Gaborone, despite its relatively small size, has school options for everyone…not that there are a lot of schools addressing expat needs or issues, but choices exist. One first sets priorities, e.g., curriculum, fees, religious preference or primary-secondary school combined, and the path to your options becomes fairly straight-forward. Find the school that fits your criteria, then visit that school. If you find it doesn’t feel “right,” re-assess. Definitely visit all the schools to assess the nuances of difference or “feel the vibe” before making your final decision.
There are a number of private independent schools where expatriates, particularly those expats from outside southern Africa, and Batswana send their children. Your main priorities help you decide your child’s school placement anywhere, but in Gaborone, they really narrow your search.
[NB: At the time of writing, several factors - the economic downturn, the loss of several big companies and embassies, and the devaluation of the local currency – have contributed to the departure from Botswana of a number of international teachers. So do ask about turnover when you look into each school.]
All use—to varying degrees— some form of international curricula or a partially adapted version peculiar to that school. However, at this stage no schools in Botswana are really ‘international schools’ in the sense of having a critical mass of international families come through and providing the kind of services that fit expat families. The term ‘international’ means different things to different people and there can be factions within a school…some who think that ‘international’ means prestigious and others who don’t want anything to do with ‘international’ because they don’t want higher fees. If school fees are paid by your company or if they aren’t a worry for you, then most expats consider:
- the stand- alone primary schools, Thornhill (adapted from local and international curricula) and Northside (IB Primary Years Programme), both of which are close to the original downtown area—the Main Mall—in Extension 2 and Extension 9, respectively, and Thornhill is within two blocks of the Main Mall.
- or the combined primary-secondary school, Westwood International School (the IB Diploma; IB Primary Year Programme; IGCSE; and partially adapted curriculum for Years 8-10 (around ages 12-14)), which has the advantage that all of one’s children can attend school on the same campus, is located in Extension 18, near Gabs West, and easily accessible from Western By-Pass.
- or the stand alone secondary school, Maru A Pula (IGCSE and A Levels, with adapted curriculum for Forms 1-3 (ages 12-14)), which, like Northside and Thornhill, is in Extension 39 near the Gaborone Sun Hotel.
Having said this, other schools do exist that meet various needs, including religious affiliation, commuting time/location, and fees.
- The Learning Centre (in Extension 42 somewhat near Molapo Crossing, accessible from Western By-Pass) and Al-Nur School (in Extension 37, just off of the road to the airport and Western By-Pass) both have a religious affiliation, Christian and Muslim, respectively (Al-Nur provides religious and academic education for Muslim students, although students of any faith may attend).
- Rainbow English Medium Primary and Secondary Schools, across the street from each other in Extension 22, visible from the circle on Western By-Pass for the Gabane-Kanye road, have comparatively low fees.
- Legae, in Extension 12 near the currently-being-built Central Business District, has a reputation for great IGCSE and A level results (due to their admission screening process) and also has comparatively low fees.
- Broadhurst, in Extension 26 in Broadhurst, is very convenient for families living on the northeast side of town who prefer not to battle the mid-town traffic.
With the expanded list of schools, recombine the possibilities:
- Do you want your children all on one campus, i.e., primary and secondary school combined? These are the choices: Westwood International School, Al-Nur School, and The Learning Centre.
- Do you want a stand-alone primary school? Again, easy…choices Thornhill, Northside, or Broadhurst.
Are you worried about fees? Do you want an education with a religious orientation? Is it location? Curriculum? Special needs? You will find it all here in Gaborone.
All these schools have interesting and extensive after school activities, including sports programmes and comparable sport facilities, and all engage in sports competitions with each other—age appropriately, of course—and with other local independent schools.
All have libraries and ICT facilities
Community service opportunities are only offered at Westwood (required for IB students, although they may extend it to the IGCSE students), but at Maru-A-Pula, it’s required for all students. All have solid parent support groups with adequate parent involvement.
If Special Educational Needs are a part of your concern and the SEN sections of the GSGI Gaborone school reviews seem fuzzy, there are several factors at work just now in Botswana. The economic situation is deteriorating as it is in much of the world, although not as badly as in some places, and schools are finding that is expensive to accommodate various children; therefore, between the pressures of fluctuating enrolments and trying to keep fees down while costs inevitably rise, all the schools are a bit vague about which children they will take.
