Mokgweetsi Masisi, a former teacher and education minister, has just been sworn in as Botswana’s fifth President. On appointment, Masisi said that young people, who make up 60% of the population, were the country’s future leaders and the country would invest in them with scaled up technical and vocational education and training and with new ways of tackling poor education at every level. He re-committed to implementing the new education sector plan, which would introduce pre-primary education and said that his government would, “continue to focus on and intensify the maintenance of the existing schools facilities to ensure enabling environment for effective delivery of education, learning and training programmes.”
He is far from being the only teacher to make it to the top. Analysis from 2009 taken from the Who‘s Who database had shown that at least 7% of politicians worldwide were academics or educators before going into politics.
The United States tends to favour academics or educators for presidents it seems. No fewer than 10 presidents were teachers or academics, including John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Millard Fillmore, James Garfield, Chester Alan Arthur, Grover Cleveland, William Howard Taft, Woodrow Wilson, Lyndon Baines Johnson and Barack Obama.
Obama, for instance, was a professor of constitutional law for twelve years, retiring in 2004. Once installed in office in 2009, he said, “it’s time to stop just talking about education reform and start actually doing it. It’s time to make education America’s national mission.” That year, he implemented a fairly radical education reform, Race to the Top, designed to encourage and reward states that would create the conditions for education innovation and would turn around the lowest performing schools.
Lyndon B Johnson, President of the USA from 1963 to 1969, was also a teacher. He implemented notable education reforms including the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and the Higher Education Act, which provided financial support for some of the poorest students.
In India, too, a few educators made it to Presidential positions. The first President of India, Sarvapalli Radhakrishana, was an educator. Shree Abdul Kalam, the country’s seventh President, was also an educator, who, in 2006, famously said: “Teachers have to realize that they are the builders of the society. The society can be built only when the students are made proficient in their subjects. In addition, they have to provide a vision for life to the students and also inculcate the fundamentals of values, which he should practice in the years to come.”
Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada, taught mathematics as well French, humanities and drama for three years at a private school, and was a substitute teacher at a public school. According to his statement, he became a teacher to have, “a positive influence on the world”. Just a few months ago, he doubled Canada’s financial commitment to the Global Partnership for Education (GPE).
Dotted around the world, other examples crop up too. The former President of Chile, Ricardo Lagos, was a professor of political science, who then became Minister of Education on his path to becoming President in 2000. The Prime Minister of Libya from 2011 to 2012, Abdurrahim El-Keib, was also a professor, this time teaching electrical engineering for twenty-five years. Golda Meir, Prime Minister of Israel from 1969 to 1974, attended a teachers college in the United States. Roza Otunbayeva, President of Kyrgyzstan from 2010 to 2011, taught as a philosophy professor for six years before shifting to politics.
So let us watch what happens in Botswana, with their newly elected President. There is some room for improvement in education. Our latest Report showed that less than half achieved minimum proficiency in mathematics at the end of lower secondary, only half of schools have basic sanitation facilities, and only a fifth of children are enrolled in pre-primary education. His chosen focus on education for youth unemployment seems appropriate too. As a teacher, Masisi, will be aware of these problems.
He is active on twitter. Join us in tweeting to him and encouraging him keep to his initial statements and make them a priority.