The decline in examination results in Botswana has now become a matter of grave concern to the nation, and one cannot argue against the contention by some critiques that this gloomy situation is reflective of an education system that for all intents and purposes has almost collapsed. This has been going on for a number of years now and when we started experiencing such dramatic decline there was hope that this was a temporary occurrence that would come to an end with the passage of time.
However, this has proved a complex situation to address and the nation seems to have now resigned to the reality that ours is a perennial state of national despair of catastrophic proportion with relatively a few mediocre performances by a handful of schools, which have also not been very consistent.
It is crystal clear that the Ministry of Basic Education is completely overwhelmed and therefore needs the support of all of us with stake in education. You see given the number of years the failure rate has continued, and the amount of funding we’re told continues to be invested in basic education, then there can be no doubt whatsoever that the Ministry on its own has found the going really tough.
Things have become so bad that when examination results are released by Botswana Examination Council (BEC) for public consumption, one can always predict that the students’ performance would certainly be preposterously low. In fact, one can already predict for instance, that unless some dramatic interventions are put in place to mitigate the state of affairs, 2018 BGCSE examination results will be a disaster given students with wide range of learning abilities that have been admitted into Form 4.
In this article I therefore, share my views on the ever declining students’ performance in examinations, and offer possible interventions that can be explored specifically to deal with the current cohort of Form 4 students and hopefully avoid an even more embarrassing performance in 2018.
This year as in previous years, the ministry found itself at the receiving end and from time to time having to desperately engage in relentless altercation pertaining to reasons for students’ poor performance, of course many of them not necessarily based on any empirical researched evidence, but arising mainly from public anger and desperation.
As things stand, the problem however, is not whether or not research has been undertaken, but the real danger lies in finger pointing and failure by stakeholders to collectively come together at formal fora where they could discuss the performance debacle and try to identify possible solutions to the fiasco that seems not to come to an end.
For instance, the Ministry of Basic Education, Academics, Teacher Unions, Politicians and Parents seem to have the tendency of voicing their concerns for a few days subsequent to the release of the results, only to be heard again expressing some emotional frustrations or outbursts twelve months down the line when another announcement of similar catastrophic results by another cohort of students is made.
For me this is not helpful to anybody, and especially to the learner because when I listened to the discourse on radio in 2017, it was almost the same blame-game that was aired on radio in 2014, 2015 and 2016 following similar deplorable performances in both junior certificate and BGCSE examination results.
The question therefore, is what is it that stakeholders could possibly explore in the event that they were to formally dialogue on this issue of poor performance that has become so sensitive? There are several such issues, but a number of key themes for possible interrogation that come to mind include, general trends in students’ performances, students’ admissions, class size, as well as school size. All these are discussed in this article in respect of their effect on teaching and learning.
The general students’ performance at all levels of our education system show a similar trend with most of the schools which seem to perform relatively better than the others located in urban or semi-urban areas, while those at the tail end of the rankings are in rural and remote areas. Although it may not be easy to single out one particular factor attributable to this situation, there are a number of them at play that come to one’s mind and may have to be given special attention if we are to stand any chance of turning around the deteriorating situation.
One possible factor could be lack of parental care arising from our traditional patterns of settlement with parents either staying at the cattle posts or ploughing fields leaving their children in the hands of relatives or even strangers where the school is located. Children left alone to fend for themselves with minimal parental care will certainly face many challenges including being target of all sorts of abuses, situations that would certainly distract them from learning.
Worse still is the situation in remote areas where predominantly children of Basarwa are taken away from parental care to attend pre-and primary boarding schools. While the establishment of such boarding facilities might have been in good faith, the reality is that these children are just too young to be separated from parents, something that would have long term adverse effect on their learning even as they proceed to the next levels of their education.
In fact, I believe a stakeholders’ forum or conference would give people on the ground, that is, those who run these schools on a daily basis an opportunity to share their experiences based on first-hand accounts of what is really happening, and therefore help in tackling a wide range of such questions as:
What resources/facilities are provided in these schools that would make children of this tender age enjoy the learning environment than to spend most of their time wishing they were home with their parents? What special training has been given to teachers and other support staff to ensure that they run such schools effectively?
