A Student from Botswana: Money We Earn through Diamond Mining Are Invested in Education
Botswana is the second-largest diamond producer in the world after Russia. Hence the country managed to build up one of the most successful economies on the African continent. Authorities are, however, concerned of its one-sidedness…
Judging by the country's standards, Leepile Mompati Keeme has a tiny family – his parents gave birth to 'only' five children. While there are numerous universities and colleges in Botswana, only one of Leepile's brothers graduated from a local university. The others went to study abroad, having chosen either China, South Africa or the US.
"Most of the income my country makes by selling diamonds goes to education. We are investing in new educational institutions and equipping them with the required infrastructure, providing salaries to teaching staff, purchasing textbooks, and supplying school meals. Our government allocates monthly scholarships starting at $250 to youth and fully covers lodging costs of students living in dormitories. It is even ready to pay for our education - and not only in public but also in commercial universities! With that said, the labour market is already overwhelmed with graduates of local universities. Unemployment in Botswana stands at about 20%, reaching up to 45% among young people. Thus foreign education becomes a significant advantage. In fact, several countries grant us reductions in tuition fees - most notably Britain, which yet remains one of the major investors in our economy, and the US.
I wanted to see the world too but did not want to study in the EU or America. But once I found out I had a chance to enter one of the Russian universities and study for free, I sent in the documents. Thanks to the approval, I am getting a high-quality higher education. Besides, it is an incredible opportunity to immerse oneself into a totally different culture," says Leepile Mompati Keeme, a student at Saint-Petersburg Mining University.
Hundreds of school children from all the regions of Botswana participate in an annual contest held by Rossotrudnichestvo, an organisation responsible for promoting Russian education services abroad. These applicants end up competing for one of the 21 quotas available to Botswanans. Leepile passed the entrance test and chose power engineering as a future speciality, for he was always interested in physics and everything related to electrical engineering.
"Our standards of living are quite high since we possess vast natural resources, particularly diamonds. Still, some areas require intensive development, and energetics is one of them. Lack of electricity is not a problem residents of the capital or some major cities encounter. But it is a big problem for people living in remote areas where power networks have not been set up yet. Another issue is a shortage of qualified specialists who can install power grids and maintain them. We must bear in mind that diamond mining is not something that will last forever. If we want to diversify the country's economy and grow manufacturing sectors, we should ensure continuous power supply.
These days, most of the energy we produce is generated from the coal mined in the east of the country. It does not suffice the demand though, and 70 to 80% of energy comes from South Africa. Increasing the capacity of existing thermal power plants and using solar panels are two solutions that can make a difference. We have got lots of sun – rain showers are a great blessing to our people. It is no wonder that the national currency is called 'Botswana Pula', with 'pula' literally meaning rain," notes Leepile.
Applicants who are granted a quota can choose a university they would want to study at. The young man from Botswana chose St. Petersburg Mining University, mainly because of the recommendations he was given by representatives of Rossotrudnichestvo at the Embassy. They told him that the university pays a great deal of attention to adapting international students to the new environment. Besides, they directed the fellow's attention to the fact that the Mining University was ranked as one of the top-20 universities by subject ranking in the QS World University Rankings. The final argument that inspired Leepile to make a choice in favour of the institution was that university's graduates never had employment problems upon return home.
As Leepile explains, "Before the trip, I had hardly known anything about Russia, and therefore I came across some situations I had to get used to. As such, I did not understand what was it like to live in a dorm room. I was born in Gaborone, the capital of the country, with a population just over 230,000 people. We have enough space and land in Botswana; people live in their own houses. That way, I had a hard time confining myself to living within four walls."
Another surprise for Leepile was that language of tuition was Russian, whereas in his home country students - whether in schools or universities - are taught only in English. Luckily, there is a preparatory faculty for students who came to Russia from other countries. It lasts for a year during which students are intensively learning the language. By the end of that year, the Mining University's student had become almost fluent in Russian.
The most notable difference between the Botswanan and Russian education systems, as Leepile says, is the attitude towards sports. In Botswana, physical and intellectual development of students take an equal part in the school's curriculum.
"In my country, a career in sports is not by any means less prestigious than in any other industry. Perhaps, that is why there are so many Africans among Olympic Champions in running or other athletic disciplines. This is what we are good at. And I appreciate that our state supports citizens in developing the sports industry. Here, in Russia, science always comes first, and sports activities are perceived as something that is needed to stay fit. At first, I found it difficult to keep focus without exercising enough, but then I got into boxing. We have a team at the university, and it is where I am training," shares Leepile.
Leepile is sure he did not make a mistake at choosing a country and university. As he says, one can feel the university is a top one through the technical capacity of its laboratories and time that students spend working therein. Practical classes help students better understand the concepts and ideas introduced in lectures.
Last summer, the student underwent an internship and became impressed at seeing how a modern power plant should be functioning.
"I want to come back home and help my country in delivering regional electricity projects. It would be amazing if I manage to get a job in some Russian company that would open up a branch in Botswana. I can speak Russian, I am about to graduate soon, and I believe I could be useful for this kind of enterprise. There are currently no Russian energy companies present in Botswana, which still does not mean none will come," hopes Leepile.