Educational Challenges in Botswana

Written by Elizabeth Atiru

Human rights are the rights one enjoys simply because they are human. According to the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), there are thirty rights to which all people are entitled, irrespective of their race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth, or other status. Article 26 of the UDHR states that everyone has the right to education and recognizes education as one of the fundamental rights to which all humans are entitled. Education has not only proven to be a pivotal tool for every country’s development but has also served as an indispensable element that facilitates the realization of other human rights (UN, 2001). Botswana, since it gained independence in 1966, has made a commitment to ensuring that all children, regardless of gender, ethnicity, socio-economic background, or circumstances, realize their right to a quality education. While Botswana has made significant strides in its development journey, the country still faces several challenges that need to be addressed in order to improve the quality of education and provide better opportunities for its citizens. This report will explore the educational system, challenges, and recommended solutions to improve Botswana’s educational accessibility, quality, and delivery.

School students celebrating Botswana’s 50th independence day. Photo by Mahyar Sheykhi

Botswanas Education System.

Botswana has made significant strides in its education system through key reforms implemented over the years. These include the enactment of the Education Act in 1967, followed by the establishment of the National Commission on Education (NCE) in the 1970s. The NCE formulated Botswana’s education philosophy and set development goals. In 1977, the National Policy on Education (NPE) was adopted, emphasizing access and social harmony. The introduction of the National Literacy Policy (NLP) in 1981 addressed adult literacy challenges. The Revised National Policy on Education (RNPE) was adopted in 1994, aligning with international education goals. Vision 2016 was launched in 1996, highlighting education as a pillar for national development. Also, the Education and Training Sector Strategic Plan (ETSSP) was introduced in 2015 to transform education quality. In 2016, Botswana built upon the successes and lessons learned from the previous national development vision, Vision 2016, and formulated Botswana Vision 2036, a long-term development plan with a strong focus on education and skills development. Recognizing that education and skills are crucial for human resource development, the vision prioritizes quality education at all levels and aims to equip citizens with the knowledge and capabilities needed for sustainable socio-economic growth. 

Botswana’s school system consists of pre-primary, 7 years of primary school, 3 years of junior secondary, and 2 years of senior secondary education. The various national policies mentioned above have resulted in significant developments in Botswana’s education system. These include a considerable increase in public education funding and enhanced access to educational opportunities. Consequently, literacy rates have experienced notable improvement, enabling more individuals to acquire basic literacy skills. To meet the growing demand for education, additional schools have been constructed, expanding the overall education infrastructure. Furthermore, there has been a substantial increase in student enrollment rates in both primary and secondary schools, reflecting the heightened emphasis placed on education in Botswana.

Botswana’s Educational Challenges and Recommended Solutions

Despite the significant milestones achieved in Botswana’s educational system over the years, the country still faces several challenges.

One of such challenges includes significant socio-economic disparities, particularly in rural areas where high poverty rates prevail. A study by Makwinja (2022) revealed that in Botswana, poverty poses challenges for families sending their children to school, and some children are forced to work as maids, farm hands, or babysitters to support their families instead of attending school. Again, many students attend school without proper uniforms, and the lack of school buses results in long walks to reach educational institutions, with limited access to educational institutions such as books and computers. All this contributes to low literacy rates, leading to inequality in education delivery in Botswana. This clearly infringes on the right of children to education as against Article 29 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). While the government provides some support through the social welfare department, more comprehensive and accessible poverty alleviation programs are needed to address this issue effectively. By improving the nutritional quality of meals provided to children and implementing targeted interventions, Botswana can encourage school attendance, reduce dropout rates, and improve overall academic performance. 

Also, the education budget in Botswana is disproportionately focused on tertiary education, resulting in limited resources allocated to pre-primary and primary education (Mokibelo, 2022). This imbalance poses a significant challenge to the delivery of quality education, particularly at the early stages of learning. Despite the recognition of the importance of education and skills development in Botswana’s Vision 2036, the budgetary prioritization hinders the necessary investments in pre-primary and primary education, leading to educational inequality and a lack of adequate support for early childhood development (Mokibelo, 2022). According to a UNICEF report in Botswana in 2022, only 43% of children between the ages of 4-5 have access to early learning opportunities, indicating limited participation in early childhood education. Furthermore, approximately one-third of children struggle to acquire basic literacy skills after 4–5 years of primary education. The pass rates in the Primary School examination and Junior Certificate examination are also concerning, with around one-third and two-thirds of children failing, respectively. These issues can be attributed to a lack of proper training and support during the early stages of children’s education. Additionally, there remains a notable proportion of children who are not enrolled in school, further impeding progress towards achieving universal access to education. To uphold the rights of children as stated in the UNCR and address the challenge above, Botswana should prioritize investment in early childhood and primary education to ensure equitable access to education for all children, regardless of their circumstances, and foster an inclusive and fair society. Secondly, provide comprehensive teacher training programs to enhance teaching practices and create child-centered learning environments. 

