June 27, 2018

"Botswana should ensure basic and free education but also accessible and quality learning for all"

The goal is to give a quality primary and secondary education to every child in Botswana

Photo credit: USAID

Nandini Kochar

Global Youth Ambassador from Botswana

The Southern African country has high literacy rates - but does that equate to a good education system, asks a Global Youth Ambassador.

With an adult literacy rate of 88%, Botswana is in the top 10 most literate nations in Africa. 

Though impressive at first sight, these high-standing figures raise more questions than acclaim. The most pertinent one being – do high literacy rates necessarily amount to quality education? 

How does one define literacy? And what does a holistic and efficient education system look like?

Literacy, in its simplest sense, is the ability to read and write. A more elaborate explanation can be sought in UNESCO’s 2009 definition of the word - “the ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate, compute and use printed, and written materials associated with varying contexts.” 

What this means is that literacy goes beyond reading and writing. It is also the ability to understand, question and apply what one reads, and communicate it effectively in writing. 

Furthermore, “a high literacy rate (or low illiteracy rate) suggests the existence of an effective primary education system and/or literacy programmes that have enabled a large proportion of the population to acquire the ability of using the written word in daily life and to continue learning”. (UNESCO 2009).

While governmental educational institutions in Botswana may be adequately imparting the skills of reading and writing to students and securing a high percentage of literacy rate, their efforts fall short in ensuring that the knowledge imparted is being applied, communicated and analysed in real-life situations and larger issues.

To exclude early childhood development under the goal of "quality education" is to disregard one of the most paramount components of a child’s learning.

Nandini Kochar

Therefore, the education system in Botswana almost inevitably produces well-filled minds with facts and figures, rather than well-formed minds with innovative and critical-thinking skills.

According to UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) Botswana, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development includes the goal of quality education wherein “all girls and boys [in Botswana] receive free primary and secondary schooling by 2030.” 

In order for this objective to be achieved, however, a number of existing institutional and ideological issues must be addressed.

Firstly, the greatest flaw in this objective is not in what it states but rather what it fails to – early childhood development. Pre-schooling in Botswana encompasses non-compulsory, classroom-based education. 

In other words, institutionalised education prior to primary school is not considered imperative enough to be invested in or prioritised on a national scale. 

This lack of prioritisation of preschool learning in government schools is a matter of grave concern in many African nations.  What governments fail to realise is that a child’s brain develops 90% before the age of five and therefore early childhood development (ECD) is fundamental to the education of all children, regardless of socio-economic standing or ability.

Preschool education not considered important enough, argues Nandini

Photo credit: Francesco Volpi

And so, to exclude ECD under the goal of "quality education" is to disregard one of the most paramount components of a child’s learning.

Another notable concern is the emphasis on numbers over quality, wherein school enrolment rates are valued more than the retention of those figures and the welfare of students. 

Today, approximately 87% school-aged Batswana are enrolled in schools but are not receiving an education of quality.

Teachers are underpaid and many times absent from class, tuition is free but uniforms can be expensive, corporal punishment is exercised over mistakes as negligible as forgetting one’s notebook, and basic hygiene standards are not maintained, compelling female students to miss school during days of their menstruation. 

In fact, while Botswana’s education system gives equal access to both girls and boys, female students are more likely to drop out of secondary school due to teenage pregnancy and menstrual hygiene challenges.

The government of Botswana should not only ensure basic and free education but also accessible and quality learning for all its citizens. They should invest in early childhood development and primary and secondary education for all genders.

So, do high literacy rates necessarily amount to quality education? No, but it should.

We are a children's charity committed to ending the global education crisis and unleashing the potential of the next generation.

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