What incentives, not just remote dweller allowance, do members of staff receive to be motivated to enjoy their job and want to stay long at these schools? How far are education offices located from these schools to be able to provide regular service in comparison to schools that are already at an advantage in terms of parental care, resources and distance?
Question “d” above obviously brings us to yet another range of pertinent questions to do with students’ admission. This is important because you might find that schools which are always at the receiving end in terms of weak academic performance are usually allocated students whose performance at either PSLE or JC were not up to scratch.
Alternatively there could be schools which are located in predominantly disadvantaged areas but still perform better in comparison to some which may be located in relatively well resourced areas. Whatever the situation might turn out to be, questions specifically about admissions such as the ones below would help stakeholders to be in a position to look at issues differently and further be helpful in finding out what really informs the Ministry’s decision on the admission of students to different schools:
When these disadvantaged children complete their Primary School Leaving Examinations (PSLE), or Junior Certificate (JC) at which schools are they mainly admitted? Which are the dominant grades these children would have attained to proceed to the next level of their education?
If the majority of them are those who attained lower grades including those in the “D” or lower grades, what specific skills and competencies are given to teachers to prepare them for children with such diverse learning abilities? If all these learners were to be admitted in a performing school located in such a place as Gaborone, Francistown, Orapa or Selebi-Phikwe, will that school still perform the way it would have performed?
Obviously these are difficult questions some people may feel uncomfortable about, but they would give stakeholders an idea of the extent of the problem and to be able to discuss issues with open minds. The stakeholder interaction of this nature might open further useful research opportunities to engage in tracer studies to find out among other things, the percentage of students attending schools located in disadvantaged communities who manage to complete tertiary education over a given period of time.
Further significant in trying to find answers to the ever declining performances in schools is the widely debated issue of class size and its effect on teaching and learning. Whether class size has an effect on learning or not, has been a subject for debate in the literature for centuries with very few definitive conclusions.
Drawing on Angrist and Lavy (1996), Finn and Achilles (1999), make an observation about class size centuries ago, alluding to an instance in which the maximum class size recommended for Bible classes was strictly specified at 25 pupils. The same scholars make reference to previous studies on class size, with one finding concluding that whilst reduced class size could be expected to produce increased academic achievement, the effects of even substantial reductions are minimal.
Furthermore, was the finding that the major benefits from reduced classes can only be obtained provided class size is reduced to 20 pupils. In addition was another research conclusion that the economically disadvantaged students or those from some ethnic minorities perform better academically in smaller classes. These are different perspectives about class size, and while this debate continues, schools and teacher Unions in Botswana continue to express grave concern about teaching large class sizes which seem to adversely affect learning. Even without any conclusive evidence regarding the effect of class size, it’s an issue that needs interrogation to hear from classroom practitioners themselves and therefore, determine how best to deal with it not within just the global perspective but also within our own local context.
The images below from http://www.google.co.bw illustrate contrasting class sizes and classroom instruction situations. From these pictures even lay persons would easily identify a more ideal teaching and learning environment they would prefer for their children, if they had a choice.
Related to class size is the debate about the size of the schools themselves. There can be no doubt that Botswana has some of the biggest schools in the world as if we are in a war-torn country such as Somalia, South Sudan or Ukraine where resources have been badly affected by years strife. I am always at a loss as to why this should be the case in an upper middle income country such as Botswana with a small population of only two million people.
For me this completely defies logic and to expect miracles to come out of such large-scale institutions is to demand for the impossible from schools. You see school heads especially in senior secondary schools run the biggest organisations in Botswana, and there can be no doubt that having to manage such huge entities would pose equally huge challenges.
Imagine having to deal with teenagers in the region or even in excess of two thousand students in one particular place. You are talking here about young people from diverse socio-economic backgrounds, which compels one to give attention to a wide range of students’ other complex needs and multiple problems in addition to their core business of learning.
