Over the month of October, there has been on-going tumult in the citadels of higher learning in neighbouring South Africa which the local media has scarcely bothered to report upon.
Violent protests have swept across most of the country’s 26 universities as students insist on the inalienable right to free education through thick and thin in a year-long movement that has come to be known as FeesMustFall.
In the ensuing clashes with police, the latter have lobbed stun grenades, fired rubber bullets, and unleashed salvoes of tear gas canisters at stone-throwing and road-blockading students. Campus structures have been vandalised by the unruly and intractable students, forcing some universities to suspend classes citing security concerns.
It is not that the Zupta government – excuse the sneering sobriquet: it’s so much in vogue at present – has all of a sudden jettisoned the notion of free education in its entirety. What it did, early last month, was to give universities carte blanche to hike fees by no more than 8 percent. Whereas government undertook to subsidise students from low-income families, who constitute 75 percent of the student population, to cater for the increase, it at the same time indicated that those from better-off families (that is, households earning more than R600,000 a year) would have to top-up from own resources.
It was this partiality that sparked the protests as students wanted a blanket subsidy that covered all and sundry and not only a certain layer in the social strata.
Education is South Africa’s largest budget item, constituting 0.7 percent of GDP. This year alone, government set aside approximately R300 billion for the purpose, which translates to 20 percent of the national budget and almost double the spending on health. About R70 billion went to tertiary education only.
Education minister Blade Nzimande has already served notice that the across-the-board free education model is not sustainable in today’s South Africa which is not faring too well economically and which has a multiplicity of imperatives to contend with. That sounds familiar or doesn’t it? At a recent Tertiary Education Financing pitso organised by the Human Resource Development Council (HRDC), our own Tertiary Education, Research, Science and Technology Minister Honourable Dr Alfred Madigele seemed to echo the Nzimande line when he opined that, “the current tertiary education funding model used by government is not sustainable”. His outlook was informed by what he termed “massification”, this being “a massive increase in tertiary education enrolment; ever increasing costs; equally important competing priorities; and dwindling financial resources”.
The new minister’s pronouncement must not be taken casually. It was loaded with a lot of suggestibility and therefore has implications which are just too easy to prefigure. Government should not talk in riddles but come clean on the subject of continued free education well in the nick of time so as to avoid stunning the nation with a sudden, BCL-like bombshell.
THE PARADOX OF EDUCATIONAL EXPENDITURE
What concerns me at this juncture, however, is not the augury of Honourable Madigele’s statement. It is what one Mpho Bosupeng, a researcher at the University of Botswana, wrote. I have just come across a scholarly article he penned for the Journal of Applied Economics and Business Research in 2015 titled Payoffs of Education Expenditure In Botswana: Long Run Economic Growth Implications.
Bosupeng studied data from 1960 to 2013 with a view to establish a link between GDP growth and educational expenditure in that timeframe. In other words, Bosupeng sought to determine whether government spending on education in Botswana more or less boosted GDP growth. Economic growth is driven by new ideas, by discoveries that result in better products and more efficient production technologies. Human capital is the engine of this process: a better educated labour force increases the return on research and development and ensures that discoveries are more readily absorbed in the productive structures of the economy.
In the end, more education must yield more economic growth. India is an oft-cited example in this regard. The country’s much hyped software boom is said to reflect, at least partly, the earlier public investment in Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs).
The World Bank reckons that ideally, for every dollar a government spends on education, GDP should grow by $20 on average. In practice though, that is seldom the case.
In the case of Australia, for example, an extra $1 of educational expenditure actually increases Australian GDP by $2. In one specific study of 151 countries, which calculated the impact of educational expenditure (as a percentage of GDP) between 1990 and 1999 on GDP growth between 2000 and 2010, the World Bank found that an increase in education expenditure by 1 percentage point of GDP (e.g. from 4.5% to 5.5%) increased GDP growth by 0.9 percentage points (e.g. from 4.5% to 5.4%). Whatever the case, there ought to be a positive relationship of some magnitude between GDP sustainability and educational spending.
In the Botswana study, Bosupeng found that for the period 1960-2013, “there exists no statistically significant relationship between GDP and expenditure on education and skills development”. The mean GDP for the period was $3.86 billion while expenditure on education averaged just under $850 million.
The paradox of educational expenditure having hardly any effect on GDP growth is staggering given that we spend 8.7 percent of our GDP on education. On the African continent, we’re second only to Lesotho. Globally, our educational spend ranks among the top ten. Our government also allocates close to 30 percent of the ministerial recurrent budget to the ministry of education every year, the lion’s share which in 2014-2015 amounted to P9.26 billion.
