9 March 2007

Namibia: Cambridge Education - a Nation's Hopes Dashed?


It has become extremely difficult to find the correct vocabulary that can accurately describe the Cambridge Education's situation in our country. "Is Cambridge Education System (CES) beyond our means?" That was the headline of my article which was published by the Windhoek Observer on March 4, 2006. Whether or not it has made an impact on the planning or implementation of the educational programmes, remains to be seen.

Fortunately, I have to take a deep sigh of relief as one of my recommendations, incorporation of the pre-primary education into formal education, was taken up, though it would only materialize by 2008.

My argument is still extended further that our educational experts and intellectuals do hide behind the vocabulary of balance sheets, comparative reports and or percentage interpretations. An ordinary person, like myself, is always treated like a cat made to watch a movie.

What is practically happening with the education of this country? The answer is simple, we are "educating" the learners. Since the introduction of the Cambridge Education System in Namibia in 1993, there has never been a pass rate over 50 per cent, despite the Ministry of Education (MED) receiving one of the largest portions of the national budget.

I am undoubtedly aware that I am not the only concerned citizen but there are many voices some of which cannot be heard due to various reasons. The intellectuals, experts and other concerned entities' legitimate, constructive criticisms were often brushed away by Government.

The Polytechnic of Namibia, Teachers' Union of Namibia (TUN), Opposition parties, Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), students organizations and business personalities like Dr Aupa Indongo and Harold Pupkewitz, have all called for education methods to be revamped to accommodate and go well with our own environment and market needs. Therefore, my views may reflect those of others. Let me reflect on some of the appealing voices as examples:

- " Conditions around Grade 10 exams are not only psychologically absurd but also outrageously unfair to the people subjected to it. The aim of the Ministry of Education should be to develop and not to marginalize or teach lessons With this system you destroy many futures and dreams Have any of these systems that we are subjected to ever been put to test or are we just the guinea pigs in "spur of the moment" experiments? If so, then now would be the perfect time to do evaluation", fumed author, Jeremia Beukes, on the article as published by The Namibian of January 12, 2007, titled: Grade 10 Shocker.

- "Firstly, the controversial Cambridge Education System was swiftly imposed upon this country with a stroke of the pen by persons who were apparently driven solely by the revolutionary zeal, hell-bent on changing everything associated with apartheid South Africa and who lacked basic evolutionary insight. Then the manufacturers and vendors of the Cambridge system, whose sole motive was obviously to make a quick profit, on the other hand took advantage of the poor and misguided judgment by our political leaders.

The vendors of the education system saw this as a golden business opportunity to market their commodity. The Cambridge system was also imposed upon this country in a cart-before-the-horse and castle-in-the-air approach, without first having laid the foundation for its successful implementation. his includes lack of appropriate human, technical and financial resources as well as appropriate indicators to monitor its successes and challenges "analyzed Phil ya Nangoloh, Namibia's leading human rights activist, in his article as published by Republikein, on February 8, 2006, titled: The Cause.

It has become a political habit or fashion that when the grades 10 and 12 results are released, the people of this country expect nothing new. It is a scenario that has developed into a repetitive pattern and figurative, increasingly adding up year after year while the elite's life is going on as usual.

By the end of last year (2006), it was like making fun when the media reported again that a staggering 17 158 full-time Grade 10 pupils failed to progress to the next grade and will not return to formal dassrooms next year. That means 31 493 full-time Grade 10 candidates from 510 schools needed 23 points with an F or better grade in English to proceed to Grade 11.

The similar worst situation is, 3 393 of 14 319 full-time Grade 12 (IGCSE and HIGCSE) students who wrote an exam last year will qualify for admission to the Polytechnic of Namibia and University of Namibia - the results were the "best" since the Cambridge Education System was introduced in Namibian schools 12 years ago.

The message then very simple and clear to the dropouts is that they must go to NAMCOL or approach the vocational training centers for alternative learning. Due to a bad feeling developing in me to hear the responsible Government through the Ministry of Education together with its partner, Directorate of National Examination and Assessment (DNEA), mercilessly advising ambitious students to go to NAMCOL, I decided to find out what NAMCOL is made of. The research I have made revealed the following:

- In 1979 SWAPO (the then liberation movement) requested that the Commonwealth Secretariat and International Extension College (IEC) draw up a plan for a Namibian Extension Unit (NEU). Soon afterwards, the NEU was established and operated from Zambia for those in exile. After independence in 1990, NEU and the Department of National Education (DNE) of the former dispensation which provided Distance Education (DE) courses for teachers, were united to become the Department of Adult and Non-formal Education within the Ministry of Education and Culture (MEC). In 1991, the Core Planning Group was established that contributed to the production of a Report of the Commission of Higher Education, which endorsed the establishment of a distance education college.

