Son of the Soil is here

February 1, 2017

dsc_8085_01If I were asked to recommend one and only one cultural event that one must attend in Botswana, I would do so without hesitation. I would recommend Son of the Soil. Like the morning dew, it is at the start of a calendar year; at the end of January to be precise; the time when the kofifi or mofiri dove builds his nest with dry broken sticks. It is a perfect example of what happens when a group of people share a vision to celebrate the cultural diversity of their land, their soil. It isn’t an occasion to mourn a long-gone past and a vanished culture. It isn’t an occasion to look back in despair and wish that things were different. It is a momentous occasion of great joy and celebration of who we are as a people, since we are sons and daughters of this soil.

On this soil lies the most creative souls and bodies of our people. That is why we are sons and daughters of the Soil for this soil has felt the rhythmic feel of the San and the Khoikhoi. Their shuffling feet, their trances, their dances, their wailing song cutting through the cloudless sky with a thousand, perhaps a million stars looking down from the night sky above, have all in different measures chiseled out a path for all of us to follow. We are sons and daughters of the soil. This soil has felt the battle feet of Bangwaketse, Bakgatla, Batshweneng, Bakaa and Bakwena at the curvaceous breast-shaped hills of Dimawe outside Manyana. We are sons and daughters of the soil. A pregnant queen lies amongst the rock rabbits in a cave under the shadow of the bushmen paintings. We are sons and daughters of the soil. A missionary with a beard, a Bible in one hand and medicine in another, points the way forward. We are sons and daughters of the soil. The voice of a young man reverberates across the Bakwena southern hills. Dithubaruba wee! There is a response from the massive crowds that have come to this hallowed spot of the Bakwena. Their call is clear and solid. This is the Bakwena moshate between 1853 and 1863. The gallant Bangwaketse’s feet disturb the serene soil. They have come to liberate this soil from the Bakololo of one sinful Sebetoane who attacked the Bakwena of Moruakgomo. We are sons and daughter of this Soil. The year was 1826, the militant Bangwaketse under motswarelela bogosi, Kgosi Sebego, of the Bangwaketse “with cowhide shields, spears and battle-axes surrounded the village,” and at dawn, their battle cries disturbed the peace of the morning still as they charged into the village with resulting chaos. We are “ultimately the people of this ground, the children of Modimo once protected by the very son of the earth – Tintibane.” We are sons and daughter of this soil; the sons and daughters of Sechele, the famous Ramokonopi, a gifted king who could rally together the various merafe against maburu. We are the sons and daughter of this soil. We are inspired by those who walked this soil before us. We are inspired by Khama the great and Tshekedi whose voice reverberates from Serowe, Pilikwe to Tiger Kloof. We are sons and daughters of this soil.

The crocodiles have come out to play, the monkey and the baboon too in the company of the buffalo and the duiker. We are sons and daughters of the soil. Our soil is soaked by the rolling poetry of Sekokotla Kaboeamodimo in Gangwaketse, Kgomotso Mokane in Gammangwato and Rabojalwa in Mokwena. On this soil of ours are the melodies of Ratsie Setlhako, Speech Madimabe, Stampore and Andries Bok. We are sons and daughters of the soil. We are the sons and daughters of this soil with its witches, wizards and dingaka. We are the sons and daughters, of Malope, Gaseitsiwe, Seepapitso and Bathoen. Not only that, we are the sons and daughters of Kgamanyane, Khama, Sebele, Moilwa, Sekgoma, Kgafela and Nswazwi.

This soil carries stories and tales passed from one generation to another, lacking in precision but rich in language, culture and eternal lessons. From this soil oozes the stories of Mokotedi, of dimo, of Phiri le dinku tsa maburu, and the trickster called mmutle. This soil carries stories of a hardworking people thrust by history into a harsh and an unforgiving land. It narrates a story of how they were able to hew out for themselves a most glorious future out of the rocky and sandy plains.

The spirit of those who walked this soil before resides at Son of the Soil. Held annually in the green and idyllic surroundings of our land where creativity is nourished and celebrated, the event celebrates traditional games that many young adults grew playing such as koi and dibeke. On those hallowed grounds; on those cultural circles, for one weekend only, aspects of Setswana culture, many of which now only remain seared and buried in our memories, one could even say romanticized in our memories, are for that one weekend unearthed and celebrated by sons and daughters of the soil. The food is indigenous, the songs and dances were crafted by the voices of our people in their high moments of great joy and in the great moments of their valleys moments. So this coming weekend, the sons and daughters of the soil will congregate at Serokolwane Lawns to remind each other that the people of this soil are not as divided as it is claimed by some. For though we come from different places, our histories have been crafted through different terrains; though our forefathers have traversed innumerable gorges and caves, we are still sons and daughters of this soil.

