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The Republic of Botswana is a very flat and landlocked country in Southern Africa, with a total land area of nearly 225,000 square miles. It is bordered to the south and southeast by South Africa, to the west and north by Namibia and to the northeast by Zimbabwe, and nearly seventy-percent of the country is covered by the massive Kalahari Desert. Formerly a protectorate of the British known as Bechuanaland, the region now known as Botswana claimed independence within the Commonwealth in the autumn of 1966. Since that time, the country has held free and democratic elections.
Despite its abundant land area, Botswana is merely a mid-size country in terms of population, which as of the last census was approximately 2 million. Botswana is one of the most sparsely populated nations in the world, and following independence was also one of the poorest. In 1966 its GDP was only $14, but in the years that have followed Botswana has become one of the fastest growing economies in the world, with a current GDP of about $14,000.
There are three major ethnic groups that make up the majority of the Botswana population: Batswana, BaKalanga and the Bushmen, also known as the AbaThwa or Basarwa. There are also several minority tribes who live in the country, including the Bayei, Bambukushu, Baherero and Bakgalagadi, as well as whites and Indians, who are relatively small in number. The official language of Botswana is English, and is used in all official capacities, including government and education, although Setswana, a native language, is more commonly spoken among the people. Nearly 80 percent of the Botswana people identify themselves as Christians, mostly Anglicans, Methodists and members of the United Congregational Church of Southern Africa. Minority Christian religions include Roman Catholicism, Latter Day Saints and Jehovah’s Witnesses. A small minority of non-Christian believers, including Muslims, Hindus, and Jews, also exist in Botswana, and are concentrated mainly in the country’s urban areas.
The Botswana culture, which takes the same name as its primary language, Setswana, is very rich and interesting. Unlike other forms of African music, in which drums play a major role, Tswana music is mostly vocal or accompanied by heavy string instruments, such as the Setinkane and Segaba. In the northern part of the country the people are exceptionally skilled at crafting baskets made from Mokola Palms and local dyes. These are used for storage and for carrying objects and are sold widely throughout the country. Botswana cuisine is unique and very similar to that in other parts of Southern Africa. Mashed salty meats are used as the staple foods to make local dishes such as Pap and Seswaa, local favorites in the Setswana culture.
Education in Botswana
Education in Botswana is overseen by the Minister of Education and is free and compulsory through primary school. Following independence, students were guaranteed ten years of basic education, divided between primary and secondary schools. However, since 2006, only a student’s primary education is free. At the conclusion of the first two years of secondary school in Botswana, students are awarded a Junior Certificate qualification, and are eligible to enroll in two additional years of secondary schooling, in which approximately half of all eligible students take advantage. Following successful completion of these final two years, students are awarded the Botswana General Certificate of Education (BGCE), which qualifies them to enter a tertiary institution.
Higher education in Botswana is comprised of six technical colleges and several vocational schools. The technical colleges offer programs that include science and technology, agriculture, accounting and finance, while the vocational schools consist mainly of programs leading to careers in nursing and teaching.
Since independence in 1966, Botswana has made great progress in education. At that time there were very few secondary school graduates, as only a small minority of students even attended the secondary school level. Today, participation in primary school is nearly 100 percent, and despite the fees charged for secondary education, well over 70 percent of high school-age students still attend.
Evidence that the country is moving in the right direction educationally can be seen in the adult literacy rate. In 1991, the literacy rate in Botswana was 69%, compared to 83% in 2008.