Mmegi Online
DATE: Friday, 27 November 2009   (Vol. 26, No. 179)
Issues in Education insightful contribution

The Good, the Wrong, the Alternatives in Botswana's Education System

Molefe, D.B., Pansiri, N.O. & Weeks, S.G. (2009). Issues in Education. Gaborone: Pentagon Publishers. 307 pp; references, index, 24 colour plates. ISBN 978-99912-487-9-0 (pbk). BWP242
Reviewed by M. MINO POLELO

A partnership between three educationists and Mmegi/Monitor newspapers has produced a valuable educational resource. Issues in Education is a collection of articles that ran in the Mmegi/Monitor column 'Issues in Education', between May 4, 2004 and December 7, 2006. The book was prepared for publication in 2007 and should have been published that year, but there was a one-and-a-half year delay because of technical problems in developing the index.

Often when academics write books in their drive for critical analysis, they are tempted to "bash governments" and not offer solutions. This book transcends that form of critical engagement. In each chapter, the writers raise important issues about Botswana's education, indicating the strengths of the system, identifying weaknesses and providing alternatives. As they do this they draw from research, our educational practices and experiences.  They also reflect on experiences from elsewhere in the world. In 20 chapters, the book covers almost everything about Botswana's education system, from early childhood education to higher education.

There are chapters that explore the concept of education, the community school, early childhood education and school dropout. The concept of a community school as it applies to Botswana is traced from the pre-colonial initiation schools to the post-1977 community junior secondary schools. The strength of the school dropout chapter lies in its utilisation of research on school dropout and remote area communities. Here the writers raise crucial questions for policy makers. Regarding pregnancy and school dropout, the emphasis is on the supportive environment that schools should provide for returnee young mothers and fathers. Another interesting issue raised by the authors is the place of a meal in school, linked to issues of supply and service delivery, now in vogue at the political level. The meal is a "survival kit" for many children in our public schools. As such it should not be compromised by service delivery.

Alongside issues of poor record keeping and documentation, this book also sensitises teachers on rules, and policy directives that guide them, especially on re-entry policy and corporal punishment. The writers argue that our re-entry policy will come to nothing if the environment is not supportive to a "flexible register" used in RADS schools. They also examine concepts such as enrichment in education, multigrade schools, and composite teaching.

Issues in Education makes a strong case for small schools as an alternative to RADP hostels. The problems that besiege these hostels are well documented. Research evidence shows that hostels are not working. This is connected to children's' rights.

Changing minority children names to Tswanise them violates children's' rights. So does the indiscriminate use of corporal punishment that reign supreme in our public schools. The authors then link the abuses and violations of children's rights to violence in schools.

Themes examined under violence are bullying, "dangerous love", rape and harassment, unsafe schools, school unrest, making schools better and changing teachers' mindsets.

Here, the authors look at how schools construct hate and violence through hierarchies, divisions along race, language and authoritarianism. In advancing these arguments, the authors draw on Professor Clive Harber's research on violence in African schools. The authors also examine discipline in relation to multiculturalism. These are critical questions that policy makers and school administrators need to grapple with as there is evidence that the culture of violence, cultivated at school level, has spread to higher education and the larger social plain. Social emotional learning is another subject that the authors tackle here.

Other chapters in the book deal with parental involvement and school enrichment, the passivity of Parent-Teachers Associations (PTAs), in-service training and Special Needs.

Key concepts here are mainstreaming and good leadership. Some chapters constitute critique of our teacher education programmes. There are emerging agendas for teaching that are not catered for by our training programmes. On the improvement of teacher quality, the view is that teacher education colleges should be rationalised to become degree-awarding institutions while the University of Botswana (UB) shifts focus to post-graduate programmes in line with its vision of becoming a research-intensive university.

The authors also take a look at schemes that were introduced to motivate teachers. While noting the flaws that characterised previous teacher incentive schemes like parallel progression, the authors offer alternatives. The transfer policies that are not women and family friendly are also put on spotlight here

The authors observe that our centralised maintenance system makes primary school heads mere figureheads in school administration. The book also tackles the contentious issue of double shift schools. On the basis of their appraisal of different models of double shift schools, the authors question how it was implemented in this country. This book argues for an informed and meaningful policy debates that bring in varied stakeholders. It emphasises bottom up approaches to policy development.  Ubiquitous concepts in policy documents - cost sharing & cost recovery, commodification of education, managerialism and marketisation of education are also examined. The core argument that the authors advance is that policies cannot be a "one size fits" all as context matters.

On assessment, despite the policy rhetoric of a shift from Norm-Reference to Criterion Reference testing, the authors show that our education system is still stuck in the Norm reference-testing grove. This brilliant chapter can be useful to teachers, the Botswana Examinations Council and curriculum developers. Here, questions about the success of CRT, poor performance in Mathematics and science are explored.

Throughout this book, the authors make it clear who their targeted readership is. In general Issues in Education is a good book that pools evidence from a range of sources.

It is a critique of educational concepts. The reference section is very useful as it draws the readers' attention to a pool of literature on Botswana's education system. It also directs readers to a number of sources for different educational subjects such as multi-grade schooling, cost sharing, and violence in schools. Its other major strength is that it offers alternatives and lessons to be learnt on different education policy initiatives and innovations. As such it can serve as a toolkit for our education policy makers and teachers who implement policies. In teacher education, it can serve as text for teaching and practical exercises. There are questions at the end of each chapter and these can be used, for critical engagement in tutorials and lectures.