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Alumni Project: Preventing Silent Dropouts in Schools in Botswana

January 04, 2016

“The idea of having a family in school… for the vulnerable child will create a second home. As such, the warmth and love created will positively impact the child’s development.” Emang B. Mosweu, Principal Education Officer, Chobe Region, Botswana.


Pearl Unoda Molobe, alumnus of the 2014 “Youth at Risk” course at the Ofri Center, has successfully implemented the project she developed while in Israel, as a pilot program, with cooperation from the Ministry of Education and Skills Development, in her home of the Chobe region, Botswana.

The program is geared towards addressing the individual needs of learners and improving academic results. Though remedial teaching programs have been previously implemented in Botswana, they lack the ability to cater to each child’s specific needs, focusing on the skills and material instead of the underlying problems each child has difficulty with. Many children lack the proper home conditions necessary to excel in their studies: Their parents cannot help them with homework, and at times the children act as guardians for older parents. Children who arrive to school hungry are unable to concentrate in class. The students facing these challenges are often too shy or scared to voice their needs, and the teachers remain oblivious and unable to address each student specifically.


The Silent Dropout Prevention Initiative allows students to open up within the school environment. By setting up “families” of smaller groups within each school, the educator becomes a parent, older sibling, aunt or uncle, and is more accessible to the students who need extra attention. The program allows for the children to have fun while learning, for the teachers to engage with each student individually, and for the students to give feedback.

In the family setting, students are no longer demeaned by teachers’ criticism, rather they are empowered and assured of their self-worth. The teachers have been made aware of how debilitating some criticisms and name calling can be to students, and the program returns to all learners a sense of dignity. Within the family setting, the children also learn and improve their life skills, such as personal hygiene, and are able to arrive at school with self-confidence and a sense of belonging.

 

The initiative has resuscitated the school environment, which in many communities had been unsatisfactory. Schools have become more child friendly, welcoming learners who are motivated to go to school and have a positive attitude towards learning. There has been a shift from low performance to notable improvements in test results for learners participating in the program.

A total of 50 teachers from 3 schools and 22 officers from the Chobe regional Education office were trained for the pilot program. The training focused on the causes of dropouts and how they can be prevented. The regional staff were trained to be monitors of the implementation process. All trained teachers were involved in the implementation process in each of the three schools, with one project coordinator, acting as a liaison between the school and the regional office.

At the school level, the class teachers identified those learners who were not actively involved in classroom activities. Teachers play the parental roles to these identified learners according to their needs and the teacher’s skills, abilities and interests. Such skills include counselling, story-telling, playing games, motivation and life skills training. Teacher “parents” meet their “children” at their own time and play games together, help with homework and do counselling when necessary.

So far, the initiative has shown impressive results. In the three schools involved in the pilot program, 1310 learners and 50 teachers take part. The schools have noticed a behavioral shift in all students since the program implementation, due to a shift in teachers’ attitudes. The impact is also felt at home: Parents have begun to show interest in their children’s education. Those in the project have started to open up and talk about their day to day life activities that affect them positively and negatively. These learners are also motivated and have started to attend school regularly, unlike before. Their academic performance has also improved.

The Regional Officers as monitoring and evaluation officers monitor the implementation process through checking progress every two weeks and giving any support that the schools need. Close monitoring of project activities continue to be done by facilitators at school level with reports given on a monthly basis.

The Parent Teachers association hold the initiative in high esteem. The results of the initiative have made it imperative to transfer the initiative to other schools in the region and eventually to other regions throughout Botswana to achieve better academic results, changed teachers and learners and the teaching and learning process.  The Silent Dropout Prevention Initiative has won the Prize for Best Innovation in Public Service and has been promoted on national television in Botswana.

Mr. M. Sebako, a teacher from Kasane Primary School who participates in the initiative summed it up in these words: “If learners do not feel tolerated and accepted, their participation and performance dwindles… When I reflected into my teaching experience I realized that there are cases where I did injustices to the learners… I am convinced that this workshop has addressed the cry of the learners because from now on I believe all of us will consider the way we treat learners and make necessary changes. We will value them and be empathetic and understand that they are people just like us… This workshop transforms.”



Learn more about the Silent Dropout Initiative here.