass rate each year. All we need is the political will to have a child centered education system where success is not measured by the number of years at school or the depth of the child parents pockets, or the area the child comes from but the performance achieved by each child regardless of circumstances? We also need to motivate the teachers and the communities to play their role.

Yes, It is possible, we can achieve 100% pass rate, we can do it, we must do it, we owe it to our children to do it and we must do it fast. The future belongs to all our children and it is our responsibility as a nation to prepare all of them for the future they deserve and for us as a country to be able to achieve our developmental aspirations.

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The Taiwan Question: China ramps up military exercises to rebuff US provocations

18th August 2022

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosis visit to Taiwan has violated the One-China policy, and caused the escalation of tensions across the Taiwan Strait. Experts and political observers across the spectra agree that Pelosis actions and subsequent pronouncements by US President Joe Biden gave impetus to an already simmering tension in the Taiwan Strait, provoking China to strengthen its legitimate hold on the Taiwan Strait waters, which the US and Taiwan deem as international waters.

Pelosis visit to Chinas Taiwan region has been heavily criticised across the globe, with China arguing that this is a serious violation of the one-China principle and the provisions of the three China-US Joint Communiqus. In response to this reckless move which seriously undermined China’s sovereignty, and interfered in China’s internal affairs, the expectation is for China to give a firm response. Pelosi visit violated the commitments made by the U.S. side, and seriously jeopardized peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.

To give context to Chinas position over Taiwan region, the history behind gives us perspective. It is also important to note that the history between China and Taiwan is well documented and the US has always recognized it.

The Peoples Republic of China recognises Taiwan as its territory. It has always been the case even before the Nationalist Republic of China government fled to the previously Japanese-ruled Island after losing the civil war on the mainland in 1949. According to literature that threat was contained for decades first with a military alliance between the US and the ROC on Taiwan, and after Washington switched diplomatic recognition to the PRC in 1979 by the US One China policy, which acknowledges Beijings position that Taiwan is part of One China. Effectively, Taiwans administration was transferred to the Republic of China from Japan after the Second World War in 1945, along with the split between the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) and the Republic of China (ROC) as a consequence of the Chinese Civil War. Disregarding this history, as the US is attempting to do, will surely initiate some defence reaction on the side of China to affirm its sovereignty.

However, this history was undermined since Taiwan claimed to democratise in the 1990s and China has grown ever more belligerent. Furthermore, it is well documented that the Biden administration, following the Trump presidency, has made subtle changes in the way it deals with Taipei, such as loosening restrictions on US officials meeting Taiwanese officials this should make China uneasy. And while the White House continues to say it does not support Taiwanese independence, Bidens words and actions are parallel to this pledge because he has warned China that the US would intervene militarily if China attacked Taiwan another statement that has provoked China.

Pelosi, in her private space, would know that her actions amount to provocation of China. This act of aggression by the USA seriously undermines the virtues of sovereignty and territorial integrity which has a huge potential to destabilize not only the Taiwan Strait but the whole of the Asia- Pacific region. The Americans know very well that their provocative behavior is deliberately invoking the spirit of separatism masqueraded as Taiwan independence. The US is misled to think that by supporting separatism of Taiwan from China that would give them an edge over China in a geopolitics. This is what one Chinese diplomat said this week: The critical point is if every country put their One-China policy into practice with sincerity, with no compromise, is going to guarantee the peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. Therefore, it was in the wake of US House speaker Nancy Pelosis visit to Taiwan, that China, in a natural response revealed plans for unprecedented military exercises near the island, prompting fears of a crisis in the Taiwan Strait and the entire Asia-Pacific region. The world community must promote and foster peace, this may be achieved when international laws are respected. It may also happen when nations respect the sovereignty of another. China may be in a better space because it is well capacitated to stake its territorial integrity, what about a small nation, if this happens to it?

As to why military exercises by Beijing; it is an expected response because China was provoked by the actions of Pelosi. To fortify this position, Chinese President, Xi signed a legal basis for Chinas Peoples Liberation Army to safeguard Chinas national sovereignty, security and development interests. The legal basis will also allow military missions around disaster relief, humanitarian aid and peacekeeping. In addition the legal changes would allow troops to prevent spillover effects of regional instabilities from affecting China, secure vital transport routes for strategic materials like oil, or safeguard Chinas overseas investments, projects and personnel. It then follows that President Xis administration cannot afford to look weak under a US provocation. President Xi must protector Chinas sovereignty and territorial integrity, of which Taiwan is a central part. Beijing is very clear on One-China Policy, and expects all world players to recognize and respect it.

