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EDUCATIONAL OUTCOMES LIKE FARMING YIELDS ARE PLANNED

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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Opinions

Accounting Officers are out of touch with reality

19th October 2020

Parliament, the second arm of State through its parliamentary committees are one of Botswana’s most powerful mechanisms to ensure that government is held accountable at all times. The Accounting Officers are mostly Permanent Secretaries across government Ministries and Chief Executive Officers, Director Generals, Managing Directors of parastatals, state owned enterprises and Civil Society.

So parliament plays its oversight authority via the legislators sitting on a parliamentary committee and Accounting Officers sitting in the hot chair.  When left with no proper checks and balances, the Executive is prone to abuse the arrangement and so systematic oversight of the executive is usually carried out by parliamentary committees.  They track the work of various government departments and ministries, and conduct scrutiny into important aspects of their policy, direction and administration.

It is not rocket science that effective oversight requires that committees be totally independent and able to set their own agendas and have the power to summon ministers and top civil servants to appear and answer questions. Naturally, Accounting Officers are the highest ranking officials in the government hierarchy apart from cabinet Ministers and as such wield much power and influence in the performance of government.  To illustrate further, government performance is largely owed to the strategic and policy direction of top technocrats in various Ministries.

It is disheartening to point out that the recent parliament committees — as has been the case all over the years — has laid bare the incompetency, inadequacy and ineptitude of people bestowed with great responsibilities in public offices. To say that they are ineffective and inefficient sounds as an understatement. Some appear useless and hopeless when it comes to running the government despite the huge responsibility they possess.

If we were uncertain about the degree at which the Accounting Officers are incompetent, the ongoing parliament committees provide a glaring answer.  It is not an exaggeration to say that ordinary people on the streets have been held ransom by these technocrats who enjoy their air conditioned offices and relish being chauffeured around in luxurious BX SUV’s while the rest of the citizenry continue to suffer. Because of such high life the Accounting Officers seem to have, with time, they have gotten out of touch with the people they are supposed to serve.

An example; when appearing before the recent Public Accounts Committee (PAC), Office of the President Permanent Secretary, Thuso Ramodimoosi, looked reluctant to admit misuse of public funds. Although it is clear funds were misused, he looked unbothered when committee members grilled him over the P80 million Orapa House building that has since morphed into a white elephant for close to 10 successive years. To him, it seems it did not matter much and PAC members were worried for nothing.

On a separate day, another Accounting officer, Director of Public Service Management (DPSM), Naledi Mosalakatane, was not shy to reveal to PAC upon cross-examination that there exist more than 6 000 vacancies in government. Whatever reasons she gave as an excuse, they were not convincing and the committee looked sceptical too. She was faltering and seemed not to have a sense of urgency over the matter no matter how critical it is to the populace.

Botswana’s unemployment rate hoovers around 18 percent in a country where majority of the population is the youth, and the most affected by unemployment. It is still unclear why DPSM could underplay such a critical matter that may threaten the peace and stability of the country.
Accounting Officers clearly appear out of touch with the reality out there – if the PAC examinations are anything to go by.

Ideally the DPSM Director could be dropping the vacancy post digits while sourcing funds and setting timelines for the spaces to be filled as a matter of urgency so that the citizens get employed to feed their families and get out of unemployment and poverty ravaging the country.
The country should thank parliamentary committees such as PAC to expose these abnormalities and the behaviour of our leaders when in public office. How can a full Accounting Officer downplay the magnitude of the landless problem in Botswana and fail to come with direct solutions tailor made to provide Batswana with the land they desperately need?

Land is a life and death matter for some citizens, as we would know.

When Bonolo Khumotaka, the Accounting Officer in the Ministry of Land Management, Water and Sanitation Services, whom as a top official probably with a lucrative pay too appears to be lacking sense of urgency as she is failing on her key mandate of working around the clock to award the citizens with land especially those who need it most like the marginalised.  If government purports they need P94 billion to service land to address the land crisis what is plan B for government? Are we going to accept it the way it is?

Government should wake up from its slumber and intervene to avoid the 30 years unnecessary waiting period in State land and 13 years in Tribal land.  Accounting Officers are custodians of government policy, they should ensure it is effective and serve its purpose. What we have been doing over the years, has proved that it is not effective, and clearly there is a need for change of direction.

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Opinions

Is it possible to make people part of your business resilience planning after the State of Public Emergency?

