26 February 2018

Botswana: Education Reforms to Counter Declining Results

Gaborone — Following the decline in Botswana secondary education results over the years, Ministry of Basic Education is set on target to counter the trend through introduction of multi sectoral approach reforms.

Speaking in an interview on February 23, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Basic Education Ms Grace Muzila stated that the declining trend in Botswana General Certificate of Secondary Education (BGCSE) showed the defects emanated from elementary education levels.

"Right from our lower education levels we have noticed that when pupils come to school they are not ready for school. Now the lack of learner readiness causes students not to take their work seriously, most of them do not know why they are at school and to make matters worse some parents do not even value education," she said.

She said these are some of the glaring challenges that needed to be addressed by Ministry of Basic Education through implementation of a strategic framework which was crafted in 2012. The five year Education and Training Sector Strategic Plan, she said, was conceptualised in 2012 but was approved by Parliament in 2015 to address challenges in the basic education system.Ms Muzila noted that the plan focused on competency adding that more emphasis would be placed on product output of the government education system to ensure that students made use of their strengths. Under the strategic Plan, all curriculums in Basic education will be revised and designed to produce students capable of making use of their strongest areas to earn a living even if they fail to meet the requirements to move to the next educational level.Further she said there was need to examine the current grading system which focused on students who had attained 5 grade 'Cs' or better. "The current system excludes that student who had gotten an A* in Art or any other subject but failed the rest of the other subjects. We intend to design the system such that these students would be identified and be given further education and other related skills in an area where they have shown excellent capability," she said.

She said over 37 000 candidates sat for 2017 BGCSE but the results were not pleasing hence the need to adopt a multi sectorial approach where all stakeholders including parents should be involved to tackle the declining results. Further the permanent secretary noted that there was need for school heads to be drilled on leadership. She noted that the strategy was expected to close leadership gaps.

Other initiatives that had been launched, she said, was introduction of the 'English Reading Challenge' which she said was already bearing fruit in some schools such as Chakaloba Primary School in Topisi where there was improvement in the results. The BGCSE statistics gathered from Botswana Examinations Council (BEC) show that since 2008 the overall proportion of candidates obtaining 5Cs or better has decreased by 1.41 per cent.

The statistics reflect that in 2008 the results declined from 36.4 per cent to 32.23 percent in 2009 while in subsequent years collectively they dropped to an average overall of 25 per cent.

BEC Research and Measurement manager, Ms Chawangwa Mudongo buttressed this saying, "from 2008 there has been a decline in performance with the lowest experienced in 2014 at an overall of 23.2 per cent, after which there was a slight increase in 2015 and 2016, then a drop of 1.41 percent in 2017," she disclosed. Per subject, she said, the separate sciences; Chemistry, Biology and Physics had been doing well compared to other subjects since the inception of BGCSE syllabus in 1999 but in 2017 most students failed Physics. "In 2016 students who achieved grade C or better in Physics were at 74.44 while 2017 there was a strident decline to 68.44 per cent."Commenting on the decline BEC product development and standards manager, Ms Sheilah Barungwi said that the change emanated from the fact that students were extremely weak in the Physics practical skills examinations. On the contrary she noted that while triple Sciences topped the charts historically, the combined Science Single subject was a poorest performing subject which has never gone beyond four per cent, "in 2017 single Sciences attained only two per cent which was a drop from 3.8 percent in 2016," she said.Another area of concern was the languages; Setswana and English subjects which are a challenge to the students.Performance of learners who attained grade C or better since 2013 has been fluctuating between 18.24 and 24 per cent.

"We test two skill areas namely; continuous writing and comprehension and summary. In the former they have been stable across the years while in the latter the peformance has been fluctuating," said Mr Barungwi.

However she said the most improved subject was Art and Design which had improved from 58.80 per cent in 2016 to 61.42 per cent in 2017. "This growth is more attributed to improvement in the skill area of personal investigation and development where students have demonstrated that they were able to find solutions to problems," she noted. Meanwhile St Joseph's College managed to scoop position one nationwide in 2017 BGCSE at 52 per cent overall grade but it had dropped from 60 per cent in 2016. Contacted for comment on why results of the leading school had declined by eight per cent, the school head Ms Constance Male attributed the decline to a high teacher student ratio which she said was at 1:45 which posed challenges when it came to giving the students assessments and feedback.

"We had one of the highest intakes which was 935 as compared to 840 students in 2016 therefore teachers were a bit overwhelmed," she said.

She reasoned further that this had a bit of impact on the results for the reason that a high student ratio affected the frequency of assessment teachers gave to students, the time they took to assist students and give them feedback.However, Ms Male hastened to point out that other schools with resources and a good student teacher ratio still did not perform well, "there are so many contributing factors," she said.

She attributed St. Joseph's College performance to a highly committed teaching workforce, parents who exuded interest in their children's performance and students who were responsive to the support.

"The teachers work even without overtime. They forget about money. What is fulfilling to us is achieving the best results and that is why our students pass. We are not satisfied though," she said. Quizzed on what she thought ought to be changed to improve the BGCSE results nationwide going forward, Ms Male called for revision of education policies in schools. She cited the school structure Establishment Register as an impediment which confined the teaching staff vacancy rate.

"It must be changed to accommodate the student admission numbers to correlate with the teachers," she said. This, she said, would aid in ensuring that schools were sufficiently staffed to enable them to effectively do the job. As the performance in schools continued to drop over the years, government continued to show commitment in education through its budget allocation.

Ministry of Basic Education received the lion's share of the national budget. In the 2018/2019 proposed ministerial recurrent budget which amounted to P45.14 billion, the largest share of P7.97 billion which was 17.7 per cent of the total budget, was proposed for allocation to the Ministry of Basic Education. Speaking during the budget speech delivery, Minister of Finance and Economic Development Mr Kenneth Matambo said the money would be utilised to primarily deliver on government's commitment to prioritise human capital development.

Source : BOPA


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