Botswana History Pages, by Neil Parsons

6:    Education

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Notes and Comments

Provisional version by Neil Parsons April 1999

In the quarter century between 1966 and 1991, primary school enrolment increased from 72,000 to 287,000 and secondary school enrolment from 1900 to 60 000. Today in 1999 the figures stand at 340,000 and 152,000 respectively. Teacher training students stand at about 3000 and university students (full-time and part-time within Botswana) approaching 8000.

The goal of universal free education (up to junior secondary level) has been more or less achieved. Access by gender is about equal from primary through university (after the colonial experience of female excess over male), with the exceptions of primary teacher training (75 per cent female) and vocational and technical training (56 per cent male).

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Primary and secondary education

Education is, at least in theory, universal and free up to junior secondary level. Great leaps forward have been made in the quantitative provision of schooling. But old problems remain. Less than 10 per cent of children of school-going age are not in school. (Most have dropped out after a few years of education, to support their families economically: a few of the poorest children in the most "remote" western and north-western rural areas have never have been in school.). Meanwhile enrolments in urban areas are usually more than 100 per cent of age cohorts, reflecting pupils' repetition of school years.

Qualitative changes in education since independence have concentrated on teacher training and certification of teachers, on improved building standards and provision of equipment and text- books, the importation of expatriate teachers to improve secondary levels of mathematics and science, and on limited provision of post- secondary technical and vocational training. The curriculum has been modified along the lines of other ex-British African countries, away from its original South African model.

See the Ministry of Education's Curriculum Development & Evaluation Department, which also lists individual school web-sites. The main Ministry of Education page(s) being still under construction as of April 1999.

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Private and community initiatives have been significant in the development of education (including secondary schools and museums), though most have been since taken over by government.

International interest was aroused in the 1970s by an alternative system of education, integrating vocational skills into the secondary curriculum, developed by the educationist Patrick van Rensburg at Swaneng Hill near Serowe. Swaneng also gave rise to 'brigades' offering temporary employment and basic technical skills in various construction trades to school-leavers.

However, "education-with-development" has had little impact on the general curriculum within Botswana schools except in the rhetoric of making the curriculum more "practical". The "brigades" have largely been incorporated into the formal system of education since the 1980s as providing the basic level of technical and vocational skills.

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Higher education

University development, at first from 1964 through funding of a university in faraway Lesotho and then after 1970 through a campus in Gaborone which became the University of Botswana in 1982, has been under tight control of government "manpower planners". Besides the provision of higher teacher training, the university has been geared to the training of high level personnel for government administration and private enterprise.

See the University of Botswana web-site.

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As in other countries, national literacy rates are guesstimates based on deducting the proportion of people over 10 years old who have never been to school and are assumed to be illiterate. (Rather than having a census which actually tests literacy.)

The 1981 census estimated a literacy rate of 74 per cent of the population. Other sources put the rate down to 68 per cent. Rural literacy rates range from North-East and Central districts above the norm, to Kweneng, Ngamiland and Ghanzi district below the norm. More women than men are literate.

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Education links

The Internet Learning Trust site based in London, England, has many useful educational links including ones back to Africa and Botswana.

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Copyright © 1999 Neil Parsons

The Botswana History Pages by Neil Parsons may be freely reproduced, in print or electronically, on condition
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Last updated 19 August 1999