A report, "Taking Education to the People", recommended the establishment of a semi-autonomous distance education college which gained the approval of the MEC in 1993. Then in 1994, an Interim Development Board was appointed by the Minister to assist in planning for the establishment of the college through an Act of Parliament. The college was named the Namibian College of Open Learning (NAMCOL). The NAMCOL Act (Act No. 1 of 1997) came into effect on September 1997. Finally, on April 1st, 1998, NAMCOL delinked from the Ministry of Basic Education and Culture and its staff was formally appointed.

Do we have some "supernatural" powers to question the operation of NAMCOL today? SWAPO's stuffs are hardly questionable by the citizens! When "we" re-introduced the oppressive, labour-hire companies, which are similar to the apartheid SWANLA, all criticism and scrutiny are strongly repelled by public figures. The main reason being; there are many unskilled and unemployed people in this country who need money. It is just like waiting for a funeral company to launch an anti-death campaign. If NAMCOL is SWAPO's brainchild and SWAPO is a governing party, then forget about seeing NAMCOL running out of customers! The initiators, inventors, beneficiaries and owners are in charge of this country. It is a matter of slipping from a frying pan and then falling into a boiling pot. The fact is: the grades 10 and 12 dropouts cannot be allowed to repeat as long as NAMCOL exists. Clear?

When the people of Namibia started "noising" about the ever failure rate in the country's education and demanding for a national conference, it was slyly avoided and then replaced with another scheme, Education and Training Sector Improvement Programme (ETSIP), a multi-billion-dollar plan to "overhaul" the country's education sector. The first phase spans until 2011 and will cost N$20.3 billion for improvement. Is that the wishes and aspirations of ours or just a prolonged business niche at our expenses? If the Namibia National Teachers' Union (NANTU) claimed that it was not party to any component of the ambitious ETSIP to "overhaul" the education system, who was party to it? What is being "overhauled" with billions of dollars anyway?

There are some people trying to "run the show" in this country! I understand ETSIP wishes to promote the quality in education and training outcomes by responding to key weaknesses in the education and training system. But have we ever had the British educationists or volunteers to back up their homemade system of the former colonies of Queen Elizabeth? Can the whole nation be told why the system is not functioning successfully?

It has come to my attention that the year 2006 was the last time for the IGCSE and HIGCSE exams to be written in Namibia and students will take Namibia Senior Secondary Certificate (NSSC). The links with CIE will be maintained to ensure the maintenance of standards and international recognition of the new transitional system. Do the "manufacturers and vendors" want to retreat leaving their boat sinking or what?

There are frustrating shortcomings, hiccups, fallacies and confusion in/with our education system. The supposed-to-be pedagogical messages from the educational stakeholders are in a state of confusion.

- On January 2007, speaking at 16th Conference of Commonwealth Education in Cape Town, Ann Puntis, Chief Executive of Cambridge International Examinations (CIE) reportedly praised the Namibian Ministry of Education for transforming its education system in relatively a short time since independence, amid criticism that the system has created a time bomb in the country. Apparently, Namibia managed to "successfully" transform its education system and will take full control from January (2008). There would be a new examination developed, taught and marked by Namibian teachers and examiners, and would be based on CIE's International General Certificate of Education (IGCE).

Can these guys be serious when talking? How will the transformation be successful on short notice if the whole system has not gained roots since independence? The Grade 10 exams are marked in Windhoek but, still, each year around 15 000 pupils, in Grade 10 alone, fail to make the grade and only an estimated 2 000 return after part-time studies. What miracle would be used now to transform the 16-year education system in the shortest time?

- During the opening of the Cabinet meeting of 2007, the President of Namibia, Hifikepunye Lukas Pohamba, was able to commend the placing of learners in schools this year. In the same breath, the Head of State called last year's 50 per cent pass rate of grades 10 and 12 as "disappointing, poor and an embarrassing statistic we cannot afford such a poor performance, but must act swiftly to arrest this disturbing trend immediately and aim for a pass rate of at least 90 per cent in the coming years".

If Pohamba can see it, why not others? Pohamba further called for ideas to improve the pass rate and announced that the education ministry would now develop an entrepreneurial orientation course starting at Grade 10. We must remember that in 2005 President Pohamba also called for the Grade 10 dropouts to be allowed to repeat. This has since landed on deaf ears.

- In January 2007, Namibia National Student's Organization (NANSO) has also expressed disappointment over last year's (2006) Junior Secondary Certificate results. Nanso's Secretary General, Neville Andre, stated that the student organization could not be proud of a below 50 per cent pass rate "unless the system has been designed deliberately to produce a mass exodus of unskilled young labour amounting to nothing less than exploitation in the end".