Some of these schools provide boarding facilities which makes their responsibility even more challenging and frustrating, and obviously they will from time to time have no choice but divert attention from effort to deal effectively with academic performance. In fact, most of the senior secondary schools are by international standards three times the normal and acceptable size and realistically with such large enrolments chances of improved academic performances would be most difficult to achieve, hence mediocre performances that have become common occurrence. With so many junior secondary schools, why not off load some of the students in senior secondary schools, a situation that will also address the problem of large class size.
I believe it’s not too late to do something that would at least save the current Form 4s from the fate that has so far been suffered by their predecessors whose academic performances have been disastrous. This group has two years before their examination, which in my view is enough time to try some of the interventions and possibly succeed in our effort to arrest the failure rate and therefore give these children hope of a better future.
I’m aware that there is ETSSP policy which aims to address some of the challenges facing our education system, and if implemented, monitored and evaluated could change our education for the better. I’ve so far read the policy line by line from page one to the last and have found it a very useful policy document, but the reality is that its implementation will take a while and will certainly not be helpful to the current Form 4s and 5s.
So to deal with the challenges facing us now, our starting point for example, could be reduction in class size of all Form 4s and further ensure that personnel with expertise in mixed ability teaching, managing group work, development of appropriate learning material and so on, not just from the Ministry of Basic Education, but also other stakeholders such as the University of Botswana are assigned schools to work with teachers on a regular basis for the next two years or more. This initiative could actually be used simultaneously as research and a pilot intervention for the next groups of students.
A wife, uncle, and two in-laws fall at the hands of Judah’s despot
The pre-eminent Jewish chronicler, Flavius Josephus, said of Herod the Great that he was “blessed with every gift of looks, body, and mind” but he was a “slave to his passions”. This was in the context of a gloating bloodlust.
His sword knew no sacred cows: neither his own kids, wives, in-laws, next of kin, nor bosom friends were immune from it. He is on record as pestering Caesar Augustus with a barrage of letters seeking permission to execute his own flesh and blood, prompting the Roman emperor to at one time quip that, “It is better to be Herod’s pig than his son”, which was apt: as a “Jew”, Herod did not eat pork and therefore in the event that he kept any pigs, they would never have to be killed.
You are by now well-apprised of the death of Hyrcanus II by the same Herod, General Atiku, in 30 BC. Hyrcanus, a Hasmonean ruler of Judah twice over, was actually the grandfather of Mariamne I, Herod’s most beloved wife and his second of up to 10 wives. It was Mariamne’s own mother Salome, who dreading Herod’s pathological savagery, pitched Mariamne to Herod in the hope that that would insure her family from Herod’s murderous caprices.
Now, Mariamne, General, was as much a stunning beauty as her younger brother Aristobulus III was breathtakingly good-looking. Having tied the knot with Herod in 37 BC, Mariamne had prevailed over her husband to install Aristobulus as High Priest. The post had fallen vacant on the death of Antigonus in 37 BC and Herod had appointed one Ananel, who had no ties whatsoever to the Hasmoneans, the first such in more than a century, in his place. Unable to resist the spirited entreaties of his beloved wife, who had also lobbied Queen Cleopatra of Egypt and her beau Mark Anthony, Herod gave in and replaced Ananel with Aristobulus, who was only 16 years old, in 36 BC.
Because of his enormous charisma and overall affability, Aristobulus was a hit with the masses despite his tender age and Herod was envious of the young man’s rock star-like popularity. To make doubly sure the young man did not harbour a seditious ace up his sleeve, the morbidly paranoid Herod had his spooks watch on both Aristobulus and his mother round the clock. Sensing imminent danger, Aristobulus contacted Cleopatra, asking for a pre-emptive safe passage to Egypt and there enjoy absolute freedom. When Herod got wind of this, he decided to get rid of Aristobulus as he did not wish him to be a perennial thorn in his flesh from the utter safety of self-imposed exile.
The opportunity came at a banquet in Jericho which was organised by Aristobulus’ mother. There, Herod had one of his henchmen cause Aristobulus to drown during a dusk time horseplay in a swimming pool. Of course Herod would forever maintain the drowning was accidental when everybody knew it was in truth a tactical elimination. Poor Aristobulus was only 17 years old having been born in 56 BC. He was the last Hasmonean High Priest and was replaced by the previously deposed Ananel, who was to remain in that position till 29 BC.
