Access to and achievement in education in Botswana is said to be unequal. This is revealed in a new study by the United Nations, collaborating with other development partners and stakeholders. The report indicates that twenty thousand children in Botswana are not in school.
Children in marginalized communities have less access to education than their more affluent, urban peers. While primary education is free and compulsory under the Children’s Act, primary education is not free for children of foreign nationality. Moreover, cost barriers such as transport costs and materials such as textbooks place a higher burden on poorer families.
This report has been stated that limited awareness of the importance of Early Childhood Education (ECE) among policymakers has contributed to a lack of appropriate funding mechanisms, infrastructure, and equipment for ECE. The study indicated that only 30 per cent of children aged 3 to 6 years have access to preschool education, which remains driven by the private sector and therefore unaffordable for the less privileged. Children in remote areas especially have limited access to ECE.
This unequal access directly affects children’s (impoverished children’s) equal learning and cognitive development opportunities. The burden of unpaid childcare indirectly affects women’s ability to start a business, enter the labour force and access decent employment and professional training opportunities. Further, the poor and rural youth are more susceptible to dropping out of school or not registering for school.
It was also stressed that forty-nine per cent of the poorest youth finish school between ages 15–18 compared to 36 per cent among the richest. Distance from the school is a factor that limits the ability of children in rural areas to access education. Cost-sharing may be another factor for children in poor and rural families, the UN study said. Cost-sharing fees were introduced in 2006 and set at a level equivalent to 5 per cent of the cost to the Government of providing secondary education, with a provision for exemption for children from destitute families, orphans, students in need of care and registered with the Social Welfare Services and students whose parents are terminally ill and incapable of caring for the student materially low-income households.
Fees per child were set at BWP 300 a year for Junior Secondary and BWP 450 a year for Senior Secondary schools. Students from households whose total earnings are less than BWP 550 per month receive a partial exemption if they have more than one child in secondary school. UN highlighted that poorer students also fare less well in educational attainment: students from the wealthiest 25 per cent of households score on average 23 per cent higher than their peers from the poorest 25 per cent of households in reading and 15 per cent higher in math. Compared to other countries in the region, Botswana has a more significant gap in attainment across income groups.
In the three rounds of the international assessment programme carried out by the Southern and Eastern African Consortium for Monitoring Educational Quality (SACMEQ), the difference between the average score and the score for the poorest quarter of students was only 17 points in Swaziland, 19 points in Lesotho, and 39 points in Namibia. However, it was a high of 68 points in Botswana, not far behind the 72 points in South Africa. Statelessness is another challenge for children accessing the education system since the lack of appropriate documentation makes it harder to register for school.
A significant number of children, the UN report stated, particularly children in remote areas and nomadic communities, refugee and asylum-seeking children, abandoned children and children living in alternative care institutions, face barriers in accessing birth registration, which negatively affects their right to a nationality and subsequently impedes the realization of other rights.
To prevent statelessness and reach universal registration, Botswana has been recommended to address administrative obstacles, expand health facility-based birth registration centres and mobile registration campaigns and raise awareness regarding the importance of birth registration. Asylum-seeking and refugee children face challenges in access to and attainment within education.
Children in the Dukwi camp receive basic education but cannot access higher learning institutions because the Government does not provide funding or support. There has been an increase in failure rates at secondary education final examinations since youth lack motivation about their future. Parents are prohibited from engaging in any form of work and are unable to provide funding for their children’s further education.
“There have been instances where students have forfeited scholarships offered outside Botswana due to the inability to access travel documentation. Children from minority groups in Botswana face challenges in accessing education, partly due to the absence of mother-tongue education,” reads part of the report. The report of the Special Rapporteur on minority issues highlights that despite the adoption of the system of hostel accommodation for children from minority groups, many of these children still ran away or performed poorly. Therefore, it was recommended that the Government adopt new educational policies allowing the teaching of minority languages and their use as a medium of instruction in private schools.
The report further recommended, “the development of policies for public schools to teach and use minority languages as the medium of instruction where this is reasonably possible and where numbers warrant, to the degree appropriate and applying the principle of proportionality”. Lack of trained educators and support workers, geographical distance to school, and social norms and stigma contribute to excluding children with disabilities from school.
One-tenth of students with disabilities in Botswana reported stopping attending school because of difficulty in getting to school. Integration of children with disabilities into mainstream schools is limited, and children with disabilities are usually segregated into specific schools. When students with disabilities attend mainstream school, learning support, including appropriate teaching material, can be inadequate: primary school students with disabilities in Botswana who attended mainstream schools reported that, although they appreciated being in inclusive classrooms, parts of the curriculum were inaccessible to them.
Adolescent girls and young women are also at risk of exclusion from education, mainly because of early pregnancy. Female dropout exceeds that of their male counterparts across Forms 3–5. Higher rates of female dropout are found in the Central, Southern, North West, Kweneng and South East Regions. Pregnancy tends to be the main reason for female youth dropout and also accounts for the higher level of grade repetition among female youth across Forms 3–5. In 2015, the highest number of repeating students recorded were in Central and North West Regions.
The Minister of Justice, Machana Shamukuni says the search to appoint the Ombudsman and other critical heads of department is currently ongoing and the process is expected to be completed before end of the year.
The Ombudsman position fell vacant almost five months ago after Augustine Makgonatsotlhe was removed from the office and appointed as Ambassador to Kuwait.
Two Batswana nationals have been arrested in Zimbabwe for illegal trade in mercury. The duo is being held together with a Zimbabwean national who is being questioned by the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP).
This publication understands that the suspects who are aged between 39 and 56 years hail from Tutume and Selebi-Phikwe. At the time of the arrest, they were found in possession of a pistol, bomb motor and four live rounds. It is understood that the suspects told investigators during interrogation that the deadly substance has a lucrative market in Far East countries, where the demand is high. It is further reported that the suspects claimed that the mercury can be easily accessed in mines through middleman.
The Namibian Lives Matter Movement has weighed in on the looming border dispute between their country and Botswana.
Commenting on reports that the Namibian Parliament has dispatched a committee along the border between the two countries on fact finding mission, the group commended“the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, De-fence and Security that will engage community members living along the Namibia Botswana Border in conducting public hearings into acts of aggression and brutality by Botswana Defence (BDF) Force against innocent and unarmed Namibians.”