The Peoples Liberation Army has made it clear that it has firepower that covers all of Taiwan, and it can strike wherever it wants. This sentiments have been attributed to Zhang Junshe, a researcher at the PLA Navy Research Institute. Zheng further said, We got really close to Taiwan. We encircled Taiwan. And we demonstrated that we can effectively stop intervention by foreign forces. This is a strong reaction from China to warn the US against provocation and violation of the One-China Policy.

Beijings military exercises will certainly shake Taiwans confidence in the sources of its economic and political survival. The potential for an effective blockade threatens the air and shipping routes that support Taiwans central role in global technology supply chains. Should a humanitarian situation arise in Taiwan, the blame would squarely be on the US.

As Chinas military exercises along the Taiwan Strait progress and grow, it remains that the decision by Nancy Pelosi to visit Chinas Taiwan region gravely undermined peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, and sent a wrong signal to Taiwan independence separatist forces. This then speaks to international conventions, as the UN Secretary-General Antnio Guterres explicitly stressed that the UN remains committed to the UN General Assembly Resolution 2758. The centerpiece is the one-China principle, namely, there is but one China in the world, the government of the Peoples Republic of China is the sole legal government representing the whole of China, and Taiwan is a part of China. It must be noted that the US and the US-led NATO countries have selectively applied international law, this has been going on unabated. There is a plethora of actions that have collapsed several states after they were attacked under the pretext of the so-called possession of weapons of mass destruction illuminating them as threats – and sometimes even without any valid reason. to blatantly launch military strikes and even unleash wars on sovereign countrie

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Internal party-democracy under pressure

21st June 2022

British novelist, W. Somerset Maugham once opined: If a nation values anything more than freedom, it will lose its freedom; and the irony of it is that if it is comfort or money that it values more, it will lose that too.

The truism in these words cannot be underestimated, especially when contextualizing against the political developments in Botswana. We have become a nation that does not value democracy, yet nothing represent freedom more than democracy. In fact, we desire, and value winning power or clinging to power more than anything else, even if it harms the democratic credentials of our political institutions. This is happening across political parties ruling and opposition.

As far as democracy is concerned, we are regressing. We are becoming worse-off than we were in the past. If not arrested, Botswana will lose its status as among few democratic nations in the Africa. Ironically, Botswana was the first country in Africa to embrace democracy, and has held elections every five years without fail since independence.

We were once viewed as the shining example of Africa. Those accolades are not worth it any more. Young democracies such as South Africa, with strong institutions, deserves to be exalted. Botswana has lost faith in democracy, and we will pay a price for it. It is a slippery slope to dictatorship, which will bring among other excess, assault on civil liberties and human rights violations.

Former President, Festus Mogae once stated that Botswanas democracy will only become authentic, when a different party, other than the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) wins elections, and when the President of such party is not from Serowe.

Although many may not publicly care to admit, Mogaes assertion is true. BDP has over the years projected itself as a dyed-in-the-wool proponent of democracy, but the moment its stay in power became threatened and uncertain, it started behaving in a manner that is at variance with democratic values.This has been happening over the years now, and the situation is getting worse by the day.

Recently, the BDP party leadership has been preaching compromise and consensus candidates for 2024 general elections. Essentially, the leadership has lost faith in theBulela Ditswedispensation, which has been used to selected party candidates for council and parliament since 2003. The leadership is discouraging democracy because they believe primary elections threaten party unity. It is a strange assertion indeed.

Bulela Ditswewas an enrichment of internal party democracy in the sense that it replaced the previous method of selection of candidates known as Committee of 18, in which a branch committee made of 18 people endorsed the representatives. While it is true that political contest can divide, the ruling party should be investing in political education and strengthening in its primary elections processes. Democracy does not come cheap or easy, but it is valuable.

Any unity that we desire so much at the expense of democracy is not true unity. Like W. Somerset Maugham said, democracy would be lost in the process, and ultimately, even the unity that was desired would eventually be lost too. Any solution that sacrifice democracy would not bring any results in the long run, except misery.