The Department of Tertiary Education Financing alone has an average budget of P2.7 billion. Of this, between P1.2 billion and P1.7 billion goes to sponsorship of 20,000 to 30,000 students in both private and public tertiary institutions, with at least 10,000 being first year students.
SCHOLAR CORROBORATES MY TAKE IN DELUSIONS OF GRANDEUR
In Mpho Bosupeng’s more than 50 bibliographical references, my name does not feature at all. He was not under obligation to cite me, and most likely didn’t even get to read my books, but what he observed about the sorry state of Botswana’s education system I also elaborately set out in my 2015 book Delusions of Grandeur Vol. 2 (Chapter 2, titled “Education Without Edification”).
I summarise Bosupeng’s concluding remarks as follows:
“The lack of a positive affiliation between GDP and expenditure on education has several implications. Firstly, it implies that for a developing economy like Botswana, the country could be channeling funds to education with no increased production. This extrapolates further to mean that the government’s budget is being pushed to the limit while there is no payoff from education investment. The government will have to reconsider this investment spending carefully for it to have higher rates of returns.
“Secondly, the lack of a statistically significant relationship between educational expenditure and GDP may mean that the government is not providing enough jobs for the recent graduating classes who are fresh from their universities or vocational training institutions. This case is attached more to Botswana since the government is the largest employer.
“The third factor is that even though the government is spending so much money on the education system, there might be a mismatch between what the employer needs and the skills possessed by the students. In essence, government should consider the programmes each high institution of learning such as University of Botswana has to offer for economic growth and empowerment.
It is no use for the government to sponsor students whose degree programmes will not be beneficial to the long run economic growth and sustainability.
“Fourth … the quality of the education itself should not be sidelined also.
If the quality of the education is very low, it is reasonable to expect low returns to national output in consequence. This will invalidate the anticipated positive relationship between educational expenditure and national economic growth.”
Virtually all the above observations I too underscore at length in my books.
THE VANITY OF EXAM ROOM-BASED ASSESSMENT
If our education system availeth very little if at all, it is principally because we are so beholden to the stasis of the British model we inherited at independence and which we haven’t adapted to our own specific circumstances 50 years hence. It is too theoretically premised and lays undue emphasis on progression through examinations instead of innate ability. This has the result that when students graduate from college or varsity, they are practically “empty”, having regurgitated all they crammed onto the exam room script.
Examinations are a global convention and have been around since days immemorial yet they are not the best gauge of a student’s competence or intelligence quotient. If they were, then what about Albert Einstein, who is acknowledged as the 20th century’s greatest intellect but was not particularly good at passing examinations and bemoaned the fact that “the spirit of learning and creative thought were lost in strict rote learning?” What about Thomas Edison, the inventor, amongst other things, of the electric bulb, who had no more than 3 months of formal education? What about the iconic Richard Branson of “Virgin Empire” fame, who had such a hard time passing examinations that he finally said enough was enough and dropped out of high school at age 16?
Examinations actually test test-taking ability, not innate ability or creative and innovative potential. They are a memory retention contest in the main. Regular examinations result in students working toward exams and exams only and not toward retentive learning. The better you are at cramming, the better your chances of passing. As somebody aptly put it, what the examination system encourages is “practising past papers in the hope of mastering tests and not the subject. Tests do not encourage the pursuit of knowledge so much as the pursuit of great grades.”
The memory-based examination system loyally panders to the cunning of our colonialists, who wanted our education system to churn out intellectually “undernourished school leavers” who were not resourceful, creative, and self-actualised but had to pin all their prospects for earning a living on the job market. Contrast that with the type of education the likes of Larry Page and Mark Zuckerberg underwent which for only part of the way was sufficient to enable them create Google and Facebook respectively in a student hostel. Bill Gates and Paul Allen for one ditched varsity altogether, having imbibed enough knowledge to set out on their own and create the software titan called Microsoft.
So what is my bone of contention? It is that those who understand this theme best say routine examinations as a means of assessing skills and knowledge must be done away with. Much more practical and realistic methods of assessment which reflect real life situations must be investigated and adopted.
Otherwise, we will continue to deny our youth the opportunity to fully assert their God-given potential simply because they are not blessed with the gift of theoretical recollection or are not good at figuring out the nuances of an examination question. I could personally cite a number of people who otherwise were intelligent in the class room and in everyday life but were prone to succumb to a morbid case of examination fever the moment they set foot in the examination hall.
