TALKING ‘BOUT THE REVOLUTION
On teachers, the strike and student violence
The education system has in the past few months been hard hit by the strike and the delay in processing the form four results.
Students have featured in the news mounting protests of their own as frustrations mount and their education suffers. Confrontations with the police and damage to school property has created unwelcome headlines. But as the establishment attempts to come to terms with the developments, few have actually talked to the students to find out what they think.
The Voice had the opportunity to hold a no holds barred talk session with six young girls who will be taking part in the All Schools Beauty pageant later this year in Francistown. The girls shared their thoughts on recent events.
When you heard civil servants were going on strike, what went through your mind?
Pearl: My first reaction was great! It was something different and I thought it would only last a few days before everything was back to normal.
Lethatha: One thing that surprised me was the violence that came with the strike. I never imagined that teachers could be involved in a riot.
Oarabile: I didn’t realise that we would be affected that much as school children. Like Pearl I was excited because something different was going on and it broke up the normal school routine, but I didn’t think it would last so long. Because we had had problems getting our form three results, I just told myself that the teachers would come back soon and we would be taught because we were already so far behind.
Unabatsho: I also thought it was a small thing that would last a few days and provide some fun for us. But later when our projects were cancelled I realized that it was a bit serious and my education was suffering.
What caused the unrest in schools and was it right for students to be involved in the unrest?
Lethatha: I thought it was right for students to voice their concerns, because we have a right to education, so we were fighting for our rights. On the other hand I think it was wrong for teachers to involve us in their affairs and encourage students to be disruptive. I mean these are the guys that would discipline us if we mess around in class, and now they were openly telling us to rebel.
Oarabile: Students had the right to demand to be taught for the simple reason that in Botswana without an education you are nothing, without a university degree you won’t make it in life. The teachers who abandoned us without even leaving assignments already have their qualifications, so their concerns were all about money. On the other hand the protests left school property damaged, so in some cases students made the situation worse for themselves.
Basha: I don’t support student riots. There was a confusion between students supporting the teachers strike, and the protest over the fact that teachers were not in class. The teachers who wanted the students support should at least have arranged for them to be taught rather than sitting in class with no direction.
Katlego: Maybe the unrest in schools helped get the strike suspended. So I support the actions because otherwise the teachers might still be out there.
Pearl: I don’t agree. As young Batswana we are supposed to be groomed as well rounded people, and we were seeing examples of bad behavior, which people on strike said was acceptable because of the situation. Also there is a Setswana proverb which says, ‘se a re go tlogelwa tsatsing se ikise moriting’ (when there is a disagreement, you have to find yourself a solution). I think the more mature students will have found other means to source information, like the internet and their textbooks to help themselves, rather than waiting to be spoon fed information by absent teachers.
Oarabile: That’s true – I don’t think the interests of students was ever a consideration. The strike was meant for them, not us.
As the students actions hit the headlines, and riots were seen on television, what were your fears?
Lethatha: I was getting afraid that things were going crazy, and because of it I might end up having to repeat form one.
Basha: When schools were closed for those two weeks, I was afraid to go to school because the government school students threatened us private school learners. It was a nail biting experience.
Pearl: I felt sorry for the arrested students, but I was afraid of the unknown, and going to school in civilian clothing so we wouldn’t be recognized, was a bit weird. I only felt reassured when our school head told us that there were plain clothed police officers on the lookout for any possible threats.
Katlego: It was impossible for me to focus on schoolwork. There was stuff I just could not understand and I was very frustrated. The idea of repeating my form three next year was mind wrecking, and I realised that the longer the disruption continued, the greater was the chance of that happening.
Onubatsho: I was also frustrated big time! I had nightmares about sitting for my exams in March next year and knowing nothing. As the strike continued I got angrier because I thought it just wasn’t fair that I was expected to pass an exam for which I hadn’t been fully taught.
Were the student violent acts or riots warranted?
Unabatsho: They were a sheer waste of time, and due to the damage some of the schools remained closed. We have student representatives in our schools who could have taken our concerns to the authorities in the right way.
Pearl: Some students’ behavior was just out of proportion to the situation. They were being unreasonable and fooling themselves that anything could be improved by vandalizing property. Those students should have demonstrated peacefully, but I guess it is more fun to play the part of an anarchist.
Oarabile: The violence took us nowhere, considering that government was in the process of replacing equipment and maintaining schools before the strike and student riots. Students could have organized debates and invited the media to cover their side of the story, rather than just have them taking pictures of students throwing stones.
Lethatha: I think students should have used more peaceful methods to have their voices heard. They could have sent a student delegation to approach the Office of the President and tell him their views.
Kaltego: The students over reacted, they did not think of other peaceful methods they could use. We have SRC’s, and they could have taken our concerns as far as the ministry.
Do you sympathize with the plight of your teachers?
Unabatsho: Even though my sister is a teacher, I don’t support what they did. The President of the country told them there was no money, but they refused to listen. What example are they setting for us when they are always telling us to listen up!
Pearl: I sympathize with all the civil-servants – it’s hard for them to make ends meet. They are getting peanuts, so government should have listened to them since they are concerned about delivery. How are they to deliver when they are not happy?
Katlego: They have a right to be paid well, otherwise who will want to become a teacher with all the work and low pay.
Basha: I don’t. They wasted students’ time especially the form fours. They skipped first term and then only days after going through introductions, the teachers went on strike. Some of these same teachers have their own children in private schools and they were being taught.
Oarabile: People need to be realistic. The money earned from minerals is being spent on these ARVs and we have a lot of orphans in the country which government is looking after. Civil servants have to accept the situation that money is tight, and wait until the economy improves to make their demands.
Lethatha: I certainly don’t sympathize with the teachers. We must also accept it was a difficult decision for the President to reach. Our sources of income are beef, diamonds and the two are not doing well due to foot and mouth and the recession. If we were to print more money, it would be valueless in no time.
Did the situation change after the strike?
Oarabile: No change, though we were happy that we are at last doing something, not all our parents can afford private tutors to help us catch up.
Unabatsho: It was a huge relief when teachers reappeared in the classroom, but now some of the teachers instead of teaching come to class and just tell us stories of what they did when they were on strike.
Katlego: There seems to be some kind of bitterness after the strike, and we are the ones still suffering. Now teachers are saying that they had not gone with our books when they went on strike, and they are now only waiting for us to write our exams. But if we only learnt through books, then what would be the need for teachers?