Botswana's OSEC program offers rural children opportunity for preschool education

Pupils attend a class at the China-aided Mmopane Primary School in Mmopane village, Kweneng District, Botswana, on Sept. 21, 2021. [Xinhua]

Mosokotso land is located in Botswana's southern district of Kweneng, just 5 km outside Molepolole, one of the country's largest villages. In a small room in the yard of the Village Development Committee (VDC), students are reading out the names of the animals.

Due to the severe poverty and lack of resources in the area, one might think that the students are receiving their education in poor conditions because of the small room with no furniture, but in fact, the students are content to be here because it is all they have.

The children are being taught through the Out of School Education for Children (OSEC), a program run by the Out of School Education and Training (OSET) under the Ministry of Education and Skills Development. The OSEC is a viable alternative to ensure Botswana's promise of education for all. It addresses the needs of specific groups of children who are out of school for various reasons, particularly those living in rural areas.

The program was piloted in 2014 and launched in 2020, targeting children between the ages of 4 and 18, with a focus on orphans, vulnerable children, school dropouts, children who have never had access to education due to socioeconomic issues, street children, and farm children.

Patience Rakenosi teaches at a preschool in Mosokotso land and holds a diploma in early childhood education from Botswana Open University. Her class comprises about 16 students, including 11 girls and five boys, all from the Mosokotso area and aged between 4 and 7.

From Monday to Friday, the school is open from 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. local time, and the students are taught a variety of subjects such as nutrition, safety, hygiene, mathematics, and the alphabet.

Rakenosi emphasized that the project is a good initiative that provides opportunities for students who would not otherwise have access to school.

When the students attend school, they receive food that they would not usually receive at home, she added.

Mokachea Ofentse Mokachea, president of Mosokotso VDC, told Xinhua that about 40 percent of the children in the area under the age of 18 are out of school and have never attended school. As a result, he and the villagers approached the OSEC office to open a school for students in Mosokotso.

He emphasized the importance of opening a school because "education is light and provides information, and the illiteracy of Mosokotso contributes to the stagnation of the settlement."

The school started in February this year.

Students observe social distancing guidelines in a classroom in Gaborone, capital of Botswana, on June 2, 2020. [Xinhua]

One of the residents of Mosokotso, Keitumetse Regelepeng, whose child is a beneficiary of the preschool, expressed her excitement that they now have a school in the area as their children previously did not have the opportunity to enroll in preschool due to the long distance.

The 36-year-old parent, who is also a volunteer with the Botswana Police Service, said that although they are less privileged, as parents they contribute money for snacks for the children at school and are proud that the children can read and write their names.

Bernadette Kabasiya, principal adult education officer of Kweneng District, said that Kweneng has about 28 learning centers and about 483 learners enrolled in the program. About 147 students have progressed and are doing well in the district.

However, the program faces challenges such as a lack of classroom space, unqualified staff in some locations, and a lack of teaching and learning resources.

Since independence in 1966, the government of Botswana has prioritized education and training. The education ministry has been allocated the largest share of the proposed 2024-2025 recurrent budget of 15.5 billion pula (about 1.1 billion U.S. dollars), or 24.4 percent of the total budget for the education sector alone.

In her budget speech in February, Minister of Finance Peggy Serame said that the proposed budget increase was intended to cover a range of issues, including food and books for children enrolled in public schools, teachers' salaries and benefits, and the operating costs of institutions.

The results of this investment are visible in key education indicators, such as adult literacy at over 86.82 percent, net enrollment in primary education at about 89 percent, and transition from primary to junior secondary education at 99 percent.