THE FINNISH MODEL
Whereas in much of the world competence is based on passing exams after spells of exhaustive cramming and rote learning, in Finland there are no standardised examinations. In fact, there is only one mandatory national examination from Standard One to high school – the matriculation exams, which we call BGCSE in Botswana.
The education system is based on a balanced programme and a process of continuous professionalism, not on the artificiality of exam room testing. Said one report: “Students in grades one through nine spend from four to eleven periods each week taking classes in art, music, cooking, carpentry, metal work, and textiles. These classes provide natural avenues for learning math and science, nurture critical cooperative skills, and implicitly cultivate respect for people who make their living working with their hands”.
There is no performance ranking for students or schools, the type you see in Botswana newspapers when nationwide examination results are announced, whereby the “super-performers ” are shown off in centre-spread adverts. When teachers assess students in Finland, they do not use numerical grades but descriptive feedback. This helps teachers and students focus on learning in a fear-free environment in which creativity and risk-taking are encouraged. Teachers have more real freedom in time planning when they do not have to focus on annual tests or exams. The result is that the difference between weakest and strongest student is the smallest in the world.
In Botswana, everybody wishes their child was at Westhood or Maruapula, or schools of a similar ilk. In Finland, “parents can also choose, but the options are all the same”. At best, choice is one of which institution of learning is closest to home.
The Finns are today dubbed the rock stars of global education. A recent report said 93 percent of Finns graduate from academic or vocational high schools, 17.5 percent score points higher than the US, the touted bastion of superlative education, and 66 percent go on to higher education, the highest rate in the EU.
It has now become fashionable for foreign delegations from across the world to make pilgrimages to Finland to study up-close the Finish educational model. It’s time ministers Alfred Madigele and Unity Dow got on the next plane too.
Villagers in the eastern Okavango region are now using an alert system which warns them when collared lions approach livestock areas. The new technology is now regarded as a panacea to the human/wildlife conflict in the area as it has reduced mass poisoning and killing of lions by farmers.
The technology is being implemented by an NGO, Community Living Among Wildlife Sustainably (CLAWS) within the five villages of Seronga, Gunutsoga, Eretsha, Beetsha and Gudigwa in the eastern part of the Okavango delta.
A Carnivore Ecologist from CLAWS, Dr Andrew Stein explained that around 2013, villagers in the eastern Okavango were having significant problems with losses of their cattle to predators specifically lions, so the villagers resorted to using poison and shooting the lions in order to reduce their numbers.
He highlighted that as a form of progressive intervention, they designed a programme to reduce the conflicts and promote coexistence. Another component of the programme is communal herding, introduced in 2018 to reduce the conflict by increasing efficiency whereby certified herders monitor livestock health and protect them from predators, allowing community members to engage in other livelihood activities knowing that their livestock are safe.
They are now two herds with 600 and 230 cattle respectively with plan to expand the programme to other neighbouring villages. Currently the programme is being piloted in Eretsha, one of the areas with most conflict incidences per year.
Dr Stein explained that they have developed the first of its kind alert system whereby when the lions get within three or five kilometers of a cattllepost or a homestead upon the five villages, then it will release an alert system going directly to the cellphones of individuals living within the affected area or community.
‘So, if a colored lion gets to about five kilometers of Eretsha village or any villagers in the Eretsha that has signed up for, the system will receive an SMS of the name of the lion and its distance to or from the village”, he stated. He added that this enables villagers to take preventative action to reduce conflicts before its starts.
Dr Stein noted that some respond by gathering their cattle and put them in a kraal or put them in an enclosure making sure that the enclosure is secure while some people will gather firewood and light small fires around edges of the kraal to prevent lions from coming closer and some when they receive the SMS they send their livestock to the neighbours alerting them about the presence of lions.
He noted that 125 people have signed to receive the alert system within Seronga, Eretsha, Beetsha, Gunutsoga and Gudigwa. He added that each homestead is about five people and this means more than 600 people immediately receive the messages about lions when they approach their villages. He also noted that last year they dispersed over 12 000 alerts, adding that this year is a bit higher as about 20 000 alerts have been sent so far across these villages.
Stein further noted that they have been significant changes in the behavior of the villagers as they are now tolerant to lions. “85 percent were happy with the SMS and people are becoming more tolerant with living with lions because they have more information to reduce the conflicts,” he stressed.
Stein noted that since the start of the programme in 2014 they have seen lion populations rebounds almost completely to a level before and they have not recorded cases of lion poisoning in the last three years which is commendable effort.