This reminds me of the Bantu Education System which was accused of being designed to provide less skills and knowledge to blacks but there was no dumping of children "into the street" like today. Many of the productive members of this society, including myself, are the pure products of the Bantu System. Now, Cambridge is doing it to the worst by short-living the future leaders of this country. It is really a notorious if not genocidal approach. Nanso further sees a dire need for re-evaluation of the current education system, which far too long has been getting the biggest chunk of government's budget allocation annually.

The money seems to be inserted in a jackpot. It continues to advise the MED to convene a national consultative conference in order to come up with solutions for the poor results of Grade 10 and 12. And not DNEA, CIE or NIED "doing things" for the people of Namibia!

- Then, Namibian National Teachers' Union (NANTU) has reportedly applauded the MED for the initiative to implement pre-primary education as part of the school curriculum as it will serve as a solid foundation for the future prospect of the country as envisaged in vision 2030. It is painfully regrettable that NANTU does not view the re-introduction of early education, which the very same Ministry ignorantly phased out in 1994 for reasons to be known later, as a pointer that the system has been failing.

When did the politicians realize that primary education is a "solid foundation"? NANTU"S Khomas Regional Chairperson, Herald Binda, continued to express satisfaction with last year's grade 10 and 12 results as an indicator of improved performance in comparison to 2006. What a derogatory and trashy utterance? If Binda is a shareholder or a beneficiary of NAMCOL in one way or another, then I would understand his reasons for blundering. This honestly equals to extinguishing fire with fuel.

- On the other hand, NANTU's Secretary General, Basilius Haingura, reportedly argued in February this year that the mere "localization" of the education system was not enough if the country wanted to live up to the ideals of vision 2030. He raised a concern about 25 000 Grade 12 and 15 000 Grade 10 pupils who got dumped every year by the system. "Namibia has its needs and it is high time that the education planners start addressing these needs and stop fantasizing about the successes of foreign systems," demanded Haingura. NANTU also wants 100 per cent pass rate. One is then extremely confused by the double-talk within NANTU. What Khomas Region says is not the position of NANTU as an organization. Which is which? These are the types of leaders who have continued to betray the Namibian people.

- The UN is also, reportedly, not happy with Namibia's school pregnancy policy which has made it compulsory for teenage mothers to stay home for a year after giving birth. The UN Special Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women told the Namibian delegation led by Child Welfare Minister, Marlene Mungunda, to stop keeping the girls out of school as it discourages them from continuing their education. It is also concerned about the high dropout rate of girls and therefore recommended Government to implement measures and monitor the impact. Our competent court has equally and similarly pronounced itself on that. Who is not concerned about the crisis education of this country then? The system initiators, planners, implementers or beneficiaries than the affected people?

Our Government deals itself blows. I recall in 2006 when an ill decided and poorly thought out retrenchment of hundreds of teachers was put into practice. They were expelled because the institution they were studying with, Azaliah College (South Africa) was not the "right one". Although the campaign for enrolment was spearheaded by, among others, circuit inspectors of education while the back-pays were remunerated to teachers who successfully completed their certificates 1 and 2, it was regrettably thrown out of the way by the end of 2000.

One of the main reasons being that the subjects studied were not all in the Namibian Qualification Authority's (NQA) requirements. Some subjects were: General Science, Computer Literacy or Technology etc. Just a few months passed, by 2002 all retrenched teachers were re-called, re-employed by the Ministry and got a special enrolment with the University of Namibia's Basic Education Teacher's Diploma (BETD). Many of the subjects they had passed through Azaliah College were exempted. I have only come to realize now that the BETD is an in-service training course for the Cambridge Education System. Anything done without passion is not much worth doing! "The referee is always right, even when he is not," once said Vince Grella, an Australian midfielder.

It is always said that "history repeats itself" if not properly dealt with. By the end of 2006, NANTU President, Simeon Kavila, raised an alarming concern that 2 165 teachers are to be axed from the teaching profession if they have not upgraded their qualifications by the end of 2007. Primary school teachers need to have a three-year diploma while secondary school educands require a four-year degree as agreed in 1999 with NANTU. The concerned teachers have been in the system for 15 years and what happened to the in-service training (BETD), no one knows. As an emergency measure, there appears to have emerged a "basket" to collect them. The hopeless teachers have now been invited to join the Institute of Open Learning (IOL). Where it came from and how/when it was accredited, are queries to be answered.

The recent international research made in the sub-Saharan region has revealed that 80 per cent of all children have access to primary school education, about 60% of grade 6 learners cannot read with full comprehension.

"It may not be a problem with learners alone, but their teachers, the curriculum and teaching methods or the way in which teaching methods or the way in which teaching and learning are handled in the classroom and on school level. To solve this pressing problem requires concerted efforts by all stakeholders involved in education," said Nangolo Mbumba, Minster of Education. Mbumba further claimed that one of the reasons that cause inability to read can be attributed to "fears of the size of a book". If the good minister does not know what is going on in his Ministry, then, what on earth is going on with education? What initiations has the Minister made?

