The story of open and distance learning in Botswana: leveraging evidence informed decision-making

"Botswana’s approach to fostering connections and collaborations in the education sector with reference to open and distance learning has over the years included consultative approaches and engagements at all levels of the education sector and beyond."


One of the critical challenges facing the education sector in Africa, Botswana included, is students’ access to quality education and training. There are not enough decent schools at all levels to accommodate everyone such that no one is left behind. Africa is likely to fail to meet its Sustainable Development Goal 4: Quality Education by 2030, and African Governments have made efforts towards offering education through open and distance learning (ODL) methodologies as part of their endeavour to address the education challenge, particularly within the youth bulge. Intense connections and collaborations are taking place between African governments and international organisations such as UNESCO, Commonwealth of Learning (COL) and African Development Bank (AfDB) and other partners across the continent including non-profit organisations. Connections and Collaborations within countries are being promoted, and Botswana is no exception.

Botswana’s Approach to fostering connections and collaboration in Education

Botswana’s approach to fostering connections and collaborations in the education sector with reference to open and distance learning has over the years included Consultative approaches and engagements at all levels of the education sector and beyond. Through this approach, evidence is gathered, and is used to inform national policies that provide direction towards the development of human capital through ODL. In the recent past, such efforts have been spear-headed by government through its state-owned enterprise, Botswana Open University (BOU), which is basically the national ODL lead agency. The usual consultative process involves key partners from grassroots level and within and outside the education landscape. The partners are inclusive and even include remote marginalised rural communities, students, staff, the ministries, including the Ministry of Education and Skills Development, the regulator, that is, the Botswana Qualifications Authority (BQA), the Human Resource Development Council (HRDC), Civil Society, and the out-of-school youths and adults in both rural and urban areas. The changes or educational reforms are influenced by evidence drawn from both internal and external partners and from related policy frameworks and treaties entered into with international bodies like AU, UN, UNESCO, UNICEF, SADC and various communities of practice like the African Council of Distance Education (ACDE), Distance Education Association of Southern Africa (DEASA). The African Union (AU) Agenda 2063 provides a critical vision for the entire continent regarding the Africa We Want as informed by evidence from the people and their varied contexts, including within Botswana. The AU mission sums up the kind of education Africa needs to prosper within the global village.

The AU Education Mission Statement that inspires Botswana alongside the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals reads:

To contribute towards revitalized, quality, relevant, and harmonized education systems responsive to the needs of Africa, taking into account Africa’s aspiration and capacity in terms of human and material resources; systems that produce Africans with appropriate attitudes, values, knowledge and skills to facilitate attainment of the AU vision; systems that generate applied and new knowledge and contribute towards its harnessing for meeting Africa’s challenges as well as placing Africa firmly within the core of the global knowledge economy.

This AU Education Mission Statement above, provides an inspiration and guide to Botswana, as far as the deployment of education systems are concerned. The following frameworks have also been critical for ODL development and provisioning in Botswana:

Botswana National Vision 2036 (Prosperity for all) developed in a consultative approach using various education partners and political formations to ensure a strong educational foundation and uptake.

SADC Protocol on Education & Training – an output of regional connections and collaboration that fosters the accommodation of students from the SADC Region to be taken as home students. Effort by SADC Member States towards integration of the region for common benefits.

Africa Agenda 2063 (The Africa we want) – part of a continental and collective aspiration for Africa’s development.

Sustainable Development Goals (Agenda 2030) – global connections and collaborations towards addressing global challenges as part of a global collective for the sustenance of humanity.

The above inform ODL in Botswana and the capacity building of citizens through ODL for lifelong learning.

Growth of ODL in Botswana as inspired and driven by EIDM.

Briefly distance education in Botswana dates to the then colonial days in the 1960s when it was offered by external providers. However, it was in 1977 when the first National Education Commission in the Republic of Botswana was established to collect data through a country-wide consultation on education matters. The exercise collected adequate evidence that convinced decision makers at the time to formally adopt and budget for distance education as a delivery mode for education and training, hence for the first-time distance education was planned and budgeted for under the Department of Non-Formal Education. The new Education policy was informed by the need for harmony or Kagisano in Setswana, the local language, hence it was called Education for Kagisano. The consultative engagements and dialogues clearly brought forth the evidence that education was the key vehicle to drive mindset change towards harmony and prosperity for all. Implementation of Education for Kagisano was closely monitored over a decade before it was reviewed.

Monitoring and evaluation (M&E) of the implementation of the new policy and the curriculum led to another National Commission on Education in 1993, which once again consulted citizens of Botswana widely across the country, and the changing needs observed provided overwhelming evidence for educational reforms across all the education sectors. This compelled decision-makers at the time to adopt the Commission’s recommendations which included the establishment of a dedicated ODL institution in the country. This was a major milestone decision that eventually took ODL out of the non-formal education. The decision would raise the status of ODL to another level. Partners across the country brought forward convincing evidence and justification to accommodate the emerging youth bulge challenge, the need to raise adult’s functional literacy and a culture of lifelong learning, given the dynamic global village.

In 1998 a dedicated college for distance education was established and named Botswana College of Distance and Open Learning (BOCODOL). This is the College that demonstrated that open and distance education was a viable and cost-effective way of providing inclusive quality education to all as it has the advantage of reaching out-of-school students, including young adults and those in marginalised communities and students in remote settlements, prison inmates and all those hard to be reached through conventional education. Botswana enhanced its effort towards addressing issues of diversity, equity and inclusion through ODL. Evidence collected over a decade by BOCODOL staff and independent researchers sponsored by global connections and collaborators like COL and UNESCO corroborated BOCODOL strategic planning and execution, good governance and Alumni stories already in the labour market. The evidence encouraged the Botswana Government in later years to issue a directive for BOCODOL to transform into an Open University. This eventually happened through an Act of Parliament in July 2017, and basically confirms the power of evidence-informed decision-making (EIDM). Parliamentary Education Bills are passed into Acts in democratic states like Botswana, based on convincing concrete evidence. By then a trail of evidence through three-year strategic planning, execution, and good governance, plus continuous monitoring and evaluation had been exhibited and captured through Annual reports and Audited Financial Statements and Quality Assurance Reports to enable decision makers to take a position on ODL trajectory.

Botswana Open University was launched in December 2017 and within five years it had attained some high-level achievements for example:

A cumulative tertiary enrolment of 17,988 drawn from across all parts of Botswana.

A cumulative throughput of 11,821, proven that ODL is cost effective, e.g., cost to government per graduate over a 6-year subvention of P713 million divided by 6 = P60,316

BOU had demonstrated the efficacy of ODL under covid-19 era.


EIDM in Botswana has shaped the ODL trajectory during the post-colonial era. Botswana’s approach to fostering connections and collaborations especially in the growth of open and distance learning has over the years been influenced by:

Democratic approach in legal drafting of laws and policy formulation.

A culture of consultative engagements across the entire nation for strong buy-in and participation. This is true of all sectors including education; and

Strong internally-oriented approach of listening and policy implementation based on the wishes of the people

Godson Gatsha, Deputy Vice Chancellor - Student Services at the Botswana Open University (BOU)
~ Godson Gatsha, Deputy Vice Chancellor - Student Services at the Botswana Open University (BOU)