Monnaleso Sanga from Eretsha village applauded the programme by CLAWS noting that farmers in the area are benefiting through the alert system and take preventative measures to reduce human/lion conflict which has been persistent in the area. He added that numbers of cattle killed by lions have reduced immensely. He also admitted that they are now tolerant to lions and they no longer kill nor poison them.
A Muslim is supposed to be and should be a living example of the teachings of the Quran and the ‘Sunnah’ (the teachings and living examples of Prophet Muhammed (SAW – Peace be upon Him). We should follow these in all affairs, relations, and situations – starting with our relationship with our Lord, our own self, our family and the people around us. One of the distinguishing features of the (ideal) Muslim is his faith in Allah, and his conviction that whatever happens in the universe and whatever befalls him, only happens through the will and the decree of the Almighty Allah.
A Muslim should know and feel that he is in constant need of the help and support of Allah, no matter how much he may think he can do for himself. He has no choice in his life but to submit to the will of his Creator, worship Him, strive towards the Right Path and do good deeds. This will guide him to be righteous and upright in all his deeds, both in public and in private.
His attitude towards his body, mind and soul
The Muslim pays attention to his body’s physical, intellectual and spiritual needs. He takes good care of his body, promoting its good health and strength. He shouldn’t eat in excess; but he should eat enough to maintain his health and energy. Allah, The Exalted, Says “…Eat and drink; but waste not by excess, for Allah loves not the wasters.” [Quran 7: 31]
The Muslim should keep away from alcohol and drugs. He should also try to exercise regularly to maintain his physical fitness. The Muslim also keeps his body and clothes clean, he bathes frequently. The Prophet placed a great emphasis on cleanliness and bathing. A Muslim is also concerned with his clothing and appearance but in accordance with the Islamic ideal of moderation, avoiding the extremes.
As for his intellectual care, the Muslim should take care of his mind by pursuing beneficial knowledge. It is his responsibility to seek knowledge whether it is religious or secular, so he may understand the nature and the essence of things. Allah Says: “…and say: My Lord! Increase me in knowledge.” [Quran 20: 114
The Muslim should not forget that man is not only composed of a body and a mind, but that he also possesses a soul and a spirit. Therefore, the Muslim pays as much attention to his spiritual development as to his physical and intellectual development, in a balanced manner which ideally does not concentrate on one aspect to the detriment of others.
His attitude towards people
The Muslim must treat his parents with kindness and respect, compassion, politeness and deep gratitude. He recognizes their status and knows his duties towards them. Allah Says “And serve Allah. Ascribe nothing as partner unto Him. (Show) kindness unto parents…” [Quran 4: 36]
With his wife, the Muslim should exemplify good and kind treatment, intelligent handling, deep understanding of the nature and psychology of women, and proper fulfilment of his responsibilities and duties.
With his children, the Muslim is a parent who should understand his responsibility towards their good upbringing, showing them love and compassion, influence their Islamic development and giving them proper education, so that they become active and constructive elements in society, and a source of goodness for their parents, community, and society as a whole.
With his relatives, the Muslim maintains the ties of kinship and knows his duties towards them. He understands the high status given to relatives in Islam, which makes him keep in touch with them, no matter what the circumstances.
With his neighbours, the Muslim illustrates good treatment, kindness and consideration of others’ feelings and sensitivities. He turns a blind eye to his neighbour’s faults while taking care not to commit any such errors himself. The Muslim relationship with his wider circle of friends is based on love for the sake of Allah. He is loyal and does not betray them; he is sincere and does not cheat them; he is gentle, tolerant and forgiving; he is generous and he supplicates for them.
In his social relationships with all people, the Muslim should be well-mannered, modest and not arrogant. He should not envy others, fulfils his promises and is cheerful. He is patient and avoids slandering and uttering obscenities. He should not unjustly accuse others nor should he interfere in that which does not concern him. He refrains from gossiping, spreading slander and stirring up trouble – avoids false speech and suspicion. When he is entrusted with a secret, he keeps it. He respects his elders. He mixes with the best of people. He strives to reconcile between the Muslims. He visits the sick and attends funerals. He returns favours and is grateful for them. He calls others to Islam with wisdom, example and beautiful preaching. He should guide people to do good and always make things easy and not difficult.
The Muslim should be fair in his judgments, not a hypocrite, a sycophant or a show-off. He should not boast about his deeds and achievements. He should be straightforward and never devious or twisted, no matter the circumstances. He should be generous and not remind others of his gifts or favours. Wherever possible he relieves the burden of the debtor. He should be proud and not think of begging.
