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Botswana: The San Want Education

Touristclick Botswana Travel News

Botswana: The San Want Education


During the celebrations of the Kuru Family of Organisation's 21-years of work across 50 San communities, seminars were held at the University of Botswana. Dr Andy Chebane spoke on "Botswana's educational policy-does not take on the San". Dr Chebane presented a history of education in Botswana to show how the San have not been included or their needs considered.

Instead, impositions have been made without consulting them, from the early missionaries, to farm schools and the colonial government and since 1966, all assuming that they knew what was best for the San.

Independence saw the creation of "One Botswana, one monolithic nation". It was very simple, he said, Botswana translates to Setswana. One Motswana: all Batswana -to achieve national unity. It negated all other communities in Botswana, from the Kalanga to the 16 San languages.

According to Dr Chebane, The National Education Commission in 1977 reaffirmed colonial policies. Language and culture were not perceived as developmental issues.

The second National Education Commission in 1993 considered the contribution of language to education and recorded a minority view that language is an issue in development. There was a call for a third school language; a local language. Instead, French is being piloted in 15 schools. Research abounds on the desirability of mother-tongue schooling, but in Botswana it remains a non-issue. Policies of assimilation or: "They should be like us," fail to take on board the San.

Dr Chebane repeated the call to do something about "hostile hostels" because they cause de-culturalisation and the schools alienate and discriminate against them. The hostel policy remains a failure. One of the most glaring examples of this failure can be found in the policies of local government and education on the 35 primary school hostels.

Dr Chebane also cited the impact of corporal punishment. He found teachers moving with a cane in playing fields to enforce Setswana. "We beat them a little bit so that they learn Setswana". Instead, he said, they become cultural misfits in their own community.

Dr Tshianmiso Moumakwa of the University of Botswana went to a RADS school in the central district with a hostel to study reading acquisition.

She reported that the conditions in the school's hostel negated any form of positive learning.

The reality was damaged property, run down buildings, equipment broken and torn and dirty and stagnant water. She was told it was because the pupils fight.

There were no lights and no after school activities. How can they learn in the dark? Dr Moumakwa said the hostel accommodated 115 pupils, seven to 14-years or older. The buildings were not cleaned. Many mattresses were missing from beds, or if they were there, they were torn and used to make pillows, toilet paper, tobacco, sanitary pads, balls for sports or to shine their shoes. Then the children sleep on the steel bunks or crowd into one bed.

Dr Moumakwa found that sexual abuse and fighting was rampant. Girls who refused sex were attacked. There was free movement in and out of the hostels in the absence of monitoring and after school activities, entertainment or night study. Cattle post men went to the hostels to fish for girls.

In the discussion, it was observed that because of the dual management of primary schools, hostels are not an integral part of the school. Supervision is lacking, as the number of staff is minimal, and usually not there after the school closes for the day.

Even in the new UNICEF hostels, it was observed from the audience, that the room for a supervisor to sleep in at night between the dormitories was usually vacant. It was claimed that the pupils experience sleepless nights and they live in fear. They are wounded, and no effective learning can take place when pupils live under such harsh conditions. It was said that the children are desperate to find identities and at the same time learn new values and cultures.

Yet, it was said, how can the hostels promote learning when there is abuse and violence?

There was a call at the seminar that has been echoed previously by San parents, at other conferences and in research reports, to close the hostels or even close the schools.

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Why has nothing been done when these problems have been identified in previous studies going back five, 10 or 20 years?

One person commented: "Hostels are an imposition that violates people's norms, tears them apart and produces misfits". It was reported that the teachers, caregivers and education officers say: "Hostels are all free, the San are not paying taxes, they don't appreciate what is being done for them.

"The policies are designed by people with good intentions. "But they are not working and the despair continues. When will these problems be remedied?"

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