To Give Future Generations A Fighting Chance,Botswana's Basic Education System Needs More Progressive Educators

Over the last five months, I have been acting as an Advocate of the Global Schools Program which is an initiative by United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network (UN SDSN) whose main goal is to empower educators in primary, junior and senior schools across the world to be able to educate students on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

My role as an Advocate was to go around schools—both public and private— in my locality and present to them about the initiative, after which I would ask them to sign the pledge which gave them access to a ton of ready-made and high-quality resources including teaching aids and comprehensive curriculums for the purpose of teaching students about the SDGs.

During the course of my term as an advocate, I got to experience first hand the deficiencies of Botswana's public basic education system from the numerous schools that I visited. As aforementioned, my core role was to present the initiative to schools and educators and the disparity in the reception I got from the public and private schools was worrying.

Whilst most of the private schools I visited went out of their way to get to understand more about the initiative and eventually go on to sign the pledge—in most of the public schools—it proved to be a challenge to get most of them to show even the slightest interest in the program.

To start with, getting the contact details of the schools in order to schedule appointments proved to be harder than I anticipated. Most of them—in the year 2020—did not have websites that would have made it much easier for me to get into contact with them. Instead, I had to visit the schools in order to schedule the appointments—visits which turned out to be quite daunting, to say the least.

Having explained the initiative to them— in some schools— I was told that before the administration could even consider signing the pledge to be a part of the Global Schools Program, I had to obtain written consent from the nearest office of the Ministry of Basic Education. This was unnecessary bureaucratic red tape because with Botswana having signed the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development, it meant that the country and its institutions were automatically a part of any initiative whose purpose was to further the course of the 2030 Agenda and the Global Schools Program is exactly that.

Apart from the bureaucracy, I also encountered educators who were reluctant to sign the pledge not because they were not interested in passing on the message of sustainable development to their students but because they were currently struggling with their current workload—let alone an extra curriculum.

Although I was disappointed by their refusal, I did understand their predicament. Most of them had large class numbers to deal with and very limited resources. The latter was so bad that in some schools, I could not get the educators to sign the pledge simply because the administrator did not have a computer or internet to access the access pledge despite the interest.

Despite the negative experiences that I had with most of the public schools I visited during my term, it was a breath of fresh air to have some seldom encounters with some progressive educators in some of the schools. These were educators who despite the clearly limiting system they found themselves in—were willing to go out of their way to make sure that their students had access to this knowledge about the SDGs which are basically global goals.

My term as an Advocate showed me that the country— on its mission to transform the country's economy into a knowledge-based one— was ignoring and leaving behind the most important aspect and source of that knowledge—education. Without a basic education system that will mold young citizens into knowledgeable adults who will understand and appreciate the nuances that encompass a knowledge-based economy, all the effort going into the drive is going to prove futile. If we cannot get young students to understand things like the SDGs which are global goals for sustainable development, how do we expect them to appreciate and be an active part of a future which is going to be about living sustainably?

I do believe though that all is not lost yet and that there is still a chance to change the trajectory to nowhere that the current status quo of the basic education system is embarked on. I believe that more progressive leadership that is open to non-traditional and modern methods of education can go a long way in getting the basic education system in pace with global standards. As long as leaders prefer the traditional and bureaucratic way of doing things, it will be very difficult for progressive educators working under them to implement progressive ideas despite the presence of the interest to do so.

The Global Schools program had 450 Advocates across the world—including myself—working to get the message of the SDGs into the world's classrooms. This shows the extent and necessity of this kind of education and if our public schools' administrators are not receptive to it, how can we then expect our future generations to be on par with their peers in other countries across the world? How do we expect them to actively compete with peers whose educators had been progressive enough to appreciate this kind of education? It will be impossible and the country's future generations will continue the trend of playing catch-up with the rest of the world. If we want to give these kids any fighting chance whatsoever in the future, it is high time we get administrators who have a vision that aligns with global standards of education and have measures in place which will support the implementation of that vision.

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