Learning with a difference

Baitshepi Sekgweng
BRILLIANT BOSS: The beautiful brains behind Lowapi
  • A colourful classroom for all

With a background spent in the classroom and lecture halls, Bonolo Boitshwarelo-Gaba knows exactly how to get the best out of students, both young and old.

Thus it was hardly surprising when, in 2010, Boitshwarelo-Gaba tentatively founded Lowapi Study Centre on a part-time basis, an institute offering academic help to learners with different abilities and disabilities in a mainstream setup.

By 2019, the 36-year-old educator felt the time was finally right to leave her job with Ba Isago to focus full force on her enterprise.

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The bold decision reaped instant rewards, as BAITSHEPI SEKGWENG finds out when he meets the boss…

Kindly introduce yourself?

I was born in Mahalapye in May 1986.

I have a Bachelors Degree form the University of Botswana (UB) in Special Education specialising in Learning Disabilities and English. I have also read for a Masters in Public Administration with a focus on Public Policy.

Take us through your career path before you started Lowapi Study Centre?

After graduating in 2009, I volunteered at the UB Office of International Education until around September where I was placed at Nswazwi Primary School for temporary teaching.

In 2010 I taught at Masedi Primary School in Tonota still as a temporary teacher.

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2011 I got into private education landscape where I taught in a number of private schools including Legae, Gaborone International School, Kopano in Selibe Phikwe and Broadhurst Primary.

Between Kopano and Broadhurst, I studied for my Masters and upon completion I went on to lecture Public Administration and Policy at Ba Isago University between 2017 and 2019.

I then resigned in April 2019 to focus on Lowapi.

Tell us about the history behind Lowapi Study Centre?

Lowapi Study Centre was actually registered in 2010 while I was working at Masedi Primary, but I never really did anything.

Then between 2011 and 2012, I started tutorial and remediation sessions and even organised a couple of spelling bee competitions titled, ‘Word Power Challenge.’

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But in 2019 I finally decided to focus on what I truly loved and was passionate about.

I started in April in our garage in Extension 12 with about four part-time students.

Our numbers continued to grow and we had to move out of our garage and rented some classrooms in a local pre-school.

By May we had our first full time enrollment and moved to rent our own space.

Since then we have moved quite a bit around Gaborone. We are currently based in Partial, Gaborone.

What influenced you to come up with Lowapi?

I realised that a lot of students are failing not because they are not intelligent but because they cannot read and hence comprehension of text becomes difficult.

The truth is our education system does not give a strong foundation to reading English and therefore this greatly affects the student’s output.

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The 2021 summary of PSLE stated that 4-6 percent of students graduating from PSLE are not able to construct simple English sentences, which is in line with the comments from the UNICEF report on the Education of Botswana which says ‘approximately a third of children are not gaining basic literacy skills after 4-5 years of primary education.

So what services do you offer?

Lowapi Study Centre is an educational consultancy practice that focuses on providing educational therapy and support for learners who learn differently.

We provide a learning environment that is focused on equipping each child with the ability to read and read well.

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We try as much as possible to be mindful to the different needs and learning styles of different kids.

Lowapi offers a foundational, tailor-made reading program which focuses on creating a strong reading foundation.

We also have full time classes from preparatory class all the way up to Level 7.

We also offer general part-time tuition.

And how is the business doing?

We have established ourselves quite well.

The Lowapi name is now synonymous with Dyslexia and/or learners with reading and learning challenges; that’s what we are known for.

How many students do you have?

We are currently at 60 students.

Our standard class ratio is 10-12 students which allows us to better individualize lessons as much as possible.

Learning with a difference
BORN EDUCATOR: Bonolo Boitshwarelo-Gaba

What impact has Lowapi Study Centre made on the education landscape?

Lowapi continues to make noise about those learners who are often rejected by the system, who are often put on a back burner in our classrooms.

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So Lowapi has been very intentional on shining light to parents, teachers and school heads alike to look at these children from a different viewpoint.

Therefore, we are very intentional about having free and open awareness sessions to share that every child can learn, every child is able; we are all ‘differently able’. That’s our tagline.

What are the big challenges you face?

The major challenge has been lack of awareness and understanding of Dyslexia and learning disabilities; a lot of people do not understand learning disabilities and even what it takes to remediate.

So most people come looking for a quick fix and some do not really want to pay for the services because they do not understand what goes into educating a learner who learns differently.

So we have had to do a lot of awareness to educate the nation.

On the other end of the scale, what has been your major highlight since starting this business?

My major highlight will always be when a child finally smiles because they are reading and when a parent finally has hope that their child will learn.

Still brings tears to my eyes to this day. So every day is major!

What does the future hold for your centre?

Who knows? All I know is that I have committed to continuously learning how I can better the teaching and learning landscape and that is what I will continue to do. At what scale I’m not too sure.

We will see how life unfolds.

It seems as if the country is becoming flooded with tuition centres, with new ones sprouting up on an almost weekly basis! From your experience, why is this the case?

They are coming up every single day! I think it’s just a reflection of what parents are feeling about education in the public school system, especially the issue of numbers as we know that the teacher:student ratio is around 1:40.

Therefore, parents are hoping their children can get better attention in those centres.

But problem is those centres are also filling up too now.

How do you fend off competition?

Lowapi is on its own journey of creating a learning environment that is mindful to the needs of individual children.

We are concerned with reinventing the learning and teaching process to cater for all learners with the hope that we can align to the motto of no child left behind.

So we are really not in competition, we are just on our own route.

With business going well, have you undertaken any Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives?

We work with some public primary schools around us.

They call us for consultations; we have also hosted schools from different regions for an awareness and collaboration workshop.

This month of October is also very important as it is Dyslexia Awareness month and we will be engaged in a number of activities to create awareness and give back to the community the only way we know how.

Sound interesting – what activities have you got lined up?

On the 8th of October the institution is having its very first Dyslexia Awareness walkathon which will start and end at Lowapi Study Centre.

We also have an interactive story reading session coming up on the 29th of October in collaboration with Exclusive Books Botswana.

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