HEROD ACQUITTED OVER THE ARISTOBULUS DEATH
It need not be over-emphasised, General, that Mariamne and her mother Alexandra did not take Herod’s line over the all too untimely demise of Aristobulus lying down. If he had reckoned that with the death of Aristobulus he had gotten rid of potentially the most potent threat to his omnipotence, he was totally mistaken. Herod had actually simply fanned the flames of intrigue against him, for mother and daughter confronted him and accused him of murdering their boy in cold blood.
Nor did the two Iron Ladies end matters there: Alexandra wrote a lachrymal letter to Cleopatra to get her to bring her influence to bear on Mark Anthony so that Herod paid dearly and likewise for his nefarious act. Anthony, who at the time was the Roman colossus in charge of the whole of the Middle East, was persuaded and during a visit to Laodicea (in modern-day Turkey, though some accounts say it was Rhodes in Cyprus), he commanded Herod to report to him forthwith and exculpate himself over the affair.
Although Herod put a brave face on the matter, General, he was rather unsure of his eventual fate after the trial. He also suspected rightly or wrongly that Anthony had a thing for the voluptuously beautiful Mariamne and the last thing Herod wanted was for any other man to bed his beloved Mariamne even in death. So before he set off for Laodicea, Herod instructed his uncle Joseph, who was married to his sister Salome, to make sure that in the event that Anthony sentenced him to death, he should immediately put her to the sword. He also detailed a certain Sohemus, a most trusted aide, to stand sentry over the entire womenfolk at the palace.
Herod, however, had the nine lives of a cat, General. Using his immense rhetorical skills and the time-honoured palm greasing, he won himself an acquittal. Meanwhile, the Judean rumourville was abuzz with chatter that Herod had been summarily executed by Anthony, as a result of which people became spendthrifts of their tongues.
Both Joseph and Sohemus disclosed to Mariamne the instructions Herod had left them with in relation to her fate once he was no more. Mariamne was both livid and distraught that her husband regarded her as so easily expendable when outwardly he cherished her beyond words. To her mind, his arrangements with Joseph had nothing to do with love but sprang from sheer monstrosity. She probably thanked God that he was dead, but the fact of the matter was that he was not and when he at long last turned up, she did not want to have anything to do with him, including the conjugation which he so eagerly pined for after such an extended absence.
HEROD KILLS HIS WIFE AND HIS UNCLE
Now, if Herod had a kind of Svengali, General, it was his youngest sister Salome. Salome (65 BC-10 AD) was the most powerful woman at Herod’s court. A sly, scheming, and manipulating vixen, she arguably more than any other living being had the most sway in a negative sense on her brother, who took practically whatever she said as gospel truth.
Let us nevertheless, General, take stock of the fact that the bulk of what we learn about Salome comes from Flavius Josephus, who himself relied on the writings of Herod’s court historian Nicolaus of Damascus. For one reason or the other, Nicolaus did not see eye to eye with Salome and it is therefore possible that much of what Nicolaus relates of her is embellished to smear her before the court of history. Upon his return, Herod was told of the rumours of his death and so was surprised to find Mariamne alive when Joseph and Sohemus should in the circumstances have had her killed if indeed they were loyal to him. In fact, Joseph had even put Mariamne and Alexandra into the safe custody of Roman legions stationed in Judea just in case Jewish malcontents who abhorred Herod turned their wrath on them.
But there was more. Salome reported to Herod that Mariamne, who she hated like the plague, had had sexual relations with both Joseph and Sohemus, this being Mariamne’s reward to them for dishing out to her the dirt on Herod, and that she had on several occasions before attempted to poison him. Now, no one would hump Herod’s most beloved wife and get away scotfree. It is therefore small wonder that Herod straightaway ordered the execution of Joseph and Sohemus. Joseph was 61 years old at the time of his death in 34 BC, having been born in 95 BC. In the case of Mariamne herself though, he had her subjected to a formal court trial not on charges of adultery but of attempted regicide.