These are the standards by which the (ideal) Muslim is expected to structure his life on. Now how do I measure up and fit into all this? Can I honestly say that I really try to live by these ideals and principles; if not can I really call myself a true Muslim?
For the ease of writing this article I have made use of for want of a better word, the generic term ‘he’, ‘his’, ‘him’ and the ‘male’ gender, but it goes without saying that these standards apply equally to every female and male Muslim.
“Homicide and suicide kill almost 7000 children every year; one in four of all children are born to unmarried mothers, many of whom are children themselves…..children’s potential lost to spirit crushing poverty….children’s hearts lost in divorce and custody battles….children’s lives lost to abuse and violence, our society lost to itself, as we fail our children.” “If you bungle raising your children, I don’t think whatever else you do matters very much.” (Quotation taken from a book written by Hillary Clinton).
These words may well apply to us here in Botswana; We are also experiencing a series of challenges in many spheres of development and endeavour but none as challenging as the long term effects of what is going to happen to our youth of today. One of the greatest challenges facing us as parents today is how to guide our youth to become the responsible adults that we wish them to be, tomorrow.
In Islam Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) has enjoined upon the parents to take care of the moral and religious instruction of their children from the very beginning, otherwise they will be called to account for negligence on the Day of Judgement. Parents must inculcate God-consciousness in their children from an early age, whereby the children will gain an understanding of duty to The Creator.
The Holy Qur’an says: ‘O you who believe! Save yourself and your families from the Fire of Hell’. (Ch. 66: V6). This verse places the responsibility on the shoulders of the parents to ensure that training and guidance begin at home. The goal is to mould the child into a solid Islamic personality, with good morals, strong Islamic principles, knowledge and behavior so as to be equipped to face the demands of life in a responsible and mature manner. This should begin with the proper environment at home that inculcates the best moral and behavioral standards.
But what do we have instead? Believers of all Religious persuasions will agree that we have children growing up without parental guidance, a stable home environment, without role models, being brought up in surroundings that are not conducive to proper upbringing and moulding of well-adjusted children. These children are being brought up devoid of any parental guidance and increasingly the desperate situation of orphaned children having to raise their siblings (children raising children) because their parents have succumbed to the scourge of AIDS.
It is becoming common that more and more girls still in their schooling years are now falling pregnant, most of them unwanted, with the attendant responsibilities and difficulties.
Observe the many young ladies who are with children barely in their teens having illegitimate children. In the recent past there was a campaign focused on the ‘girl-child’; this campaign targeted this group of young females who had fallen pregnant and were now mothers. The situation is that the mother still being just a ‘child’ and not even having tasted adulthood, now has the onerous responsibility of raising her own child most of the time on her own because either the father has simply disappeared, refuses to takes responsibility, or in some cases not even known.
We cannot place the entire blame on these young mothers; as parents and society as a whole stand accused because we have shirked our responsibilities and worse still we ourselves are poor role models. The virtual breakdown of the extended family system and of the family unit in many homes means that there are no longer those safe havens of peace and tranquility that we once knew. How then do we expect to raise well-adjusted children in this poisoned atmosphere?
Alcohol has become socially acceptable and is consumed by many of our youth and alarmingly they are now turning to drugs. Alcohol is becoming so acceptable that it is easily accessible even at home where some parents share drinks with their children or buying it for them. This is not confined only to low income families it is becoming prevalent amongst our youth across the board.
It is frightening to witness how our youth are being influenced by blatantly suggestive pop culture messages over television, music videos and other social media. Children who are not properly grounded in being able to make rational and informed decisions between what is right and what is wrong are easily swayed by this very powerful medium.
So what do we do as parents? We first have to lead by example; it is no longer the parental privilege to tell the child ‘do as I say not as I do’- that no longer works. The ball is in the court of every religious leader (not some of the charlatans who masquerade as religious leaders), true adherents and responsible parents. We cannot ignore the situation we have to take an active lead in guiding and moulding our youth for a better tomorrow.
In Islam Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said: “No father gives a better gift to his children than good manners and good character.” Children should be treated not as a burden, but a blessing and trust of Allah, and brought up with care and affection and taught proper responsibilities etiquettes and behaviour.
Even the Bible says; ‘Suffer the little children to come unto me and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of God. Verily I say unto you, whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein’. (Mark 10:14-15)
The message is clear and needs to be taken by all of us: Parents let us rise to the occasion – we owe it to our children and their future.