…. 25 February, 2017. Serokolwane Lawns


Ditimamodimo to Peolwane

January 17, 2017

swallowThe study of names is known in linguistics as onomastics. The study of place names is toponomastics or toponymy. We have barely scratched the surface on this field of language and social study. Botswana doesn’t have an onomastician. Our only hope seems to lie in Goabilwe Ramaeba who is reading for a doctorate on anthroponomastics (the study of personal names) in Scotland, who upon completion will be the nation’s only anthroponomastician!

I was delighted to hear that the Gaborone City Council has accepted the proposed name change from Ditimamodimo to Peolwane. For many months now since the name for Block 7 was announced, it has faced sustained rejection and commentary of all sorts. I gather that the Block 7 name Ditimamodimo is given after a kgotla in Serowe bearing the same name. Robert Molefhabangwe offers some very useful insight on the name:

Ditimamodimo tsa ga Nkwane-a-Kgari: Ke kgotla ya baletlanyi, batshereganyi le batimi ba molelo wa kgotlhang fa gare ga morafe, ampo fa gare ga kgosi le morafe. Ke kgotla e e timang chakgalo ya kgosi (Modimo), lefoko ”modimo” fa le raya kgosi, fela jaaka ”ndzimu” mo seaneng sa Sekalaka se se reng, ”Ndzimu wengong’wa unopiwa nkadzi anamimba”, go sa tewe modimo o o moopa, mme go tewa kgosi e e sa tsholeng. Ke tlhatlharuane fela e e bakwang ke gore go ithewa go twe go supswa sengwe, se se seyong. Mafoko a mantsi le maina a mantsi le mo puong tse dintsi a a tlhokang kutlwisiso pele ga bogalaka ja kgalo ya one; sekai, ga go kgakala re utlwa go kgalwa leina ”Gaylord”, go twe le raya ‘Morena wa Matanyola”, ntswa lone le raya ” a happy lord”

Molefhabangwe is right. However the point here is that the residents of Block 7 don’t identify with a kgotla in Serowe. Additionally, the use of the word “modimo” to mean a kgosi is obsolete and or archaic. Without the etymology of the Serowe kgotla name, their only available semantics of “modimo” is the current one which means “God”. With many individuals having rather strong Christian beliefs, the name Ditimamodimo was perceived as a bad omen and gravely sacrilegious. This is especially so in the current atmosphere where there is a rise in satanism in Botswana in the last five years. Many negative connections were made with the name. That is why many argued for its change. They argued and lobbied and they were successful. Ditimamodimo was replaced by Peolwane (a swallow). Amongst the Batswana a peolwane is a good bird. It is a signal of impending rain. And rain symbolises life, farming, harvest, progress, happiness, newbirth and all things positive.

The fact that an area in Botswana has lobbied for a name change and succeeded is unprecedented. The 1981 Botswana standard orthography (p.19) recommended the following spelling changes which were never implemented:

  • Motshodi, not Mochudi
  • Maung, not Maun
  • Phalatšwe, not Palapye
  • Ngotwane not Notwane
  • Khunwana not Kunana

A more progressive system of name change is to be found in South Africa where politics of identity are topical, especially on how place names assert and cement a people’s identity.

  • “Jan Smuts International Airport” has changed to “Johannesburg International Airport” then later to “O. R. Tambo International Airport”
  • Mafeking was changed to Mafikeng then lately to Mahikeng.
  • Pietersburg was changed to Polokwane
  • Potgietersrus was changed to Mokopane
  • Stanger was changed to KwaDukuza
  • etc…..

There is nothing mythical about naming a place. People name places. They name them to reflect their beliefs, history, aspirations and culture. They name them after hills, rivers, heroes (and rarely villains), leaders, famous stories, events etc. Batswana need to be courageous in taking and dominating spaces. They have to erect their own statues and give spaces their own meaningful names. They should not be afraid to change names which are meaningless to them and replace them with names of significance to their beliefs, history and culture. This in effect means place naming will remain contested. I therefore find the name change from Ditimamodimo to Peolwane a most welcome citizen engagement in taking and dominating spaces in which they reside.

