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.
This is a question that should seriously exercise the mind of every Botswana citizen and every science researcher, every health worker and every political leader political.
The Covid-19 currently defines our lives and poses a direct threat to every aspect and every part of national safety, security and general well-being. This disease has become a normative part of human life throughout the world.
The first part of the struggle against the murderous depredation of this disease was to protect personal life through restrictive health injunctions and protocols; the worst possibly being human isolation and masks that hid our sorrows and lamentations through thin veils. We suffered that humiliation with grace and I believe as a nation we did a great job.
Now the vaccines are here, ushering us into the second phase of this war against the plague; and we are asking ourselves, is this science-driven fight against Covid-19 spell the end of pandemic anxiety? Is the health nightmare coming to an end? What happy lives lie ahead? Is this the time for celebration or caution? As the Non State Actors, we have being struggling with these questions for months.
We have published our thoughts and feelings, and our research reviews and thorough reading of both the local and international impacts of this rampaging viral invasion in local newspapers and social media platforms.
More significantly, we have successfully organised workshops about the impact of the pandemic on society and the economy and the last workshop invited a panel of health experts, professionals, and public administers to advance this social dialogue as part of our commitment to the tripartite engagement we enjoy working with Government of Botswana, Civil Society and Development partners. These workshops are virtual and open to all Batswana, foreign diplomatic missions based in Gaborone, UN agencies located in Gaborone and international academic researchers and professional health experts and specialists.
The mark of Covid-19 on our nation is a painful one, a tragedy shared by the entire human race, but still a contextually painful experience. Our response is fraught with grave difficulties; limited resources, limited time, and the urgency to not only save lives but also avert economic ruin and a bleak future for all who survive. Several vaccines are already in the market.
Parts of the world are already doing the best they can to trunk the pestilential march of this disease by rolling out mass-vaccinations campaigns that promise to evict this health menace and nightmare from their public lives. Botswana, like much of Africa, is still up in the disreputable, and, unenviable, preventative social melee of masked interactions, metered distances, contactless commerce.
We remain very much at the mercy of a marauding virus that daily runs amuck with earth shattering implications for the economy and human lives. And the battle against both infections and transmissions is proving to be difficult, in terms of finance, institutional capacities and resource mobilization. How are we prepared as government, and as citizens, to embrace the impending mass-vaccinations? What are the chances of us succeeding at this last-ditch effort to defeat the virus? What are the most pressing obstacles?
Does the work of vaccines spell an end to the pandemic anxieties?
Our panellists addressed the current state of mass-vaccination preparedness at the Botswana national level. What resources are available? What are the financial, institutional and administrative operational challenges (costs and supply chains, delivery, distribution, administering the vaccine on time, surveillance and security of vaccines?) What is being done to overcome them, or what can be done to overcome them? What do public assessments of preparedness tell us at the local community levels? How strong is the political will and direction? How long can we expect the whole exercise to last? At what point should we start seeing tangible results of the mass-vaccination campaign?
They also addressed the challenges of the anticipated emerging Vaccinated Society. How to fight the myths of vaccines and the superstitions about histories of human immunizations? What exactly is being done to grow robust local confidence in the science of vaccinations and the vaccines themselves? More significantly, how to square these campaigns vis-vis personal rights, moral/religious obligations?
What messages are being sent out in these regards and how are Batswana responding? What about issues of justice and equality? Will we get the necessary vaccines to everyone who wants them? What is being done to ensure no deserving person is left behind?
They also addressed issues of health data. To accomplish this mass-vaccination campaign and do everything right we need accurate and complete data. Poor data already makes it very hard to just cope with the disease. What is being done to improve data for the mass-vaccination campaign? How is this data being collected, aggregated and prepared for real life situation/applications throughout Botswana in the coming campaign?
We know in America, for example, general reporting and treatment of health data at the beginning of vaccinations was so poor, so chaotic and so scattered mainstream newspapers like The Atlantic, Washington Post and the New York Times had to step in, working very closely with civil society organizations, to rescue the situation. What data-related issues are still problematic in Botswana?
To be specific, what kind of Covid-19 data is being taken now to ready the whole country for an effective and efficient mass-vaccination program?
