Botswama" Mother Tongue in Education

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at
Fri Jul 6 00:57:49 UTC 2007


*Mother Tongue in Education*

*Mmegi/The Reporter* (Gaborone)
3 July 2007
Posted to the web 4 July 2007

By Dorcas Moefhe, Owen Pansiri and Sheldon Weeks

It is now a known and accepted fact that the use of mother tongue as a
medium of instruction in early days of schooling contributes to improved
classroom learning and related academic achievement.

Children who learn to read and write on their first language or mother
tongue then transfer those skills to other languages such as Setswana and
English. What is more problematic is how to start with mother tongue
education in a multilingual society such as Botswana. Collaboration between
governments and non-governmental organisations in educational development is
one major strategy that the World Conferences on Education of 1990 and 2000

Botswana has used this strategy to deal with, among others, the education of
remote area dwellers. The government has also embraced the Minority
Education Project with a specific focus on the education of the San, but the
project does not seem to be coming out clearly between the Ministry of
Education and the other interested parties. The University of Botswana and
the University of Tromso (UB/UT) are currently working together on research
and capacity building for the Basarwa whom they refer to as the San.

Through this initiative, various research activities and consultancies have
been conducted to explore the educational needs of the San. This project has
extended collaboration beyond academia.

It has drawn in stakeholders such as the Ministry of Education, UNESCO and
other partners such as Letloa Trust Board of Trustees of the Kuru Family of
Organisations and the business communities, especially De Beers and Debswana
and other regional and far-flung organisations that have shown an interest
in inclusive education and the education of children in marginalised
communities. Informed by research and consultancies, all those who are
involved in the Minority Education Project have understood the wider
historical context of the San as an educationally marginalised segment of
the Botswana society.

The project engaged with the idea of trying to achieve inclusive education
so that the San children have equal and easier opportunity to participate in
the cycle of 10 years of basic education as envisaged by the Revised
National Policy on Education of 1994. Through a series of consultations, the
issue of Mother Tongue Pilot Schools emerged and the Letloa Trust took it
further for support with various interested parties, particularly De Beers
and Debswana and then the Ministry of Education.

Along the way it appeared that the Minority Education Project was not
clearly conceptualised by the parties involved, that is, the Ministry of
Education and De Beers and Debswana.

Some people were neither comfortable with the term "minority education
project" nor its focus on a specific ethnic group. To make the project
friendlier to all stakeholders, efforts were made to redefine its objectives
and refocus, hence the emergence of the "Support Programme for Education in
Remote Areas" (SPERA).

SPERA was inclusive of other groups living in remote areas, but maintained
its focus on the educational needs of the San. While these agencies were
willing to support the project, some issues such as focus, management
capacity and sustainability were raised by the government, which seemed to
want a project that was not for a specific or particular ethnic group.

In the long run, after a number of years of planning, formulation of
documents and other activities, the proposed SPERA pilot project has not
taken off. The Support Programme for Education in Remote Areas needs to be
pursued further as a pilot project on inclusive education.

This would be a step towards the implementation of the policy recommendation
on teaching through children's first language or mother tongue that has been
pending since 1994.

The project should be viewed as an opportunity on which the education sector
and its partners can inform themselves on the best practices in developing
mother-tongue language education programmes for the various non-Setswana
speakers in Botswana. The already existing partnership between the
University of Botswana and the University of Tromso, the Ministry of
Education, Debswana, Letloa Board of Trustees and other interested agencies
such as UNESCO, provides a positive climate upon which the SPERA project
cannot be allowed to fail, provided all is done to 'educationalise', but not
to 'politicise' the project.



Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at

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