Picture from:

The field of Education isn’t saturated

December 1, 2016

The State of Botswana Tertiary Education Capture Part Four: 

Education related tag cloud illustrationIf we consider tertiary education in isolation, as distinct from primary and secondary education, we miss the forest for the trees. We miss the link, the connection, the umbilical cord that inextricably joins all elements of education together. We lose the panorama in the drama; we see the drops and yet miss the oceans and the seas sprawling in their sparseness before our eyes. Specificity overwhelms us. In our interest on tertiary education we must consider the issue of education itself and see how it engenders the very problems that confront us at tertiary level. The tertiary crisis is a direct product of primary and secondary education crisis. It was brewed, soaked, fermented and matured in the barrels of elementary education. Remember that for a while now we have been registering between 30% and 40% pass rate. We find ourselves in a most unique situation where education itself isn’t considered a priority area of training.

(At a future time we will revisit the subject of priority areas of training and demonstrate how hopelessly flawed they are because they respond to false challenges).

The larger part of the problem that faces us at the moment is that the Faculty of Education together with that of Humanities have been getting fewer students every year for the past few years. My focus will be on Education and not so much Humanities – the Humanities deserve their own series of articles. We are not training and graduating teachers as we used to. This, as we are told, is because the field of Education is saturated. We have too many teachers – much more than we need. More and more teachers find themselves without employment loitering in the streets. The argument continues: We therefore need to scale down on training teachers for primary and secondary schools, if anything, we must focus on training teachers for preschool level. Therefore the teacher training colleges in Lobatse, Serowe and soon MCE, were closed. The Faculty of Education also had to be rationalised – a euphemism for job losses.

It is not true that we have more teachers than we need. The truth is that we have fewer teachers than we need. This is because we have fewer schools – too few to accommodate students and teachers that need them. One of the major reasons why every year we get very bad results is because of very large classes in our schools as well as the basic training of teachers in our schools. The average class size in our schools ranges from 40 to 55 students in a single class. The class of this size is not conducive for any meaningful learning to occur. Teachers are unable to devote enough time to the proper training of each learner. They are unable to develop learners’ writing, communicative and presentation skills largely because the class size is prohibitive. We therefore progress poor students from standard seven to form one and from form three to form four. As long as school class is still between forty and fifty five we cannot say we have too many teachers. The country is currently providing minimum basic education. We must now guarantee our students quality education. To do this effectively, we must reduce class size from between 40 and 55 to about 25 students per class as The Revised National Policy on Education 1994 (RNPE’94) recommends. Class size has a great bearing on the quality of education a student receives and currently it has a negative effect in government schools. If class size was brought down to 25, teachers roaming the streets would be immediately absorbed into the education system and the issue of their unemployed resolved immediately. Their employment will immediately have a positive impact on the quality of our education. So, I am not compelled that we have too many teachers; the problem isn’t too many teachers, it is fewer schools.

The second problem facing our education is the poor training of teachers. We shouldn’t be decreasing the number of teachers that we are training in the Faculty of Education. We currently have teachers teaching at primary schools whose highest level of training is a certificate. These are not as many as those with diplomas. There are currently hundreds of teachers in primary and secondary schools with diplomas from colleges of education. In the interest of national quality education, these teachers should be trained up to degree level. All teachers in both primary and secondary schools should have a first degree as minimum qualification. There is benefit in this. First, if this were a requirement, then the Faculty of Education would be training teachers to the required level for many years to come. Second, such training would impact positively on the quality of national education since the country would have superior teachers compared to the current state of affairs. So, I am not convinced that we have too many teachers; the many teachers that we have in our schools are poorly trained and need to be trained up to degree level. The problem isn’t that the country has trained too many teachers that are not needed by the education system. The problem is that we have fewer schools that can absorb our well-trained teachers and subsequently improve the quality of our education. The country must focus on quality education and not just minimum basic education.

Instead of arguing that the field of Education is saturated, we should state the true state of affairs, that the country lacks enough schools to meet its educational demands.

Is it OK to announce someone’s death on Facebook?

