THE BIG INTERVIEW – Paradigm Shifter

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Paradigm Shifter by 

BIERGE KHUMALO

Former justice of the high court, and current Minister of Education, Dr Unity Dow sat down for Inside Education’s Big Interview and expressed important views on the role of the teacher in nation building.

INSIDE EDUCATION(IE): Who and what is a teacher?
DR UNITY DOW (UD): The teacher is everything – social worker, a guardian, a parent and much more. Some teachers take in children as young as four and five years old, these are children who need to be mothered, nurtured and need to be taught the most basic self-care skills and good behaviour.

Some teachers are dealing with teenagers, a very difficult stage of life, and again they have to be social workers to guide these people from adolescents into teenage stage.

Teachers teach 18-year olds, which is really the bridge between being a child and a young adult, so they don’t just teach maths and science, they are parents. They are the people who spend most of the daytime with children, so they are the ones guiding these young people.

So teachers are quite critical in mothering and fathering these young people. Botswana teachers have been all of the above and much more.

IE: The teacher must introspect; seek growth and self-improvement amidst the changing times.

UD: “Today’s teacher is teaching in an era when things are rapidly changing, first of all technology is demanding self- empowerment and improvement at an unprecedented rate, therefore the teacher is not just having challenges emanating from the technological revolution, she or he is dealing with learners who have access to information in a way that has never been seen before.

Due to information abundance, thanks to the assorted media platforms and the Internet, teachers themselves are delivering content learners are likely to know.

Additionally, today’s teachers cannot succeed if they do not continuously im- prove through in-service training, or continuous reading of a wide variety of material, as well as knowing the challenges of today which are totally different from those of yesteryear.

If the teacher says let me pull out an Atlas to show learners where Canada or Australia is, they already know where that is because they have seen it on television, the Internet or Facebook, therefore the role of the teacher must adjust and continuously develop.

The biggest problems are ill discipline in schools, the use of drugs and substances by young people compared to when the teacher was herself or himself a teenager or a child is mindboggling.

At a recent funeral, I was really surprised when three of the six women I was talking to said their children have been involved in drugs. This is a totally different kind of situation from what we had then, so the modern teacher has a lot of stress.

In addition, today’s teacher has pressure in the sense that the modern parent knows a lot about education and demands more, thus demanding that the teacher must do more.

IE: Is education configured to address today’s challenges?

UD: All over the world, our nature of education is being challenged. The ques- tion to ask is whether the education system today is answering the needs of the modern-day world. For example, people will be shocked to hear that Finland just recently decided to abolish all subjects.

If it was up to me I would do the same and move towards teaching about issues and life because the world does not come in packets such as mathematics, geography and other subjects!

The Finnish model is actually the future of education, it is being admired in the world, but to adopt it here there would be a need for a serious change of mindset.

IE: The system isn’t the best teacher!

UD: “The system would outdo itself if it tapped into lessons on how children learn. Secondly, it would bring out the best in teachers as well as unleash learners’ potential if it saw technology as a friend and not a foe.

A critical lesson on how best to teach children is to look at how they learn.

If you really watch how children learn you would realise that education as configured right now, is restraining learning instead of promoting it. The current system prohibits learners from bringing cellphones in the classroom and also prevents them from bringing pencils to class.

The problem is not the cellphone; it’s how it is being used. This requires a new thinking and for people to break down walls and come up with new ways of looking at education.

The problem with our system is that it’s intended to actually make everybody an academician. We need to move away from the thinking that being smart is being good at maths and science. Being smart is actually tapping into your talent, and the system allowing that to grow and flourish.

We need to develop alternative programmes in brigades’, technical colleges and in the arts industry to accommodate these other skills. Teaching and learning should be fun for everyone.

I also subscribe to examinations in fewer subjects. Despite the foreseeable resistance, I am prepared to advocate for this radical transformation. I hope to have this implementable process in 2018. At the moment we are working on a new primary school curriculum.

IE: Teachers’ welfare and condition of service?

UD: We do need to deal with long standing issues in the teaching fraternity that include shortage of accommodation, low pay, overstays in remote areas and of late the transfer policy. This has come under heavy scrutiny for what teachers call keeping those in urban areas highly motivated whereas those in rural places’ spirits are dampened, hence low performances in those places. Overstays are worrisome.

I believe mindset change in teachers and other government employees is necessary. When one visits teachers across the country you will realise they are demoralised professionally, but because they are professionals just like any other, they want to excel despite all these challenges. They deeply care and love their job.

There is a need for total mindset change in education. One of the reasons private schools outperform public schools is that they don’t transfer their employees. This has allowed them to learn the culture and the patterns there.

However, most private schools are established in urban and semi urban areas while public schools are scattered all over the county including the deepest, remotest parts of Botswana.

There are 755 primary schools in Botswana, and a total 25, 000 teachers at all levels; pre-primary to senior secondary school.

The mindset that a teacher is only being in a place temporarily needs to be erased to enable long term planning, understanding the hosts’ culture, as well as to enable ways of delivery in the classroom drawn around this long-term renewed thinking.

Another eminent reform will afford teachers respite when schools close, as was the case prior to the implementation of the New Public Service Act of 2008 that came into effect in 2010, and had provision for teachers to work during school holidays.

The Act categorised teachers within the entire public service, transferring them from their former governing Teaching Service Management Act, among others, rendering teaching here an eight-hour job in addition to disallowing them days off when the school term ends. Under the new dispensation they remain in schools and are mandated to apply for leave day if they opt not to be in school.

The acceptance that the teacher needs a break and the learner needs a break should be brought back, it wasn’t broken so why change that?”

IE: Is teaching truly professional in Botswana?

UD: There have been concerns on the professional standing of the mother of all professions here as in elsewhere. As a result, teachers have called for the establishment of a self-regulatory body to ensure that they are truly qualified, live up to the values and ethical standards are registered practice. Teachers need their own regulatory structure to discuss issues of their own profession, it’s also important in the sense that it gives dignity to the profession. We are still consulting on the teaching council bill, and we expect to bring it to the July Parliament.”

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