12th October 2020

THABO MAJOLA

His Excellency Dr Mokgweetsi EK Masisi, the President of the Republic of Botswana found it appropriate to invoke Section 17 (1) of the Constitution of the Republic of Botswana, using the powers vested in him to declare a State of Public Emergency starting from the 2nd April 2020 at midnight.

The constitutional provision under Section 17 (2b) only provided that such a declaration could be up to a maximum of 21 days. His Excellency further invoked Section 93 (1) to convene an extra- ordinary meeting of Parliament to have the opportunity to consult members of parliament on measures that have been put in place to address the spread and transmission of the virus. At this meeting Members of Parliament passed a resolution on the legal instruments and regulations governing the period of the state of emergency, and extended its duration by six (6) months.

The passing of the State of Emergency is considered as a very crucial step in fighting the near apocalyptic potential of the Novel COVID-19 virus. One of the interesting initiatives that was developed and extended to the business community was a 3-month wage subsidy that came with a condition that no businesses would retrench for the duration of the State of Public Emergency. This has potentially saved many people’s jobs as most companies would have been extremely quick to reduce expenses by downsizing. Self-preservation as some would call it.

Most organisations would have tried to reduce costs by letting go of people, retreated and tried their best to live long enough to fight another day. In my view there is silver lining that we need to look at and consider. The fact that organisations are not allowed to retrench has forced certain companies to look at the people with a long-term view.

Most leaders have probably had to wonder how they are going to ensure that their people are resilient. Do they have team members who innovate and add value to the organisation during these testing times? Do they even have resilient people or are they just waiting for the inevitable end? Can they really train people and make them resilient? How can your team members be part of your recovery plan? What can they do to avoid losing the capabilities they need to operate meaningfully for the duration of the State of Public Emergency and beyond?

The above questions have forced companies to reimagine the future of work. The truth is that no organisation can operate to its full potential without resilient people. In the normal business cycle, new teams come on board; new business streams open, operations or production sites launch or close; new markets develop, and technology is introduced. All of this provides fresh opportunities – and risks.

The best analogy I have seen of people-focused resilience planning reframes employees as your organisation’s immune system, ready and prepared to anticipate risks and ensure they can tackle challenges, fend off illness and bounce back more quickly.  So, how do you supercharge your organizational immune system to become resilient?

COVID-19 has helped many organisations realize they were not as prepared as they believed themselves to be. Now is the time to take stock and reset for the future. All the strategies and plans prior to COVID-19 arriving in Botswana need to be thrown out of the window and you need to develop a new plan today. There is no room for tweaking or reframing. Botswana has been disrupted and we need to accept and embrace the change. What we initially anticipated as a disease that would take a short term is turning out to be something we are going to have to live with for a much longer time. It is going to be a marathon and therefore businesses need to have a plan to complete this marathon.

Start planning. Planning for change can help reduce employee stress, anxiety, and overall fear, boosting the confidence of staff and stakeholders. Think about conducting and then regularly refreshing a strategic business impact analysis, look at your employee engagement scores, dig into your customer metrics and explore the way people work alongside your behaviours and culture. This research will help to identify what you really want to protect, the risks that you need to plan for and what you need to survive during disruption. Don’t forget to ask your team members for their input. In many cases they are closest to critical business areas and already have ideas to make processes and systems more robust.

Revisit your organisational purpose. Purpose, values and principles are powerful tools. By putting your organisation’s purpose and values front and center, you provide clear decision-making guidelines for yourself and your organisation. There are very tough and interesting decisions to make which have to be made fast; so having guiding principles on which the business believes in will help and assist all decision makers with sanity checking the choices that are in front of them. One noticeable characteristic of companies that adapt well during change is that they have a strong sense of identity. Leaders and employees have a shared sense of purpose and a common performance culture; they know what the company stands for beyond shareholder value and how to get things done right.

Revisit your purpose and values. Understand if they have been internalised and are proving useful. If so, find ways to increase their use. If not, adapt them as necessities, to help inspire and guide people while immunizing yourself against future disruption. Design your employee experience. The most resilient, adaptive and high performing companies are made up of people who know each other, like each other, and support each other.

Adaptability requires us to teach other, speak up and discuss problems, and have a collective sense of belonging. Listening to your team members is a powerful and disruptive thing to do. It has the potential to transform the way you manage your organisation. Enlisting employees to help shape employee experience, motivates better performance, increases employee retention and helps you spot issues and risks sooner. More importantly, it gives employees a voice so you can get active and constructive suggestions to make your business more robust by adopting an inclusive approach.