November 29, 2016


bn-ow142_graves_j_20160711182412Facebook is an interesting platform. It accords everybody space that hitherto wasn’t available. It is a perfect kgotla where mmualebe a buang la gagwe gore monalentle a tle a le tswe. Previously, one had to have a blog or even a website where they could broadcast their views and share images. Websites had restrictions on how many photos one could upload before they reached their limit size. Not with Facebook. Now, Facebook is a platform with no data limit and it is free. Photography groups from all over the world post hundreds to thousands of images daily. Individuals share views and announcements of all sorts. Friendships and relationships are established on Facebook. Some find partners while other lose them on Facebook. It teaches and sometimes misinforms. It is not the preserve of computer nerds. Anybody can have a Facebook page and post whatever they want. Politicians, businesses, departments and institutions have Facebook pages. This has meant that traditional channels of communication are undermined daily. Newspapers and radios are no longer the preserve of information dissemination and breaking news. Actually they are very slow and attempt to keep up with what is happening on Facebook and social media in general. We now have what is termed citizen journalism which has been reinforced by the proliferation of smart phones which can now record videos and take high quality photographs which can be shared almost instantly. Individual members of the public take videos and pictures and post events to Facebook as they happen termed #SRN (situationrightnow). Facebookers like breaking news. They have an insatiable appetite to be first. Their posts are usually done without regard to any ethics or rules. While journalistic requirements may be that one should conduct interviews, ask for permission or seek a view from protagonists; such requirements are bypassed in the social media world with serious cultural and professional repercussions. News indeed travels like a wild fire in a dry summer season on Facebook.

One of the great frustrations this has engendered has been the spread of sensitive news. Almost daily, one is confronted by pictures and updates about a terrible accident. For instance we first heard about the Matsha accident on social media, specifically on Facebook. When the news broke, it was said that over twenty Matsha students had perished in an accident – a gross over estimation of the situation on the ground. And then the photographs of the helpless accident victims thrown on the tarmac with an overturned truck in the background began to reach us. Then there was the story of a child who was snatched or grabbed by a snake-like creature in Old Naledi; a story which gained popularity on Facebook. The Old Naledi region was packed by news-seeking members of the public armed with smart phones, like field-reporters, each posting updates every few seconds from the scene.

In other instances Facebookers take a sleek and greatly frustrating approach to be the first to break news without stating the details. For instance, they would post something like: “We have lost one of the finest sons of the soil. Rest in peace, you will be sorely missed.” They will not disclose who the deceased person is, regardless of repeated pleas from their frustrated online friends.

The question that we must grapple with is this: Is there anything wrong with announcing someone’s death on Facebook before the next of kin have been informed? To answer the question in a fair manner we need to answer it outside the Facebook platform. In other words, we need to say: Is there anything wrong in informing other persons about someone’s death before their next of kin have been informed? Let us say on your way from the cattlepost, you encounter a small crowd and from their discussion you gather that Ramogotsi is lying cold on the ground after dying from a heart attack. You proceed on your way to your yard in the village. The question is: can you inform anybody that you meet on your way to your house about Ramogotsi’s death? It appears that traditionally amongst the Batswana, that is exactly what would happen. Word would spread from one person to another. Not only that, each person would like to break the news; they would put on their shoes and go and tell mmasemangmang or rasemangmang next door beginning with the words “A o utlule matlhotlhapelo a…” There was no expectation or even requirement that the next of kin must be informed before the news spread in the village. Admittedly the news was not shouted from the roof tops as by the town criers calling for dikgafela, nor was a poster put up in the corner of a street. But we must be careful because information rarely traveled far by the shouting of a town crier as in medieval England. Much of it moved from one person to another. Therefore at one level, indecent as it may seem to post information about someone’s death on Facebook, it is not culturally perverse, though a Facebook post could barely be equated to a word of mouth information spread. We generally frown at the bearer of bad news on Facebook, but they are no different from those who went before us who waited for no next of kin to be informed; who rather considered the dissemination of information above everything else to be important – loso ga lo lojwe, batho ba tshwanetse go itsisiwe. The right to know has always ruled supreme amongst us.

But wait a minute. Perhaps we are wrong. Perhaps the problem with Facebook is that information is published. It is declared in the public domain with no regard and control of who its consumers are. Perhaps the problem is that our Facebook friends are not really our friends. They are fake friends. They are mere consumers of our statuses. They are status leeches; mere news-mongers who masquerade as buddies. Therefore when we update our statuses with news about someone’s death, we pay them no emotional regard. We don’t know them and we are least concerned about how they would take our breaking news. Will they be shocked? Will they get a heart attack? We don’t care. The urge to break news takes precedence over the potential hurtful nature of our post. Perhaps we are driven by selfish motives of wanting to be first in a race of spreading news. We are perhaps not mourning other people’s misfortune; perhaps we are scoring an information goal which gives us a thrill; satisfying our pseudo journalistic desire of being first to break the news. We are merely chasing likes, comments and shares. Perhaps we are merely pretenders; putting up on a Facebook show.