Herod had hoped that the court would acquit her, whereupon he would make bygones be bygones so great was his love for the woman, but sadly for him, General, she was found guilty and sentenced to death. Even then, Herod tactfully dilly-dallied on signing the writ of execution and simply had his wife detained at a fortress for some time until Salome prevailed over him to execute her at long last. Writes Josephus: “Thus, with the death of the noble and lovely Mariamne ended the glorious history of the Hasmonean High Priest Mattathias and his descendants.”
For a long time to come though, General, Herod was haunted by the death of his wife to the point of even sometimes coming across as if he had lost his mind. “When Herod realised what this meant (the death sentence passed on Mariamne), he tried in vain to have the verdict changed, but Salome did not rest until the death penalty was carried out,” Josephus informs us. “Herod was heartbroken; nothing could comfort him for the loss of his lovely wife.
For seven years he refused to have her body buried, and held it, embalmed, in his palace. Afterwards, he became so melancholy and despondent, nothing interested him or could arouse any enthusiasm in him for living … He was so far conquered by his passion, that he would order his servants to call for Mariamne, as if she were still alive, and could still hear them … He tried hard to forget his trouble by going hunting and banqueting, but nothing helped. Herod built new cities and erected temples and palaces. He also named a tower in honour of Mariamne.”
HEROD SLAYS SISTER’S EX-HUBBY
Mariamne’s death was not the only one which Herod perpetrated through the instrumentality of Salome. There were actually several and included those of her own husband Costobarus. Salome was married four times, to her uncle Joseph (45 BC); Costobarus (34 BC); Sylleus (circa 27 BC); and Alexas (20 BC).
Like the Herod clan, Costobarus was of Idumean stock. It was Costobarus Herod had made governor of Idumea and Gaza and upon Joseph’s death had him tie the knot with Salome, with the couple eventually siring two children, Berenice and Antipater III. Costobarus, though, soon began to harbour monarchical ambitions of his own and wrote to Cleopatra beseeching her to persuade Mark Anthony to make Idumea independent of Herod and install him (Costobarus) as Rome’s client King of the territory.
Of course upon learning of this, Herod was not amused. It was Salome who pleaded with him not to put her husband to the sword. Next time, however, a dumped Costobarus was not so lucky. Seven years after their marriage, Salome and Costobarus parted ways and a possibly hurt Salome decided to exact vengeance. She informed her brother that he had been harbouring two fugitives from Herodian justice for a full 12 years at his own farm.
The two were simply known as the Sons of Baba. Baba ben Babuta, their father and clan patriarch, was related to the Hasmonean ruler Antigonus, who Herod had replaced and killed in 37 BC with the help of Roman legions. Baba and his sons had resisted Herod at the time, with his sons henceforth persisted in insurrectionist activity against Herod. Baba himself had been captured and blinded by Herod but spared anyway as he no longer posed any threat. Writes Josephus: “Now the Sons of Babas were of great dignity, and had power among the multitude, and were faithful to Antigonus, and were always raising calumnies against Herod, and encouraged the people to preserve the government to that royal family (the Hasmoneans) which held it by inheritance.”
Costobarus had provided the Sons of Baba an indefinite lair “supposing that their preservation might be of great advantage to him in the changes of government afterward”. Following the Salome tip, Herod had Costobarus and the Sons of Baba summarily executed “so that none was left alive of the family of Hyrcanus (the Hasmonean), and the kingdom was wholly in Herod’s power, there being no one of high rank to stand in the way of his unlawful acts” per Josephus.
We may use the information we receive from them, and they may use the information we share with them, to help operate and market services’. WhatsApp is now reserving the right to share data it collects about you with the broader Facebook network, which includes Instagram, regardless of whether you have accounts or profiles there, claiming it needs it to help operate and improve its offerings. More broadly, almost all of the $21.5 billion in revenues which Facebook generated in the third quarter of 2020 came from advertising and there is currently none in WhatsApp.
The company now wants to be able to serve more targeted ads to people on Facebook and Instagram by also garnering their usage habits on WhatsApp and enabling businesses take payments via WhatsApp for items that were selected on other Facebook sites. For long-time users, the option to share data with Facebook was made available in 2016, but it was just that: optional and temporary. It was now to become mandatory for everybody from Feb. 8 but owing to a massive backlash, the company has delayed that to May 15 to try and persuade users to sign up to the new Ts and Cs.