Likewise, Botswana faces poor quality education, as evidenced by low pass rates at the junior and senior secondary levels (Suping, 2022).  Currently, the teaching approach in Botswana remains predominantly traditional, with students passively listening to teachers and taking notes (Makwinja, 2022). There is limited emphasis on critical thinking and active student engagement. To address this, teachers and lecturers need to adopt innovative teaching methods that encourage collaboration, group work, and utilize available internet resources. It is crucial for teachers to undergo training to enhance their knowledge, skills, and competencies, aligning with international standards of performance. The focus should shift from test scores to fostering critical and analytical thinking through competence-based approaches. Collaboration among teachers as a community is essential, allowing for immediate support and shared challenges. These measures are crucial for improving educational outcomes and promoting youth development in Botswana.

Furthermore, the education system in Botswana faces the significant challenge of overcrowded classrooms and inadequate infrastructure, especially in rural areas, which hinders the delivery of quality education. The lack of suitable structures, overcrowding, and shortage of classrooms contribute to uneven teacher-student ratios and impede individualized instruction and high-quality learning experiences. In secondary schools, it is not uncommon to find classes with over 40 students, far exceeding the recommended ratio of 1:15 in primary schools. (Mokibelo, 2022). These infrastructure constraints also limit access to technology and educational resources, exacerbating the existing challenges. Resolving these issues by investing in infrastructure 2Wdevelopment and reducing class sizes is crucial to improving the overall quality of education and providing students with the necessary resources for their academic success.

Again, in Botswana, school dropouts are a significant challenge that requires immediate attention. According to survey data, when school was free, although not compulsory, most children were enrolled in primary and junior secondary schools. For instance, it has been reported that approximately 70% of junior secondary school (JSS) leavers progressed to senior secondary school (SSS) during that time, and the dropout rate was relatively low (UNICEF, 2022). While the rest of the JSS leavers progress to Brigades, which offer more vocationally based training. However, the reintroduction of school fees in 2007 has led to inequality in education in Botswana, particularly for families with lower economic means, which has exacerbated dropout rates.  To combat school dropout, Botswana needs to improve education quality, provide support for struggling students, and address financial barriers. Collaboration among government, NGOs, and community stakeholders is vital for creating an inclusive learning environment. By implementing comprehensive solutions and targeting specific challenges, Botswana can reduce dropout rates, ensure equal access to education, and empower its youth.

Children at school. Photo by UNICEF Botswana.

In addition to the above, gender-based challenges, such as early sexual initiation, the risk of HIV infection, and gender-based violence, pose significant obstacles to girls’ education in Botswana (UNICEF, 2022). Adolescent girls and young women face multiple barriers that impede their access to quality education. Consequently, these challenges contribute to high dropout rates among girls, exacerbating gender disparities in the education system. Limited access to sexual and reproductive health services and inadequate support systems further hinder girls’ educational progress. To address these issues, it is essential to implement comprehensive strategies. This includes promoting gender equality, providing comprehensive sexual and reproductive health education, enhancing access to healthcare services, and establishing safe and supportive learning environments. By prioritizing these measures, Botswana can create an inclusive educational system that empowers girls, enables their educational advancement, and fosters gender equality in education.

Similarly, mental health issues, including high suicide rates and poor mental well-being, have a profound impact on educational outcomes in Botswana. The limited availability of mental health services, particularly for adolescents, exacerbates these challenges. The lack of youth-friendly services and inadequate support within schools create significant barriers to learning and student engagement. Recommended solutions to address mental health challenges in Botswana’s education system include increasing access to mental health services, integrating mental health education into the curriculum, creating supportive learning environments, and fostering collaboration with stakeholders for holistic support. 

In conclusion, ensuring quality and accessible education for all, regardless of background, is of utmost importance. Education plays a crucial role in promoting socio-economic growth and development. It is, therefore, imperative that policymakers, government officials, NGOs, and advocacy groups collaborate at various levels, including national, regional, district, and grassroots levels, to initiate meaningful and sustainable changes that allow for quality and accessible education for all.

References

 Makwinja, V. M. (2017). Rethinking education in Botswana: A need to overhaul the Botswana education system. Journal of International Education Research (JIER), 13(2), 45-58. DOI: https://doi.org/10.19030/jier.v13i2.10075

Makwinja, V. M., & Nthoi, O. N. Finding Solutions for Addressing Poor Performance in the Botswana Education Systems and Lessons Learnt From COVID-19. DOI: https://doi.org/10.22492/issn.2435-9467.2022.6

Mokibelo, E. (2022). Implementing Early Childhood Education in Botswana: Teething Problems. Journal of Emerging Trends in Educational Research and Policy Studies (JETERAPS), 13(2), 41-51.

Suping, K. (2022). Political Spectacle and the Decline of Public Education in Botswana. Journal of Asian and African Studies, 00219096221117077. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/00219096221117077

UNICEF Botswana Country Office Annual Report 2022: https://www.unicef.org/reports/country-regional-divisional-annual-reports-2022/Botswana

UNICEF Botswana Country Report on Education 2019: https://www.unicef.org/botswana/education

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