Whatever the case, posts that announce somebody’s death will continue to increase. And in certain cases some individuals actually post about the death of their parents or of a sibling and in exchange receive much sympathy. It is doubtful that the announcement of someone’s death will cease anytime soon and the views about whether it is right seem to leave members of the public divided.

University of Botswana is better than all private tertiary institutions combined!

November 24, 2016

The State of Botswana Tertiary Education Capture: Part Three

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERAIn this column I wish to look at the position of the University of Botswana as the country’s premier institution. I argue in this column that the attacks levelled against UB are largely unfair, ill-advised and unnecessary. Instead of attacking UB, there must be a concerted effort to complement its course offerings and not an attempt to undermine its work. First, I must declare my interest since I am Associate Professor at the University of Botswana. I am however not writing to defend the UB because it is my place of work. I am writing this column to demonstrate its superiority and why it will remain a special place in the Botswana tertiary landscape.

Sir Seretse Khama, the first University of Botswana Chancellor argued in May 1970 that: “The University must be a committed institution, committed to the fulfilment of the ambitions and aspirations of the communities it was created to serve. One of these is rapid development, another is non-racialism, and the third is simply pride in ourselves and in our past, which in turn would lead to a greater degree of self-confidence, which is one of the very basic ingredients of true independent nationhood.” This laid an important vision of Botswana’s first university which was formally inaugurated on October 23, 1982 by His Excellency Sir Ketumile Masire, President of the Republic of Botswana. Contributions to build the university came from peasants and royalty alike. Each gave what they could: maize, goats, cattle etc – from each according to ability. That is how the maxim motho le motho kgomo gained currency in the heat of the financial campaign to build the campus.

For years the University of Botswana established itself as Botswana’s premium institution. For the formative years, it concerned itself with training undergraduates for the various positions in the public sector ensuring that Botswana’s growing economy was matched by a well-trained human resource. Even then, UB competed with private institutions. Most of these were better institutions outside Botswana in places such as the UK, USA, Australia, or such institutions offered courses which were not offered by UB. In later years UB competed for students with South African universities and Universities of Technology (former technikons). UB was not overly concerned by these institutions because they were in effect complementing UB mandate of educating Batswana.

With the proliferation of local institutions, there has risen a chorus of criticism of UB and what it does. The criticism isn’t new and has taken different shapes. Some of us remember when Limkokwing first opened its doors in Botswana, many celebrated the demise of the mighty UB. The celebrations didn’t last. The same happened with the coming of BIUST, though it isn’t a private tertiary institution. There is a need to see private institutions in a complementary role and not primarily in competition with UB. Actually, private institutions which do well are those that identify a gap in the education market and exploit it. For private institutions to exploit this gap, they don’t have to attack UB. For instance, UB has discontinued many certificate and diploma programs which many institutions can offer successfully. UB doesn’t offer a program in Musicology, Sound Engineering or Jazz Guitar. All of these are areas to be exploited.

Some of the attacks that are levelled against UB are ill-informed and show a lack of familiarity with UB itself. UB is far ahead of all of the private institutions combined – yes, UB is better that all of the private tertiary institutions in Botswana combined! Here is how.

  1. Quality infrastructure

One of the good qualities of a good tertiary institution is quality infrastructure. UB has the finest classrooms and lecture theatres – most of them air-conditioned and fitted with projectors and computers for a superior class experience for UB students. UB doesn’t just have a few of these – it has numerous large lecture theatres and classrooms which enable it to run numerous programs at the same time. The UB quality infrastructure multiple large refectories, an Olympic swimming pool, an indoor sports centre, student hostels, a clinic, a teaching hospital, a stadium, a shopping centre with a supermarket, a bookshop, a Post Office, restaurants and ATMs. UB also has offices for its lecturers and support staff. It is rare to find any two lecturers sharing an office. This is in contrast to some of the private tertiary institutions where lecturers huddle together in one room like secondary school teachers in a staff room. The grounds and space outside the classroom are also sufficient and not crammed allowing for intellectual engagement between students and staff. Students are able to sit and gather in various parts of the institution outside their lecture rooms to exchange ideas, discuss assignments and work in groups. The space outside a classroom is critical to learning just as the space inside. This is why it is possible to access wifi siting under a tree on UB grounds!