Schools don't want to take children they genuinely feel they cannot adequately serve with their current staffing circumstances. There is hope, however, because (at least, at this moment) all the primary schools with SEN services are willing to allow parents to pay for a classroom assistant for their child. These kinds of situations are worked out individually and the schools may have ideas and advice for you, but it has worked well for some students.
Extra lessons - both academic and enrichment - are available in Gaborone through private tutors…like specialized tutoring in various subjects, piano, guitar, horse riding, judo, and tae kwon do, among others. The opportunities for extras are always expanding with the fluctuating expatriate population, increasing number of Batswana schooled outside Botswana, and modernizing city.
While many of your children’s friendships may be based around school, primary school parents find the school more at the centre of their lives than do secondary school parents. Teenagers have ‘cross-school’ friendships, depending on where they hang out on the weekends, what sports they do, whether they seek out their own nationality group in the area, or where there teenage interests take them.
One of the biggest issues for families moving from the northern hemisphere is the southern hemisphere schedule followed at every school in Botswana, though Westwood is considering changing to the northern hemisphere or international school calendar.
Local Lingo and Equivalencies
Another thing to note is how various schools refer to certain grades or levels…
British schools start at "Reception", like Kindergarten or Pre-Kindergarten, depending on the age of the child, followed by "Standard 1" through to "Standard 7" in primary. Westwood, however,calls those years Grade 1 and so on up to Standard 7 or Grade 7, which is the highest primary grade. The “standards” are not related to benchmarks, as in “by my standard”, but are the names of the classes (Year 1 vs. Standard 1).
Notice that Standard/Grade 7, as the highest primary level, is equivalent to the U.S. 6th grade…the traditional end of primary or beginning of the middle school. Often, parents will not understand the number system, especially when moving from the northern hemisphere and some may think their children are going “back” or “ahead,” depending on the time of year (sometimes the children think this as well). Think of the grade number as a relative standing.
Many parents are determined to push their children ahead of where they might actually fit, BUT keep in mind that many children in this part of the world start school at different ages, so you might find a range of ages in the classroom, even with the age limits An example is a child who moved here from the U.S. 6th grade level to the last year of primary, and found that the age range in her class was 11 to 15…incredible maturity differences and weekend activity preferences. The schools will give advice on placement…even if your child is brilliant (and whose child isn’t), and will consider the developmental level and gender of your child. Ask questions. Visit the classes. Ask about enrichment. And think it through…
Secondary schools use different lingo again: Maru-a-Pula starts with "Form 1" (which overlaps a bit with Standard 7 and sometimes students from local private schools skip to Form 2…the admissions person will advise you). Westwood International starts with Year 8, which is a direct continuation from Standard 7.
Traffic and Commuting Time
Other things to consider when choosing a school: Gaborone is a city that has no specific neighborhoods where expats live. City planning was done with “mixed economic neighborhoods” in mind. Traffic issues have escalated over the past several years, and seems to get worse by the week. All roads seemed clogged with commuters at the rush hours in the morning, lunch time (school pick ups and workers going home for lunch…as many do), and evening. If you have several children, it may be better to send them to schools that are located in the same area (the primary schools, Northside and Thornhill are relatively close to Maru-a-Pula…Northside being the closer one) or to a school that accommodates all ages (Westwood).
Check school websites, because some have maps of Gaborone with the schools marked on them. One more thing…have we mentioned that most schools start the day between 7:00 and 7:30 am? In the end, nothing is too far from anything in Gaborone, so just wake everyone up a bit earlier, and you can be more flexible about your school choice.
The Gaborone schools that expats attend try to keep up with each other in various ways. There is a group of private school heads from all over Botswana that meets periodically and each knows what the others offer. When one school raises tuition, others will probably follow, but there is pressure not to do this in any of the schools. By the same token, there is no real pressure to change to the international calendar, because all schools in Botswana are on the southern hemisphere schedule.
While there are not a lot of schools in Gaborone, most parents find something that suits their children and those that don’t consider boarding schools in South Africa and other places.