The government’s decision to split classes in adherence to COVID-19 requirements has worsened the shortage of teachers who are now subjected to a heavier workload because of double shifts. Further, fears that slashed lesson times could result in incomplete syllabuses before examinations have exacerbated the situation. Given an already existing cocktail of problems in Botswana’s education system which ends in devastating results annually, there are fears that 2020 examination results could be much worse. Staff Writers KEABETSWE NEWEL, TLOTLO KEBINAKGABO and SESUPO RANTSIMAKO report

In pursuit of the truth and the reality on the ground, The Botswana Gazettehas found that teachers are a frustrated lot. Most of them believe that the 2020 exam outcomes will be Botswana’s worst ever. They are infuriated because as teachers, they cannot avoid responsibility for the results. The Botswana Examinations Council (BEC) reveals that for the 2019 Botswana General Certificate in Secondary Education (BGCSE), only 21 percent of the students acquired grades C or better (classified as a credit). A total of 36 508 candidates sat for the 2019 examinations.

During the same period, a total of 47 518 sat the Primary School Leaving Examinations (PSLE). About 74.33 of them in obtained Grade C or better. For the 2019 Junior Certificate (JC), a total of 41 048 sat for the examinations. Only 37.5 percent of them passed with Grade C and above. Some teachers believe the 2020 results for PSLE, JCE and BGCSE willbe worse.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, *Joseph Moremi believes that students will not be ready for the theoretical examinations which BEC has set for a period between October and November this year.He teaches at Seepapitso Senior Secondary School in Kanye. “In my view, examinations should have been rescheduled to later dates, maybe late November,” he says. “ We are under pressure and will overwhelm students with learning material. Our priority will be to complete the syllabus in accordance with the employer’s instructions.But students will not have enough time to revise all that material and study.”

As far as Moremi is concerned, students at public schools and their parents should brace themselves forcatastrophic results post the examinations.“Under normal circumstances, we do what is called exam coaching after completion of the syllabus,” he says.“It is some kind of pre-examination trial that is meant to assess whether or not the students have understood the syllabus and are ready for the final examinations. We will not conduct exam coaching this year because of the time pressure. Students will fail miserably.”

This teacher is worried that when students fail, it always reflects back on them as teachers, hence their frustration.

*Dineo Onkemetse at Tlhalogang Junior School agrees that students will fail miserably this year because teachers are disgruntled by the double shift system that she says will make it difficult for teachers to deliver quality education.
“We currently have to complete the morning shifts and then jump straight into the afternoon shifts,” Onkemetse points out. “In most cases, we are tired during the afternoon shifts and cannot be as effective as we were in the morning shift.”
At Maun Secondary School, *Olebile Busang states that one lesson period has been slashed from 40 to 30 minutes. That, however, includes time taken by students moving around in preparation for other lessons. Busang adds that in reality, a lesson will now take around 25 minutes, which is half the time that a normal lesson should take. “It means we have to complete the syllabus in half the time,” she notes. “With double shifts, we will also naturally be less productive. It will affect negatively the quality of our output.
While the Ministry of Basic Education has agreed in principle with trade unions to employ temporary teachers, it emerges the government has either turned down requests for teachers by some schools or decided to cut down on the number of temporary teachers requested by some schools. The Botswana Gazette is told by the Secretary General of Botswana Teachers Union (BTU), Agang Gabana, that government has cited budgetary constraints for reasons.Gabana says they have received several reports from different regions indicating that the government is violating the principle they agreed on by turning down some requests for temporary teachers.“We agreed prior to the re-opening of schools that temporary teachers would be engaged to reduce workloads and ensure efficiency,” he notes, his despair almost palpable. “As a result of the splitting of classes, teachers now have to teach in more classes. The double shift system also means teachers are working double shifts.”
Gabana notes also that after the splitting of classes and establishment of shifts, each school was to establish how many temporary teachers it needed and then send a request to the relevent district office. The district office would then compile a list of the temporary teachers needed by each school, collate the report and send it to the ministry.Several of these requests have either been turned down while in some cases the ministry chose to provide a reduced number of temporary teachers.“Curiously, the government never bothers to engage us,” Gabana asserts. “Upon inquiry, government blames budgetary constraints.”
He struck a chord with his superior, BTU president Johannes Tshukudu who contends that because of heavier workloads, teachers will not deliver quality output. At Botswana Sectors of Educators Union (BOSETU), Vice President Mogomotsi Motshegwa is furious at the government for failure to release an assessment report that speaks to the readiness of schools and students for examinations. He says trade unions have not seen that report but are told that it advises that government’s decision was premature.“The teachers register clearly indicates that teachers’ contact time with students is 3.7 hours while the remaining hours are used for remedial work,” Motshegwa points out. “So, if teachers are engaged for 5.7 hours as the government suggests, this is going to compromise the quality of education because of increased workloads.”
According to the Minister of Basic Education, Fidelis Molao, the process of engaging temporary teachers is ongoing. “It is yet to be completed,” Minister Molao says. “We do things within the means of budgets and according to the needs of each school. Remember that we do not have limitless resources to have everything that we desire. So we have to do with what we have.”
At BTU, President Tshukudu says they suggested that since resources are limited, the government should for now prioritise PSLE, JCE and BGCSE students so that they are ready for the examinations when they come.“The returning students are not in any pressure and can afford to lose a bit of time, unlike those sitting for exams,” he states a view that he shares with the Secretary General of BOSETU, Tobokani Rari.“We are likely to see a catastrophe,” says Rari. “Lots of students will fail because they are likely to be examined on material they have not covered in the syllabus.”

At Botswana Examinations Council (BEC) the technocrats hold a different view. “We are going to make sure that the rights of the students are observed and that the curriculum standards are followed,” says the CEO, Professor Brian Mokopakgosi. “We cannot change them in the middle of assessment. We periodically meet with Curriculum Development and Evaluation to work on the specific guidance that we should give to the schools.”
The Acting Director of the Ministry of Basic Education’s Department of Curriculum Development and Evaluation, Shedrack Majwabe, saystheir main aim is to ensure that at the end, students get quality education.“In curriculum delivery, there are international standards that are set which define a complete student,” Majwabe notes. “UNICEF and UNESCO have five international standards which have to be followed in times like this. They include a safe and healthy environment, psycho social support (some students are stressed so it is advisable to counsel them).”
He asserts that the best possible actions were taken to ensure that students complete the syllabus. “International standards of education show that in times like this we must do what is called contextualisation and refocusing of curriculum delivery in the classroom,” Majwabeexplains.
This includes coming up with new ideas to ensure that students complete the syllabus.He says the government is currently focusing on those main competencies and skills without however compromising quality.“Our main focus now is on level descriptors,” he notes. “According to the curriculum, these are the things that define a complete student. We reduced the learning times from 40 minutes to 30 minutes per period to ensure that teachers focus on main competencies when teaching,” he explains. “This will ensure that students get quality education.”