Batswana must be made aware that the end part of vaccination will just mark the beginning of a long journey to health recovery and national redemption; that in many ways Covid-19 vaccination is just another step toward the many efforts in abeyance to fight this health pandemic, the road ahead is still long and painful.
For this purpose, and to highlight the significance of this observation we tasked our panellists with the arduous imperative of analysing the impact of mass-vaccination on society and the economy alongside the pressing issues of post-Covid-19 national health surveillance and rehabilitation programs.
Research suggests the aftermath of Covid-19 vaccination is going to be just as difficult and uncertain world as the present reality in many ways, and that caution should prevail over celebration, at least for a long time. The disease itself is projected to linger around for some time after all these mass-vaccination campaigns unless an effort is made to vaccinate everyone to the last reported case, every nation succeeds beyond herd immunity, and cure is found for Covid-19 disease. Many people are going to continue in need of medications, psychological and psychiatric services and therapy.
Is Botswana ready for this long holdout? If not, what path should we take going into the future? The Second concern is , are we going to have a single, trusted national agency charged with the mandate to set standards for our national health data system, now that we know how real bad pandemics can be, and the value of data in quickly responding to them and mitigating impact? Finally, what is being done to curate a short history of this pandemic? A national museum of health and medicine or a Public Health Institute in Botswana is overdue.
If we are to create strong sets of data policies and data quality standards for fighting future health pandemics it is critical that they find ideological and moral foundations in the artistic imagery and photography of the present human experience…context is essential to fighting such diseases, and to be prepared we must learn from every tragic health incident.
Our panellists answered most of these questions with distinguished intellectual clarity. We wish Batswana to join us in our second Mass-vaccination workshop.
Today is International Women’s Day – it’s a moment to think about how much better our news diet could be if inequities were eliminated. In 1995, when the curtains fell in one of the largest meetings that have ever brought women together to discuss women in development, it was noted that women and media remain key to development.
Twenty-six years later, the relevant “Article J” of the Beijing Platform for Action, remains unfulfilled. Its two strategic objectives with regard to Women and Media have not been met. They are Increase the participation and access of women to expression and decision-making in and through the media and new technologies of communication
Promote a balanced and non-stereotyped portrayal of women in the media.
Today, as we mark International Women’s Day, it’s an indictment on both media owners and civil society that women remain on the periphery of news-making. They cannot claim equal space in either the structures of newsrooms or in the content produced, be that as sources of news or as the subjects of reports. Indeed, the latest figures from WAN-IFRA’s Women in News Programme show just one in five voices in news belong to women*, be they as sources, as the author or as the main character of the news report.
Some progress was evident several years back, with stand-out women being named as chief executive officers, editors in chief, managing editors and executive editors. But these gains appear short lived in most media organisations. Excitement has turned to frustration as one-step forward has been replaced with three steps backwards. In Africa, the problem is acute. The decision-making tables of media organisations remain deprived of women and where there are women, they are surrounded by men.
Few women have followed in the footsteps of Esther Kamweru, the first woman managing editor in Kenya, and indeed sub-Saharan Africa. Today’s standout women editors include Pamela Makotsi-Sittoni (Nation Media Group, Kenya), Barbara Kaija (New Vision, Uganda), Mary Mbewe (Daily Nation, Zambia), Margaret Vuchiri (The Monitor, Uganda), Joyce Shebe (Clouds, Tanzania), Tryphinah Dongwana (Weekend Post, Botswana), Joyce Mhaville (Independent Television -ITV, Tanzania) and Tuma Abdallah (Standard Newspapers,Tanzania). But they remain an exception.
The lack of balance between women and men at the table of decision making has a rollback effect on the content that is produced. A table dominated by men typically makes decisions that benefit men.
So today, International Women’s Day is a grim reminder that things are not rosy in the news business. Achieving gender balance in news and in the structure of media organisations remains a challenge. Unmet, it sees more than half of the population in our countries suffer the consequences of bias, discrimination and sexism.
The business of ignoring the other half of the population can no longer be treated as normal. It’s time that media leaders grasp the challenge, not only because it is the right thing to do, but because it also makes a whole lot of business sense: start covering women, give them space and a voice in news-making and propel them to all levels of decision making within your organisation.
