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Commercialisation of Private Primary Education in Botswana – Need for Introspection

Publishing Date : 16 January, 2017

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The purpose of this article is by no means an intention to discredit the role played by private education provision in this country, but rather an attempt at an honest introspection on the apparent commercialization of this sector.


The rapid proliferation of private schools should be understood as an indicative alternative to basic education provision by the government in this country and a big reason for this; is justified by the continuing inability of public finances to keep pace with the growing demand for quality education. i.e. as of 2016 national budget, Education received P1089 Million Pula as Development Budget as opposed to P3589 Million Pula allocated to Ministry of Defence, Security and Justice. Notwithstanding the current efforts at education, it remains evidently clear that unless the government spends more and rationalises its expenditure on education like in the UK and France, state-run schools will continue to remain "bureaucratic exercises".


A plethora of other factors are also in existence such as the general dissatisfaction with the quality of public education (i.e., large class sizes, teacher absences, and lack of books and teaching supplies), the existence of more modern and job relevant curricula and programs in the private sector, and the politicization of public education.

Largely as a combination of the above stated factors, recent years have seen an expansion and mushrooming of private schools in the country characterised by a sustained rapid increase of fees. That is, the costs for the provision of this alternative continues to grow unabated  with  private primary school  in Gaborone charging between BWP 27000.00 – 54 000.00 as tuition fees on an annual basis  for learners in the standards 1 – 5 bracket. This is an explicit feature characteristic in private sector education in that they operate as profit making institutions and the apparent lack of regulations in that regard is the premise of this article.

Many countries and jurisdictions, including the Ghana, India, Philippines, and Vietnam either limit or attempt to limit the level of tuition fees charged by private schools. The aim is laudable – to ensure that private schools remain affordable to a wider group and preventing price racketeering by private institutions.  Botswana had a proper vision in that regard in that the Revised National Policy on Education (1993) acknowledged the need for the Government of Botswana to regulate private school fees.


To that end, the Education Act was first amended in 1991 to empower the involvement of the Ministry of Education in settling fee disputes. It states that “private schools should determine their own fees provided in the event of public dissatisfaction or complaint of any fees charged at any school, the Permanent Secretary is mandated to determine the fees which is disputed, are referred to the Minister of Education for a final decision.” The practical realisation of such regulation remains an illusion hence the need for a policy introspection.

Then again, the above stated objectives need to be weighed against the potential downsides of such controls – that they may limit investors’ interest in establishing private institutions, reduce access to much needed investment capital, and probably reduce the level of quality delivered by private schools, given that they must operate within a much tighter budget than if fees could be set at levels that recover costs. The latter may be particularly important in the case of schools seeking to employ (more expensive) foreign teaching staff. Even where tuition fee limits exist, but are not enforced, they may have adverse effects on investment intentions to the extent that they create an uncertain environment for long-term investments.

The mushrooming of private primary education institutions in this country have also heightened yet another concern; besides that of subject of fees. While some providers no doubt do place profit ahead of quality education, these concerns need to be weighed against the potential benefits of allowing private for-profit schools, including increasing access for mainly middle income family brackets. The notion that private schools are servicing the needs of a small minority of wealthy parents is misplaced. (Watkins 2000) At time of their inception, these schools were mainly viewed as elitist schools but that have since eroded.

While private schools are filling part of the space left as a result of the collapse of government provision, their potential to facilitate more rapid progress towards universal basic education has been exaggerated. They remain unable to address the underlying problems facing poor households, not least because their users must be able to pay as they are profit driven and largely remain unregulated in that regard. In many countries, including ours, only the wealthy can afford good-quality private schools. Private schools of inferior quality are more affordable to the poor, but they do not offer the advantages often assumed for private education. (Watkins 2000) This is the rising threat to quality education provision in Botswana which demands a holistic approach by all stakeholders.