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Public schools need rescue mission

Publishing Date : 16 January, 2018

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This week it emerged that some public schools are hosting close to 70 students per class to be taught by one teacher! This has outraged different stakeholders and there are desperate calls for immediate government intervention. The situation at public schools appear to be worsening – but sheer political will could save our education system.

The gravity of the situation in public schools at least as per the account of stakeholders is a cause for concern. It is evident that this has been a going concern for over 10 years or so. It has now reached a level that cannot not be ignored anymore. Legislators and policy makers should rise to the occasion and do something extra-ordinary.  It is their duty to do so, and if they let the situation go on unabated, they will be destroying the future of many learners.

It has become evident that Basic Education has been terribly underfunded over the years. We are essentially reaping the thorn of our policy. At the centre of the current crisis is lack of infrastructure, dilapidated buildings, shortage of learning materials, shortage of teaching staff,  we may as well add - an uninspired staff.

The status quo is such that no meaningful results can be achieved from public schools. The problems we mentioned above are common to all public schools countrywide with only a few schools still striving under those conditions. Yes there could be exceptions, but the general observation remains for our schools.

The Ministry of Basic Education issued a statement this week acknowledging the problem. What should be a concern however is that government has not been able to take corrective measures in order to restore students and teachers’ dignity in the affected public schools.

Government’s inability to take action cannot simply be linked to the usual shortage of funds. It is a quintessential example of lack of political will in most cases. This is so because the crisis that is being experienced now has been building-up over the years, and has even been acknowledged by both policy makers in Permanent Secretaries and Ministers of Education over the past years including the incumbent Minister of Basic Education Dr Unity Dow.

Few months after being appointed the Minister of Basic Education following the splitting of the Education ministry, Dr Dow acknowledged that underfunding of the basic education was responsible for the inability of the country to produce enough skilled labour force. She suggests a need to change how things were done. Two years into the job, everything else has remained pretty much the same. Same problems— little or at worst, no government action at all.

What we need as country is not just to build more classes, as some seek to suggest, in actual fact, we need to build more schools. There is evidence at Statistics Botswana, a few minutes’ walk from minister’s office that indicates the population growth over the last 15 year or so. That very fact, means even our public facilities should also be expanded to accommodate such development.

Government should also be able keep up with migration trends. Gaborone and peripheral areas have experienced immerse growth in the last decade. These trends do have an impact on use of available public resources. In recent years, parents have grown weary of schools which do not teach, those who are unable to take their school to private school want to take them to the few that are able to produce better results.

The current crisis does not even need government to launch a commission to find out the problems or the solutions. The policy framework is already available. The Revised National Policy on Education (1994), which was set up by Sir Ketumile Masire and chaired by former Vice President Ponatshego Kedikilwe has all the answers. It is a truly transformative policy frame work has not been committed to implement its recommendations. What we need now on the part of the government and parliament is to avail the funds. It is not a matter of lack of funds; it is a matter of saving our education system. It should be prioritised. This has to be done as soon as possible.



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