We can no longer afford to imagine that it’s only men who make and sell the news and bring in the shillings to fund the media business. Women too are worthy newsmakers. In all of our societies, there are women holding decision making positions and who are now experts in once male-only domains such as engineers, doctors, scientists and researchers.
They can be deliberately picked out to share their perspectives and expertise and bring balance to the profile of experts quoted on our news pages. Media is the prism through which society sees itself and women are an untapped audience. So, as we celebrate International Women’s Day, let us embrace diversity, which yields better news content and business products, and in so doing eliminate sexism. We know that actions and attitudes that discriminate against people based on their gender is bad for business.
As media, the challenge is ours. We need to consciously embrace and reach the commitments made 26 years ago when the Beijing Platform for Action was signed globally. As the news consuming public, you have a role to play too. Hold your news organization to account and make sure they deliver balanced news that reflects the voices of all of society.
Jane Godia is a gender development and media expert who serves as the Africa Director of Women in News programme. WOMEN IN NEWS is WAN-IFRA’s ground-breaking programme to increase women’s leadership and voices in the news. It does so by equipping women journalists and editors with the skills, strategies, and support networks to take on greater leadership positions within their media. www.womeninnews.org
The eve of International Women’s Day presents an opportunity for us to think about gender equality and the long and often frustrating march toward societies that are truly equal.
As media, we are uniquely placed to drive forward this reflection and discussion. But while focusing on the challenges of gender in society, we owe it to our staff and the communities we serve to also take a hard look at the obstacles within our own organisations.
I’m talking specifically about the scourge of sexual harassment. It’s likely to have happened in your newsroom. It has likely happened to a member of your team. It happens to all genders but is disproportionately directed at women. It happens in every industry, regardless of country, culture or context. This is because sexual harassment is driven by power, not sex. Wherever you have imbalances in power, you have individuals who are at risk of sexual harassment, and those who abuse this power.
I’ve been sexually harassed. The many journalists and editors, friends and family members who I have spoken to over the years on this subject have also been harassed. Yet it is still hard for leaders to recognize that this could be happening within their newsrooms and boardrooms. Why does it continue to be such a taboo?
Counting the cost of sexual harassment
Sexual harassment is, simply put, bad for business. It can harm your corporate reputation. It is a drain on the productivity of staff and managers. Maintaining and building trust in your brand is an absolute imperative for media organisations globally. If and when a case gets out of control or is badly handled – this can directly impact your bottom line.
It is for this reason that WAN-IFRA Women in News has put eliminating sexual harassment as a top priority in our work around gender equality in the media sector. This might seem at odds with the current climate where social interactions are fewer and remote work scenarios are in place in many newsrooms and businesses. But one only needs to tune into the news to know that the abuse of power, manifested as verbal, physical or online harassment, is alive and well.
Preliminary results from an ongoing Women in News research study into the issue of sexual harassment polling hundreds of journalists in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia indicate that more than 1 in 3 women media professionals have been physically harassed, and just under 50% have been verbally harassed. Just over 15% of men in African newsrooms reported being physically harassed, and slightly less than 1 in 4 reports being verbally harassed. The numbers for male media professionals in Southeast Asia are slightly higher than a quarter on both forms of harassment.
The first step in confronting sexual harassment is to talk about it. We need to strip away the stigma and discomfort around having open conversations about what sexual harassment is and isn’t. Media managers, it is entirely in your power to create dynamics in your own teams that are free from sexual harassment.
Publishers and CEOs, you set the organisational culture in your media company.
By being vocal in recognising that it happens everywhere, and communicating to your employees that you will not tolerate sexual harassment of any kind, you send a powerful message to your teams, and publicly. With these actions, you will help us overcome the legacy of silence around this topic, and in doing so take an important first step to create media environments that truly embrace equality.
Melanie Walker is Executive Director of Media Development of the World Association of News Publishers (WAN-IFRA). She is a creator of Women in News, WAN-IFRA’s ground-breaking programme to increase women’s leadership and voices in the news. It does so by equipping women journalists and editors with the skills, strategies, and support networks to take on greater leadership positions within their media. www.womeninnews.org