WhatsApp on Monday attempted to address the uproar over privacy concerns with a post on its website, explaining that the update was designed to aid businesses on its platform, as it reiterated in Friday’s post.
“We want to be clear that the policy update does not affect the privacy of your messages with friends or family in any way. Instead, this update includes changes related to messaging a business on WhatsApp, which is optional, and provides further transparency about how we collect and use data.”
These new terms have caused an outcry among technology experts, privacy advocates, billionaire entrepreneurs and government organisations and triggered a wave of defections to rival services. Elon Musk has urged his followers to switch to Signal and the governments of Turkey and India have threatened to block the app if it insists on proceeding.
Elsewhere too, in spite of Whatsapp protestations, millions of its users are already migrating to alternative platforms. Signal saw 7.5 million downloads last week, a 4,200% spike since the previous week and large swaths of users also jumped to Telegram, as the platform gained 9 million new users last week, up 91% from the previous week. Both apps are now topping Google and Apple’s app stores,
Facebook could possibly learn a lesson from history here. Every past empire – Aztec, Mayan, Greco-Roman, Sumerian, Mongol, Chinese, Ottoman and more recently British, all saw their star rise, their glory swell, their boundaries grow and yet each eventually fell, often the instigators of their own downfall.
To understand its influence and control one only has to check out the un-smart sector of the mobile phone industry which for some time has offered handsets a small step up from the basic starter sets with Facebook and Whatsapp as default screen app settings. These limited internet access options have allowed millions of users to connect with affordable data bundle packages.
And for Google smartphone subscribers, the search engine automatically connects its base to Whatsapp and Facebook – one big, happy family. Facebook is also seamlessly linked to Paypal offering contact-less charges for its boosted post advertising, a somewhat sinister partnership which accesses their Paypal log-in and authorisation details without the need to inform the payee – the transaction is simply deducted automatically from the registered credit card. This is Big Brother with a blue logo.
The bottom line here is that if you have any privacy issues at all – and you probably should – you might as well make the switch now before you are forced to sign away your rights in May. And the plus part is that both Signal and Telegram have the technological edge over Whatsapp anyway, the latter even being accessible on multiple platforms simultaneously, not just on your phone. Empires take time to crumble and Facebook is not in imminent danger but information is a weapon that can be used in any war, even a virtual conflict, so don’t give this giant any more ammunition than it already has.
Seventy-seven years ago, on the evening of December 2, 1943, the Germans launched a surprise air raid on allied shipping in the Italian port of Bari, which was then the key supply centre for the British 8th army’s advance in Italy.
The attack was spearheaded by 105 Junkers JU88 bombers under the overall command of the infamous Air Marshal Wolfram von Richthofen (who had initially achieved international notoriety during the Spanish Civil War for his aerial bombardment of Guernica). In a little over an hour the German aircraft succeeded in sinking 28 transport and cargo ships, while further inflicting massive damage to the harbour’s facilities, resulting in the port being effectively put out of action for two months.
Over two thousand ground personnel were killed during the raid, with the release of a secret supply of mustard gas aboard one of the destroyed ships contributing to the death toll, as well as subsequent military and civilian casualties. The extent of the later is a controversy due to the fact that the American and British governments subsequently covered up the presence of the gas for decades.
At least five Batswana were killed and seven critically wounded during the raid, with one of the wounded being miraculously rescued floating unconscious out to sea with a head wound. He had been given up for dead when he returned to his unit fourteen days later. The fatalities and casualties all occurred when the enemy hit an ammunition ship adjacent to where 24 Batswana members of the African Pioneer Corps (APC) 1979 Smoke Company where posted.
Thereafter, the dozen surviving members of the unit distinguished themselves for their efficiency in putting up and maintaining smokescreens in their sector, which was credited with saving additional shipping. For his personal heroism in rallying his men following the initial explosions Company Corporal Chitu Bakombi was awarded the British Empire Medal, while his superior officer, Lieutenant N.F. Moor was later given an M.B.E.