Leaders need to show they care. If you want to build resilience, you must build on a basis of trust. And this means leaders should listen, care, and respond. It’s time to build the entire business model around trust and empathy. Many of the employees will be working under extreme pressure due to the looming question around what will happen when companies have to retrench. As a leader of a company transparency and open communication are the most critical aspects that need to be illustrated.

Take your team member into confidence because if you do have to go through the dreaded excise of retrenchment you have to remember that those people the company retains will judge you based on the process you follow. If you illustrate that the business or organization has no regard for loyalty and commitment, they will never commit to the long-term plans of the organisation which will leave you worse off in the end. Its an absolutely delicate balance but it must all be done in good faith. Hopefully, your organization will avoid this!

This is the best time to revisit your identify and train your people to encourage qualities that build strong, empathetic leadership; self-awareness and control, communication, kindness and psychological safety.  Resilience is the glue that binds functional silos and integrates partners, improves communications, helps you prepare, listen and understand. Most importantly, people-focused resilience helps individuals and teams to think collectively and with empathy – helping you respond and recover faster.

Article written by Thabo Majola, a brand communications expert with a wealth of experience in the field and is Managing Director of Incepta Communications.

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Opinions

Elected officials should guard against personal interest

23rd September 2020

Parliament was this week once again seized with matters that concern them and borders on conflict of interest and abuse of privilege.

The two matters are; review of MPs benefits as well as President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s participation in the bidding for Banyana Farms. For the latter, it should not come as a surprise that President Masisi succeeded in bid.

The President’s business interests have also been in the forefront. While President Masisi is entitled as a citizen to participate in a various businesses in the country or abroad, it is morally deficient for him to participate in a bidding process that is handled by the government he leads. By the virtue of his presidency, Masisi is the head of government and head of State.

Not long ago, former President Festus Mogae suggested that elected officials should consider using blind trust to manage their business interests once they are elected to public office. Though blind trusts are expensive, they are the best way of ensuring confidence in those that serve in public office.

A blind trust is a trust established by the owner (or trustor) giving another party (the trustee) full control of the trust. Blind trusts are often established in situations where individuals want to avoid conflicts of interest between their employment and investments.

The trustee has full discretion over the assets and investments while being charged with managing the assets and any income generated in the trust.

The trustor can terminate the trust, but otherwise exercises no control over the actions taken within the trust and receives no reports from the trustees while the blind trust is in force.

Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) Secretary General, Mpho Balopi, has defended President Masisi’s participation in business and in the Banyana Farms bidding. His contention is that, the practise even obtained during the administration of previous presidents.

The President is the most influential figure in the country. His role is representative and he enjoys a plethora of privileges. He is not an ordinary citizen. The President should therefore be mindful of this fact.

We should as a nation continue to thrive for improvement of our laws with the viewing of enhancing good governance. We should accept perpetuation of certain practices on the bases that they are a norm. MPs are custodians of good governance and they should measure up to the demands of their responsibility.

Parliament should not be spared for its role in countenancing these developments. Parliament is charged with the mandate of making laws and providing oversight, but for them to make laws that are meant solely for their benefits as MPs is unethical and from a governance point of view, wrong.

There have been debates in parliament, some dating from past years, about the benefits of MPs including pension benefits. It is of course self-serving for MPs to be deliberating on their compensation and other benefits.

In the past, we have also contended that MPs are not the right people to discuss their own compensation and there has to be Special Committee set for the purpose. This is a practice in advanced democracies.

By suggesting this, we are not suggesting that MP benefits are in anyway lucrative, but we are saying, an independent body may figure out the best way of handling such issues, and even offer MPs better benefits.

In the United Kingdom for example; since 2009 following a scandal relating to abuse of office, set-up Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA)

IPSA is responsible for: setting the level of and paying MPs’ annual salaries; paying the salaries of MPs’ staff; drawing up, reviewing, and administering an MP’s allowance scheme; providing MPs with publicly available and information relating to taxation issues; and determining the procedures for investigations and complaints relating to MPs.

Owing to what has happened in the Parliament of Botswana recently, we now need to have a way of limiting what MPs can do especially when it comes to laws that concern them. We cannot be too trusting as a nation.

MPs can abuse office for their own agendas. There is need to act swiftly to deal with the inherent conflict of interest that arise as a result of our legislative setup. A voice of reason should emerge from Parliament to address this unpleasant situation. This cannot be business as usual.

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