It is likely that some ministers are mostly failing to plan or planning to fail. Is the nation's hope dashed? The United Nations Millennium Declaration, 2000: The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in Africa's Goal Two envisages to achieve a universal primary education. Its target is to "ensure that, by 2015, children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling.

The caution is: failure to meet the education target will reduce the chances of reaching other MDGs because basic education is key to unlocking positive externalities and synergies. Basic education empowers children, especially girls, and enhances their confidence.

An educated mother is likely to marry later, space her pregnancies better, and seek medical care for her child and herself when needed. Health investments are also more efficient when people are better educated, in large part due to the adoption of good hygienic behaviour. We will never reach anything about Vision 2030 in this manner!

"The Namibian Constitution (NC) is not strictly adhered to. Article 20 (1) (2) (3): Education, states that, "All persons shall have the right to education." Through public participation in freedom of expression, the indications are that the current education system is reducing the citizens' "right to education".

"Primary education shall be compulsory and the State shall provide reasonable facilities to render effective this right to every resident within Namibia, by establishing and maintaining State schools at which primary education will be provided free of charge," says the law. "Free of charge" means there is no financial liability/obligation against a person enrolling in public schools. What we are doing today is opposite. One wishes to congratulate an African state, Uganda, for recently introducing a real free education system in that country!

"Children shall not be allowed to leave school until they have completed their primary education or have attained the age of sixteen (16) years, whichever is sooner, save in so far as this may be authorized by Act of Parliament on grounds of health or other consideration pertaining to the public interest," emphasized the law.

According to MED's interpretation, its Personnel Relations, Toivo Mvula, said on NBC Radio, "The (Namibian) Constitution says we have to provide education to learners who are younger than 17 years old." Oh, my God! "Not ignorance, but ignorance of ignorance, is death of knowledge," Alfred North Whitehead, mathematician and philosopher (1861-1947). Children are now forced to leave school by being prevented to repeat. NAMCOL is not a justifiable alternative. The law envisaged an Act of Parliament on the possibility of leaving the primary school before completion. Where is that act in this country?

The Government's attempt to ignore, misinterpret or violate the Constitution will lead to many problems. There are faulty instructions, contradictory policies, misplaced procedures and rules, being made in the name of education by people who are politically correct.

- Technology in the classroom: The things started to fall apart when the cell-phone pornographic images came to haunt a public school. This was caused by the discriminatory approach of trying to satisfy and favour those learners from the rich families. The Ministry has a policy of school uniform for the purpose of keeping the learners at the same level of appearance. Or can we also allow them to wear casual? Next time some learners from the well-off families will come with the laptops and the Mercedes Benzes. Will we start banning the spoils? That will seriously be viewed as a chaotic situation in State schools. Parents (at home and school) have a responsibility to ensure the protection of the children against any form of exploitation; politically, socially, civilly, culturally or economically.

Many adolescents have difficulty to steer themselves into the right direction, they have to cope with so many changes in their bodies and minds which can only confuse them. Some of the children's rights, like to having a cell-phone or possession of other unnecessary, luxurious items at school, can be restricted in their own interest as in a democratic society.

- An automatic promotion: Learners who were not able to master the subject lessons of the two-year school calendar are abruptly transferred to the next grade. A gap between the rural and urban areas when it comes to the provision of advanced, educational facilities, has also contributed to the system's failure. In rural schools, there is a lack of better qualified teachers, infrastructure improvements and adequate living conditions for teachers and a stress-free environment. Teachers are acting as sources of information for the learners while presenting their classes under trees. Teachers are forced to "redouble their efforts and maintain a sound professional standard" while their performance is not rewarded.

They will soon have the extension of working hours from 08h00 to 16h00 but making changes without knowing where the problem will lead to poor quality of the labour force, a large semi-educated populace and a high rate of unemployment. In the end, many of those learners who were claimed to be promoted are not all eligible to qualify for further studies. They have not obtained a minimum of 23 points. It is a ludicrous system that holds little or no benefit for its subjects. It has become worthless and out of reach. Is this the same system being applied in Britain. But I am told they have one with "O and A" levels. Why are we not having the levels here? Are we (blacks) still viewed as having "a low ego"?

- Non-promotional subjects are the abused opportunities during the teaching-learning environment, if the aim of education is to develop a child as a whole depending on his/her uniqueness.

That means we must not expect our children to perform at the miraculous same pace. That is inherently natural. We then need to commit ourselves to assisting the learners in acquiring the relevant knowledge and skills.

One of the vigorous steps is to reconsider the subjects that have been labeled as "non-promotion subjects", to be taught seriously and assessed properly. Our education system has disregarded the importance of Religious Education, Physical Education, Arts, Life Skills and or Basic Information Science. Do they not have an impact in the Namibian child's learning processes?

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