The UB library is one of the finest in sub-Saharan Africa with an unrivalled digital as well as printed collection. It contains over 600,000 books, over 18,000 pamphlets, over 140,000 full text journals and over 3,000 periodicals. It is an impressive intellectual space for research and discovery for students and staff which has implications on the quality of independent study and research. It can sit about 1,500 users. Finally UB has well-resourced computer labs for students to type their work and research online. UB has over 2,400 computers for staff and over 2,600 computers for students all linked to international educational databases.

  1. Staff

UB has the best academic staff which rivals that of all Botswana private institutions combined! There can be no quality institutions without quality staff. Quality staff is to be measured by its training, its teaching as well as its output. UB doesn’t only employ some of the finest lecturers from around the world. It trains its staff in some of the finest institutions of the world. The minimum teaching qualification that a member of staff must have is a Master degree, with senior staff required to have a PhD. While lecturers are usually mistaken for teachers, all UB lecturers are more than teachers. They research and publish their work in local and international refereed journals. This is a UB requirement and not an option. UB has about a thousand academics. About 200 of these are Professors or Associate Professors and 300 of these are senior lecturers and the rest lecturers. UB doesn’t just have outstanding academics, it also an impressive team of support staff which is highly educated. UB has over 1500 support staff members working in its finance, institutional planning, public affairs and other university strategic areas.

Compare that with the number and qualifications of lecturers in some of these private institutions. Some of the lecturers in these institutions are first degree holders or individuals working towards their Masters. UB scholars also produce research which is measured for impact. It is referenced widely and used internationally. The more highly cited research papers a university publishes, the stronger its research output is considered. UB also has a clear progression structure which is lacking in many private institutions. It has professors who have been assessed by their peers in international universities of being worthy of such a label.

  1. Students

One way of determining if an institution is good is by considering the quality of students it attracts as well as the quality of students it graduates. For instance, Universities of Oxford, Cambridge, St Andrews, Harvard, MIT, and Stanford attract some of the top students in the world and some of their graduates lead in various disciplines and industries around the world. This is in part because such institutions possess some of the best resources: staff, libraries and staff to student ratios. Contrary to recent claims in the media, UB attracts some of the finest minds who come to embark in robust programs such as Medicine, Law, Business, Computer Science and others. An alumni pool of the University of Botswana is a testament of its enduring excellence over the years. Consider individuals in politics, business, health, law, various government departments, CEOs and captains of various industries

The degree to which an institution attracts international students (and researchers) is also a mark of its international appeal since international reputation will always attract international students. UB attracts international students from across Africa and is involved in exchange programs with American, German and international universities from all over the world.

  1. Research

The research output of an institution is a perfect mark of its international standing. UB has the largest research output compared to all the private institutions combined. For instance in the academic year 2014/2015 UB recorded 1239 publications by its members of staff. 72% of these were refereed scholarly journal articles. Other publications included 32 books, 142 book chapters and 176 refereed conference proceedings. Good institutions are determined by the body of research that they produce. Such institutions do not only disseminate knowledge, they create it, aggregate it and make it known to the world. UB is a good institution!

Research at UB is also produced by graduate students (Masters and PhDs). In 2014/2015 UB had 1704 students pursuing Masters degrees and 96 students on various PhD programs.

I have made a claim of UB’s supremacy compared to all private institutions combined. I wait for the falsification of my claims. UB is not a Mickey Mouse institution. It is robust. It has a proud history and an incredible future if supported well. Even if independent standards, such as the one established by Times Higher Education here were used to weigh UB against private tertiary institutions such private institutions would not stand a chance against UB.

