A generation in crisis
The worrying state of Botswana’s public schools has received unprecedented coverage in recent months as reports flood in from across the country of unruly behavior, detailing acts of indiscipline among the country’s high school pupils. The teenage years are known as an awkward time yet this spate of antisocial and often self destructive behaviors belies the root causes of what is becoming a dysfunctional generation of leaners who are carving a path that threatens to derail another year of academic learning.
At 18 years, Kago Atlholang* (not his real names) has more than five pending cases of alleged assault and drug possession on school premises. Currently on suspension, the form 5 student at one of Gaborone’s senior schools gives light to the pressure, low self-esteem and life of a student today, which he says subsequently, contributes to the rampages in schools. “There are students who just want to get famous in schools. Usually they achieve this by being rebellious and causing disruptions. They seek attention from others by getting out of control and all they want to do is to prove to others that indeed they rule the school,” he explained.
Atlholang maintained that there are different groups in schools; the notorious gangs and the innocent ones. “It is just a principle of ‘go big or go home’. Nobody wants to be a nobody, everyone wants to be a somebody,” he said, adding that, “the ‘big groups’ usually fight teachers, smoke and sell marijuana, cigarettes, and drink alcohol both in and outside school premises.”
Narrating his story, Atlholang said he got involved with drugs at the age of 15 while doing Form 2. “I had connections in almost all schools around Gaborone and I was well known. Every time I had a squabble at school, everyone knew and those who did not know me would want to see ‘the Kago’ who is being talked about. That was a good feeling; I was their hero but again that pressurized me to always give them something to talk about and the urge to see me or my friends who had the same traits as me,” he confessed.
He said to maintain their notorious status after school hours, they would engage in mezwane, an arrangement where students would hire a mini-bus to take them to where ever they would want to go at that particular night. “Before boarding the combi, we make sure that there is enough alcohol and drugs to sustain us for the whole night and the following morning. Usually, we would go home the following day around lunch time. When we arrive at our destination, the combi can be used as a bedroom where those who want to have sex can do so by taking turns in it. We have fun and sometimes we would even use sextasy if we had planned a sex party,” he explained.
Quizzed on where they get the illegal drugs from, Atlholang pointed out that they are easily accessible. “Drugs are so easy to find; they are everywhere. Some students even sell them at school so we never run short of them. We see some of them in the movies and on the internet and in no time someone would have them here in Botswana,” he said, giving an example of sextasy.
When asked about why students fight with teachers, he explained that, “Teachers are also to be blamed for all these. Ba re tseela banyana e bo ba ba fa madi so ba a re gatelela ka coin; ka rona ga re na madi (they take our girlfriends and give them money since we do not have any). So even when you do something wrong and the teacher wants to bring you to order, you tend to fight back out of anger of some of the issues which you would have bottled up, including girlfriend issues. So the fights would not really be caused by what happened on that particular moment, it would have been a long brewing fight,” he maintained.
According to Atlholang, another factor is the lack of teacher-student relations. “I am not saying they should be friends with us; we should have some form of connection with them. But sometimes all they do is come to class teach and go back without any light moments. They do not even teach us the principles of life,” he said.
The recent turmoil experienced shows that indeed there is trouble brewing in the society, which is filtrating into the school environment. Our high schools have always been troubled and these issues were swept under the carpet. The issues have now reached a boiling point and the proverbial chickens have finally come home to roost.
Could the teacher-students brawls be communicating something amiss that needs to be addressed? Could the high substance abuse, transactional sex, sex parties, intergenerational relationships, rape cases amongst the school going age groups be a cry for help? Could such incidents be a contributory factor to the low ranking of Botswana in the recently released Happy Planet Index report which indicated that Batswana are amongst the unhappiest nations in the world?
One of the primary functions of schools is to develop and cultivate good values and principles through social interactions with other students and teachers. In the past teacher-student brawls were rarely heard of. However, as years passed, and as culture changed, the outlook of schools changed in the eyes and minds of students. It has become more than just a place of learning; it is a place where students fight with teachers, a place where drugs can be found, teachers engaging in sexual relationships with students and vandalism of property common. Schools have become where men and women, who in the past years would stand by the school gate selling chicken feet, chips, fat cakes to earn an income, now have turned in to drug dealers.
Ministry of Education and Skills Development (MoESD) Principal Public Relations Officer, Silas Sehularo said when discussing the topic that, “We are equally disturbed by these issues. This is a very important period in which we are hoping that students are preparing for their exams,” he said.
Sehularo said they are carrying out investigations to determine the root causes as well as to find the possible interventions. In the meantime, he said a team of inspectors has been tasked with going across the country to find out what the problem could be. However, he said parents should also play their role in helping the students academically.
Social Worker and also President of the Botswana National Association of Social Workers, Kgomotso Jongman said as per the findings of the Happy Planet Index report, Batswana are not happy, something he said the nation is in denial of. “Consequently, they suppress the fact that they are unhappy,” he stated, further explaining that the suppressed painful emotions eventually find a way of getting out.
Jongman said the suppression is a defense mechanism for the adults and a coping mechanism for the children. “It is unfortunate that this mechanism now brings negativities such as impulsive sex and substance abuse. Because suppressed emotions will be pushed to the unconscious, they will then appear in dreams and that is why people will have nightmares and wake up tired and angry, and would displace this anger on other people.”
“Thus, the rowdy behavior these children display is nothing strange. They are showing just who we are; they are acting on the id and adults on the ego,” he said. As for the interventions, Jongman said the nation ought to be made happy, stating that they should be psychologists who will assess changes in people’s minds as well as experts in the scientific study of the patterns of change in the society’s behavior. “As for the education system, we need to know that which is taught the students; they should not only be taught how to pass but how to implement that which is taught into their lives,” he explained.
Meanwhile, Botswana Police Service spokesperson, Senior Superintendent Dipheko Motube said the recent disturbances are caused by delinquency in children, which he said was exacerbated by alcohol and drugs which have found their way into school premises. “This kind of behavior clearly shows that something is wrong and should be rectified. Thus, it calls for tripartite solution comprising of the teachers, parents and the police.”
Motube said parents should also stop sponsoring delinquency in all forms as they are the ones who would give money to children. “Parents have the responsibility to know where their children are, what they do with the money they give them as well as to know the people they talk to,” he advised, adding that teachers on the other hand should be exemplary to the students.