15 July 2008

Botswana: MCE Students Strike Out

Striking Molepolole College of Education (MCE) students were yesterday ordered to pack and go by the Ministry of Education and Skills Training.

The ministry ordered closure of the school following a week long class boycott by the students.

Yesterday, the students were given an ultimatum to leave school premises by 2.00 pm. By late afternoon some of the students were still stranded outside the college premises with their luggage in chilling weather.

The secretary-general of the Students Representative Council (SRC), Ompatile Emmanuel, said they held a meeting with Minister of Education and Skills Training, Jacob Nkate, last week to raise their grievances. Some of their grievances were about shortage of water and power blackouts at the college.

The minister suggested that a task force composed of student representatives and officials of the ministry should be formed. Emmanuel said the task force met on Friday. On Friday, the ministry ordered that they should resume classes by Monday morning. "We communicated this message to the students," he said.

But he said they decided to ignore the directive because they have appealed to President Ian Khama.

The SRC President met with Khama on Friday. However, yesterday the ministry declared the college closed. The SRC was issued with a letter. The SRC official, said he did not know when the institute would be re-opened.

Emmanuel said they have been complaining about shortage of water and the power cuts for a long time. He said some dormitories sometimes had no power at all. Even the geysers, he said, were not functioning forcing the students to bath with cold water.

The SRC official said wateris delivered by bowsers to the school, adding that in some cases the supply was not enough for the school community. He said the water was rusty.

Emmanuel said a system for their examinations, the continuous assessment mark has not be pronounced.

He said they have also not been utilising the college hall since they were told that the previous SRCs owed money for rent.

The SRC official said the school administration never consulted the SRC about developments in the college. He said they were never informed about certain decisions like when the meals scale was reduced.

He added that the management has always promised to attend to their grievances but this has never been fulfilled.

Emmanuel said they wanted a conducive environment for learning. "In order to go to class, you ought to have bathed first and had a good meal. This is why we are failing to attend classes".

Emmanuel said last year, students boycotted classes due to similar concerns. He said they were addressed by the MP for the area, Daniel Kwelagobe who promised to address their plight.

A third year student, Sarah Molefe who was found outside the college premises, said she does not regret their decision to boycott since they were having a hard time. She said the decision to boycott classes was unanimous.

She added that they were expected to attend classes but there was no hot water. "In the evening, power was cut off. We have been using cold water. She contended that the environment was not conducive for learning.

But her only concern is that they were given short notice to vacate the school premises. Molefe, who originates from Francistown, said they do not have transport fares to go to their places. "I have a problem, this is why I am standing outside the gate with my bags," she said.

She said they heard about the announcement to close the school over Radio Botswana news bulletin. In the afternoon, the principal of the college was in a meeting with employees of the Department of Building and Engineering Services (DEBS) while the officials of the ministry were not available for comment.

But one of the employees of the college said the students had it coming. She said last week the students returned a truck which had come to deliver water at the gate. She added that they also blocked another vehicle which was to deliver food.

Meanwhile, speaking at the University of Botswana (UB) Foundation, annual dinner dance on Saturday, President Khama expressed concern about the level of indiscipline in institutions of learning.

He said indiscipline manifests itself in strikes, damage to property, alcohol and drug abuse, teenage pregnancies and bullying of other students.

He said students at all educational levels must know and appreciate that it is during their formative days at school that they need to start behaving well.

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