BQA CEO responds to my article

November 21, 2016
Prof. Thapelo Otlogetswe’s article entitled ‘The State of Botswana Tertiary Education Capture. Part two: The Botswana Qualifications Authority (BQA) problem’ (The Telegraph of 16 November 2016) attempts to analyse and critique the quality assurance measures undertaken by BQA in accrediting learner programmes. The writer makes claims that are misleading and have potential to raise unnecessary alarm.
For the benefit of its stakeholders and the general public, BQA wishes to set the record straight and correct the misrepresentations that the writer presents as facts. By basing his claims on processes and procedures of the repealed Tertiary Education Act and Regulations, the writer’s arguments are obviously overtaken by events. In 2013, the Government established the Botswana Qualifications Authority through an Act of Parliament No 24 of 2013 to address, among others, gaps and fragmentation that were identified in the old system.
The writer fails to acknowledge that Botswana’s education and training system is evolving and has gone through several phases over the years in response to identified shortcomings.
The Accreditation Process
For the benefit of those who might not be familiar with BQA’s accreditation process, an Education and Training Provider (ETP) has to submit a self-study report prior application for accreditation, stating the applicant’s strategic direction and plans. This is international best practice.
On submission of an application for accreditation, BQA does a desktop review and then engages three professional reviewers in consultation with relevant professional bodies or Institutions to carry out verification and validation under BQA’s guidance and oversight.
The reviewers compile a validation report, with recommendations for consideration by BQA. The report is then taken through several approval structures which involve the Management Quality Assurance Committee, the Board Quality Assurance Committee and ultimately the BQA Board of Directors. Amongst the resources considered are facilities, course content, strategy direction and plans, entry requirements, assessment criteria, student support services and teacher qualifications. This approval process ensures that necessary checks and balances are in place. The Authority reserves the right to accept or reject the reviewers’ recommendations. Accreditation is only awarded when the provider has met the requirements.
BQA works closely with professional bodies and associations in the accreditation of learning programmes to ensure that they respond to industry needs and requirements. BQA has a duty to ensure that education and training respond to industry needs.
Challenges and mitigating strategies
BQA keeps a database of subject matter experts and acknowledges that the limited number of subject matter experts, may compromise quality, hence the use of international reviewers in instances where conflict is assumed. BQA is a member of the Southern African Quality Assurance Network which is an association of SADC regulatory bodies. SAQAN is developing the regional qualifications framework and this will improve access, portability of qualifications and mobility of graduates. Members have access to global best practices through interaction and share other essential resources, including human resource expertise for improved quality of education and training. BQA is currently the SAQAN Secretariat.
The levels of compliance within accredited institutions has improved. There are a few isolated cases where some ETPs employ trainers who are not accredited and this is attributed to the high mobility of trainers in the system. These cases are appropriately dealt with as and when they arise. BQA will continue to closely monitor and audit ETPs to ensure compliance.
Way forward
To further improve quality of education and training, BQA will register and accredit all ETPs across the entire education and training sector, both public and private, to ensure a common quality assurance system that promotes clear articulation and progression across levels. This will be an improvement on the old system that required all (public and private) Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET ) Providers to register and accredit with the then Botswana Training Authority(BOTA ) whereas the Tertiary Education Act required public tertiary institutions to register, but exempted them from accreditation, while private providers were required to register and accredit.
BQA is committed to ensure integrity of the system and invite anybody who may have knowledge of malpractice to report the same. BQA is setting up a whistleblowing platform to facilitate anonymous reporting of cases of malpractice or corruption.
BQA is currently inviting subject matter experts to register in its database to increase the pool and quality of experts. Once applications have been evaluated, selected reviewers will be trained and be required to sign contracts with the Authority when engaged. This will improve quality of reports and general conduct during the validation/verification process.
A key function of the Authority is learner protection. BQA has developed a Learner Protection Policy that would be cascaded to ETPs once the BQA Regulations are implemented. BQA works closely with Student Representative Councils and is designing a structured approach to this partnership. This will ensure that learners’ rights are upheld and protected. These envisaged measures are meant to enhance existing quality assurance mechanisms.
BQA assures learners, parents and other stakeholders that it is committed to improving the quality of education and training. No provider is allowed to offer a learning programme that has not been accredited. BQA has systems, processes and procedures in place to ensure compliance to set standards of teaching and learning.
You may log on to to learn more about BQA services.
Abel Modungwa
CEO, Botswana Qualifications Authority

The State of Botswana Tertiary Education Capture

November 17, 2016

Part Two: The Botswana Qualifications Authority (BQA) problem

powerful-educationIn the previous column we cast a panoramic overview of what we termed the education capture. We drew rough linking lines between the politicians and business interests behind the private tertiary institutions and argued that the primary interest of the business players running private tertiary institutions is not education, but profit.

Today we zoom into an important player in the tertiary education landscape: The Botswana Qualifications Authority. Our central argument is that though the Botswana Qualifications Authority (BQA) is seized with a critical responsibility of stopping the Philistines at the door, it is largely ineffective, it depends on persons who may be conflicted and are easily purchasable. We contend that BQA has dramatically failed to ensure that programs that are offered at tertiary institutions are of world class standard. BQA is responsible for the promotion and coordination of tertiary education and for the determination and maintenance of standards of teaching, examination and research in tertiary institutions. In this regard, they review and approve programmes of study in respect of private tertiary institutions using the following five criteria: (1) Relevance of the programme (2) Student learning outcomes (3) programme structure, scope and sequence (4) Qualification requirements and (5) Assessment Tools and methodology. Any approved program in our tertiary institutions are approved by BQA. However there is something terribly defective with BQA processes. I will identify these one at a time.

