[lg policy] Botswana: Teach Basarwa children in their language

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Mon Apr 11 15:09:17 UTC 2016

 Mmegi <http://www.mmegi.bw/index.php?wid=1>
News <http://www.mmegi.bw/index.php?wid=1&sid=1>
Teach Basarwa children in their language – UB don
Teach Basarwa children in their language – UB don

For as long as the language-in-education policy recognises only English and
Setswana and disregards all other indigenous languages, Basarwa and other
non-Setswana speaking groupings will lag behind.
By Tefo Pheage <http://www.mmegi.bw/index.php?aid=54922> Fri 08 Apr 2016,
16:08 pm (GMT +2)
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1 Comments <http://www.mmegi.bw/index.php?aid=59167#comments>

   - * :* Basarwa youth have difficulty in comprehending Setswana and
   - <http://www.mmegi.bw/2016/april/08/phpZQPFWz.jpg>

This, according to Maitseo Bolaane, the director of UB for San Research
Centre, who is arguing for recognition and use of all other indigenous

The UB San Research Centre is a multidisciplinary research centre which
welcomes participation from researchers with demonstrated interest in San
research within the institution, SADC region and internationally.

The professor said there is a lot that still needs to be done as regards
Basarwa education.

“The Botswana government still has some work to do as regards Basarwa (San)
education. There are problems that have been identified by researchers and
are still prevalent, they say. As long as we have a language-in-education
policy that recognises only two languages: Setswana and English and leaves
out the indigenous languages, we still have a long way to go. Basarwa
children are still learning in unfamiliar languages - languages that some
learners hear for the first time at school,” Bolaane told Mmegi.

He said this is a disadvantage as the learners grapple with understanding
the structure of the two languages and the content.  “Important to note is
that the linguistic characters used in Setswana and English are used
differently in San languages. In brief, the morphological sound and syntax
of San languages is distinct from that of Setswana and English.”

One other problem is that the Basarwa are taught by teachers who do not
understand their languages and culture. Therefore there is no reflection of
their cultural background in the school curriculum. In most cases, they
learn foreign concepts that they cannot relate their lives with. “Some
non-San bring their negative attitudes, perceptions and perspectives when
they relate with San learners.

All these issues drive the San learners away from school because they are
not familiar with them. It is not that the San are not intelligent, they
have the potential like other young people in the country. The only problem
is that they experience some communication barrier once they enter the
school gates.”

While some Basarwa children drop out of school early they become helpless
and have to go back to their remote areas where there is little or no
development and access to information is a challenge. They remain victims
of an unresponsive education system in the rural areas.

“Although the government is making efforts the high school dropout is also
attributed to the fact that Botswana has not yet achieved all the
international educational goals,” he noted.

Bolaane advised that the government needs to reflect on Basarwa education
and consider reviewing its educational policy and put relevant measures in
place to ensure implementation.  More research on the indigenous languages,
training teachers in indigenous languages, printing relevant materials on
indigenous languages among others should be

embarked upon. “Again the government needs to respect who the San are and
consult them on their educational problems, but there is enough research to
back up the San voices.”

To date, he said, the government has not yet fully complied with its
international treaty obligations and norms for ensuring provision of
education using the mother tongue. This has been noted as critical for
early childhood and breakthrough in the education of Basarwa; probably
explaining the high drop rates and failure of the Basarwa children in the
nation school system.

The government, he adviced, should be more proactive by taking the Naro
Language Project (NLP) as a model for the other San communities. “Through
the NLP the Naro language has not only been developed, but also used in
literacy, youth education, community development and tourist industry. This
has in turn brought a lot of confidence and self–esteem among the Naro
people. Such an approach is urgently needed in the other San communities.
Bolaane proposed that all this should start with change of the language
policy and positive political will.

Bolaane is also of the view that a lot has been done in the area of
socio-economic rights as evidenced by the developments for various Basarwa
communities in settlements and villages. “However the impact of development
would have promoted self-determination and use of indigenous knowledge for
own preservation and perpetuation of cultural identity and heritage of the
Basarwa as a distinct population in the nation state of Botswana.” This
would have promoted self-dependence and enhanced dignity by the Basarwa
communities as opposed to over reliance on government support for
day-to-day livelihoods.

“If the Government could have embarked on people centered development
programmes as opposed to assimilative developmental interventions which are
short termed and results in spiral of dependency, the greater and
meaningful development would have accrued to the Basarwa communities across
Botswana, more especially those in the settlements.”

Bolaane said the land rights issue is contestable and by and large remains
unsettled more especially for communities who previously resided in the
rich habitat areas for natural resources such as those in national parks
and game reserves.  He said Basarwa civic and political rights in these
areas have continued to rank lowest as compared to other Basarwa living in
more settled national communities. Those who have settled in national
communities have fully assimilated and lost all their language and cultural
heritage as a distinct people. Just as with language, Bolaane believes a
lot needs to be done in this area and development partners could assist the
government to push the frontier of development to where Basarwa want to see
themselves in the future.
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