Botswana is the same size as the United Kingdom but Gaborone bears no resemblance to London when it comes to international schools. This is hardly surprising as only 250,000 thousand people live here, rather than nearly nine million.
On learning of a posting to Botswana, there is an initial tiger trap to avoid - the mis-pronunciation of Gaborone, the emphasis is on the third syllable with a rolling R and a long O and starting with a softish or silent G (G/Hab-o-RO-ne) – now you know. The other worry is about finding your way as the centre is surrounded by districts called extensions, rather than areas with memorable names.
Location, location, location
Perhaps the districts are called extensions because there are no specific planning areas – the original city planners having conceived “mixed economic neighbourhoods”. However, expats with families have always tended to favour living in Broadhurst as almost all the international schools are an easy drive or even in the case of Broadhurst Primary, a short walk away. The main alternatives, chosen by expats are Gaborone West, The Village, Naledi and the current posh choice - the shiny, golf estate of Phakalane, conveniently on the way to the airport.
The schools are also all within close reach of the Main Mall, confusingly, Gaborone’s central business and government hub rather than just a shopping destination. 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 Primary and Thornhill Primary are relatively close to Maru-a-Pula (seniors) (Northside being closer) or to a school, that accommodates all ages - Westwood International.
One more thing…have we mentioned that most schools start the day between 7:00 and 7:30 am, so it’s early bed all round? In the end, nothing is too far from anything in Gaborone, so provided the family are early birds, you can be more flexible about your school choice.
Local Lingo and Equivalencies
A helpful hint before setting out on the school hunt is on 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 grade 7 (standard 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).
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 straight form 2…the admissions person will advise you). Westwood International starts with year 8, which is a direct continuation from standard 7.
All deeply confusing, so make sure the school gives a clear explanation of their system.
International schools - first choices
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. However, the ones expats tend to consider are:
- the stand- alone primary schools, Thornhill Primary School and Northside Primary School both of which are close to the original downtown area—the Main Mall—in Extension 2 and Extension 9, respectively (Thornhill is also within two blocks of the Main Mall).
- the combined primary-secondary school, Westwood International School which has the advantage that children of differnt ages in the same family can attend school on one campus. It is located in Extension 18, near Gabs West, and easily accessible from the Western By-Pass.
- the stand-alone secondary school, Maru-a-Pula School which, like Northside and Thornhill, is in Extension 39 near the Gaborone Sun Hotel.
- Broadhurst Primary School, 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.
Having said this, other schools do exist that meet various needs, including religious affiliation, commuting time/location, and fees including:
- The Learning Centre (in Extension 42, 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 Primary School and Rainbow High School across the street from each other in Extension 22 (visible from the Gabane-Kanya road circle on Western By-Pass), have comparatively low fees.
- Legae Academy in Extension 12 near the work-in-progress 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.
- Livingstone-Kolobeng College - a secondary school, open to all but with an almost entirely local cohort
Further options to consider:
- 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.
- 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.
For more information on these schools, please go to each school’s individual entry on the GSGI database or The GSGI article 'Best schools in Gaborone considered by expats'.
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 the constantly, modernising city.
Are you worried about fees? Do you want an education with a religious orientation? Is it location? Curriculum? Special needs? All these are available in Gaborone. Whilst there are not a lot of schools, most parents find something that suits their children and those that don’t consider boarding schools in South Africa and other places.