First, in the current system a college can teach a program which has not been accredited by BQA putting in jeopardy the lives of hundreds and possibly thousands of students, and potential students. This is how it happens. When an institution wishes to run a program, they apply to BQA with relevant documents such as the curriculum and other supporting details. Their application is then sent to about two reviewers who then pronounce whether such a program can be taught. Reviewers usually comprise a professional from the field and one who is an educator in the same field of the proposed program. Once the reviewers recommend that a program can be offered, an institution will go ahead and start teaching it. Now here is the problem: the program will start without BQA knowing if the right lecturers are on the ground, without knowing if the library (if it exists at all) has the appropriate books to support the teaching of such a program, without knowing if the classrooms and lecture theatres, labs etc are functioning. What BQA would have is merely a written promise, good intentions and a plan of execution, and nothing else. BQA ends blindsided. Such a program will start unaccredited. Actually the Act assumes that the programme will start unaccredited and will only be accredited at a later stage. Article 4 (1) of the act says a “programme specified in the application for accreditation must have been offered for at least one academic year and have been the subject of an internal review process approved by the Council through the issue of a certificate of registration.” Note the wording carefully, it “must have been offered for at least one academic year,” which means an institution could apply for accreditation when a program had been running for a year or two. What happens if the programme fails the assessment and doesn’t get accredited? Well, the students are doomed. The institution is supposed to move them to an institution offering a similar accredited programme and bear the costs of their training. But does it happen? No, in most of the cases the students graduate with an unaccredited programme; graduating into an uncertain future; graduating into Joseph Conrad’s heart of darkness. Even if they were to be moved to a different institution, the students would be victims of a terribly flawed and amateurish educational system. They would have wasted a whole year or two, perhaps three, learning in a substandard institution.

Here lies the second problem with BQA. Once a program has been running for a year or two an institution would submit what is called a self-study (in line with BQA guidelines and standards) and apply to BQA for program accreditation. BQA would then send such documents to independent Assessors (usually about three) who would visit the concerned institution to verify the claims stated in the self-study. Here is the second problem: BQA has no way of knowing if the assessors’ reports are accurate or if the assessor is conflicted. It is at the mercy of two or three assessors. It has been reported that some assessors have been purchasable in the past. Once at an institution, they sometimes meet institution management that greases their hands, the slip of a brown envelope perhaps, so that they report favourably on the institution. BQA would be blindsided yet again. For instance there is a case in which a private college approached a member of staff at the Ministry of Health for a reference concerning a proposed program. Once written, the reference was included as part of the application documents sent to BQA. The college promised this member of staff who offered them a reference that once the program was approved by BQA, he would be offered a job in the college to teach the proposed program. Once the documents reached BQA, BQA then engaged the same individual fom the Ministry of Health who had provided a reference for a program, to assess the viability of the same program. BQA failed to pick a glaring conflict of interest. That is one view. Another view is that even when reviewers produced unfavourable reports concerning an institution, such reports are only recommendations. A programme may be approved even if one of the reviewers had advised against it. There are no checks and balances for the assessors and within BQA itself to ensure that institutions comply 100% with the guidelines and demands of BQA standards.

The third problem with BQA is this: BQA doesn’t approve programmes after consulting the professional registration bodies, associations and licensing bodies that the graduates of certain programmes will have to become members of. For instances the Law Society of Botswana. If a law programme is approved by BQA and such a programme is not recognised by the Law Society of Botswana, then the students though trained in an accredited institution and programme, are doomed. They would not be admitted to practice law in Botswana. Second example, the Botswana Health Professions Council (BHPC) is the licensing body for all health professionals (excluding nurses) in Botswana. For one to register with the BHPC they have to take an exam. However, if a graduate had gone through a substandard program from an institution, though they have graduated from an accredited program and institution, they will fail such a test and be unable to practise as health professionals in Botswana.

What I have argued here is that BQA is in a poor position to guarantee excellent education and standards in tertiary institutions. For instance BQA doesn’t force private institutions to state clearly in their adverts that an advertised program is not accredited. BQA fails to guarantee that lecturers in private institutions are properly trained and have good working space where they research, consult students and prepare for lessons. As it stands, BQA is a terrible Achilles’ heel in the Botswana tertiary education system. Instead of weeding out weak programs, their processes are too porous and merely serve to legitimise and rubber stamp programs which are not benefitting the Botswana economy.