Agricultural education is a unique subject in schools as it demands much infusion of practical projects to consolidate classroom theories. It is for this basis led to incorporation of agriculture practical projects in Botswana junior secondary schools curriculum, in order to assess students on practical assessed projects. The secondary schools results have been at various times, media and newspapers publications have carried the unpleasant news about student’s decline performance of national examination in public school across the subjects.
Agriculture is among the junior secondary school subjects with compromised results despite a good number of practical projects which are suppose to be carried in schools to reinforce learning through hands on activity. Agriculture teachers are contrary to that and they have raised many sought of complaints regarding to practical assessment of projects, thus some claim that the practical projects are not part of their job descriptions. As such they perceive practical projects as a burden to their daily work. Some suggested that they should be removed from supervising and assessing practical projects because they are too demanding, or at least handy men should be employed to deal with practical projects including their assessments. Some also insisted for provision of incentives in form of allowance to compensate for the time they devote in practical projects. The foregoing perceptions of agriculture teachers had lead to some providing insufficient information as evidence of how students acquire practical grades submitted for final examination. The primary purpose of practical projects more often are compromised by teachers who award marks onto practical assessment without having done the activity. One wonder, what is relevance of practical projects if teachers are not adhering to ethics and procedurals of handling practical assessment.
The conceptions of agriculture teachers and assessment of practical projects are controversial and have negative impacts on the students as some teachers do malpractices in administration of practical assessment. Thus some just allocate marks to students without having gone for practical assessment. The situation is even worsened by the absence of rigid standard templates which help the teachers to assess the several practical projects that are conducted in the schools. It is upon the teachers to initiate how and which projects to assess on students depending on the availability of projects in the school. It is a very rare occasion, which teachers do students practical assessment. If any, it is mostly done for a purpose of submission to the examination authority as per a requirement.
In some instance, the Botswana examination Council (BEC) also questioned the criteria used by teachers to award marks, because some teachers do not have rubric instruments in place. Following the 2011 national strike, the situation became worse. In 2010, when the national go slow strike started, some schools had not started their project agriculture projects like growing crops and livestock were not managed. In the end, they submitted high marks. This was evident enough that something was wrong, hence BEC to a proactive decision to reduce the practical project only to vegetable production which done in the third year of junior certificate.
The above statement is clear enough to gauge, how practical assessment in Botswana is mishandled to produce valid scores to contribute to national junior certificate examination. It is an evident enough on the intended purposes for practical projects in schools are not fully tapped to reinforce theory with practical work. This might be one of the contributing factors for deteriorating students’ performance in nation examination of junior secondary school, agriculture in particular. Agriculture remains a priority, despite its relatively small contribution (2.5 percent) to the country’s overall Gross Domestic Product (GDP). This is because of the sector’s importance to the livelihoods of our rural population in particular, as well as its strong backward and forward linkages with the rest of the economy. The practical assessment on school projects engage students in innovative thinking and this is in line with Botswana Vision 2016 pillar of building a productive, prosperous and innovative nation. This is where young people can play a key role with their knowledge and skills. The three year junior secondary school education revolves around the acquisition of foundation of skills such as decision making, problem solving, team work and vocation orientation of academic subjects among them is agriculture.
The insufficient ways of assessing the practical assessment would forsake the successful realisation of three junior secondary agricultural education without practical skills. Upon the completion of junior secondary education, students would not have developed positive attitudes towards practical work and not inculcated the idea of taking agriculture as a form of business, hence low GDP contribution of agriculture. The expectation of teacher and assessment of practical projects is for the learners to elicit what they can do rather what they know, but how some of the teachers handled it really caught attention. In this era of rapid societal change, and collaboration, and increasing diversity of knowledge oblige students in schools to be developed in competent individuals to solve complex problem in their life time. It is therefore of imperative to consider practical assessments which are oriented with generic skills such as interaction skills, innovation skills, information literacy skills, and problem solving skills.
Mongau gho Kuthambo
Post-Graduate Student at University of Botswana