We have seen that also in opposition ranks. The Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) recently indicated that its incumbent Members of Parliament (MPs) should not be challenged for their seats. While BDP is sacrificing democracy to stay in power, UDC is sacrificing democracy to win power. It is a scary reality given the fact that both parties ruling and opposition have embraced this position and believe democracy is the hindrance to their political ambitions.

These current reality points to one thing; our political parties have lost faith in democracy. They desire power more than, the purpose of power itself. It is also a crisis of leadership across the political divide, where we have seen dissenting views being met with persecution. We have seen perverting of political process endorsed by those in echelons of power to manipulate political outcomes in their favour.

Democracy should not be optional, it should be mandatory. Any leader proposing curtailing of democracy should be viewed with suspicion, and his adventures should be rejected before it is too late. Members of political parties, as subscribers of democracy, should collectively rise to the occasion to save their democracy from self-interest that is becoming prevalent among Botswana political parties.

The so-called compromise candidates, only benefits the leadership because it creates comforts for them. But for members, and for the nation, it is causing damage by reversing the gains that have been made over the years. We should reject leaders who only preach democracy in word, but are hesitant to practice it.

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The Big Deal About Piracy

21st June 2022

Piracy of all kinds continues to have a massive impact on the global creative industry and the economies of the countries where it thrives.

One of the biggest misconceptions around piracy is that an individual consumers piracy activities, especially in a market the size of Botswanas, is only a drop in the pool of potential losses to the different sectors of the economy piracy affects.

When someone sitting in Gaborone, Botswana logs onto an illegal site to download King Richard online, they dont imagine that their one download will do anything to the production houses pocket or make a dent in the actors net worth. At best, the sensitivity towards this illegal pirating activity likely only exists when contemplating going about pirating a local musicians music or a short film produced locally.

The ripple effects of piracy at whatever scale reach far beyond what the average consumer could ever imagine. Figures released by software security and media technology company, Irdeto, show that users in five major African territories made approximately 17,4 million total visits to the top 10 identified piracy sites on the internet.

The economic impact of this on the creative industry alone soars to between 40 and 97.1 billion dollars, according a 2022 Dataprot study. In addition, they estimate that illegally streamed copyrighted content consumes 24% of global bandwidth.

As Botswanas creative industry remains relatively slight on the scale of comparison to industries such as Nollywood and Nilewood where the creative industry contributes a huge proportion to West and East Africas respective GDPs, that does not imply that piracy activities in Botswana do not have a similar impact on our economy and the ability of our creative industry to grow.

When individuals make decisions to illegally consume content via internet streaming sites they believe they are saving money for themselves in the name of enjoying content they desire to consume. Although this is a personal choice that remains the prerogative of the consumer, looking beyond the fact that streaming on illegal content sites is piracy, the ripple effect of this decision also has an endless trail of impact where funds which could be used to grow the local creative industry through increased consumption, and revenue which would otherwise be fed back into Botswanas economy are being diverted.

Why cant our local creative industry grow? Why dont we see more home-grown films and shows in Botswana? are questions constantly posed by those who consume television content in Botswana. The answer to this lies largely in the fact that Botswanas local content needs an audience in order for it to grow. It needs support from government and entities which are in a position to fund and help the industry scale greater heights.

Any organisational body willing to support and grow the local creative industry needs to exist and operate in an economy which can support its mandates. Content piracy is a cycle that can only be alleviated when consumers make wiser decisions around what they consume and how.

This goes beyond eradicating piracy activities in so far as television content is concerned. This extends to the importation and trade in counterfeit goods, resale of goods and services not intended for resale across the border, outside its jurisdiction, and more. All of these activities stunt the growth of an economy and make it nearly impossible for industries and sectors to propel themselves to places where they can positively impact society and reinvest into the countrys economy.

So what can be done to turn the tide here in Botswana in order to see our local production houses gain the momentum required to produce more, license more and expand their horizons? While those who enforce the law continue to work towards minimizing piracy activities, its imperative that as consumers we work to make their efforts easier by being mindful of how our individual actions play a role in preventing the success of our local creative networks and our economys growth.

Whether you are pirating a Hollywood Blockbuster, illegally streaming a popular Motswana artists music, or smuggling in an illegal decoder to view content restricted to South Africa only, your actions have an impact on how we as a nation will make our mark on the global landscape with local creative productions. Thembi Legwaila is Corporate Affairs Manager, MultiChoice Botswana

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