New Era (Windhoek)

27 March 2009

Namibia: Education Policy Process in a Society in Transition

opinion

THIS article is written to lay the background for a coming opinion piece that would be entitled: 'Was the 2008 repetition of all 2007 Grade 10 failures a right or wrong decision?'

The writing on the subject is prompted by a November 22, 2008 verbal confirmation of a rumour by the Onathinge Inspector of Education (IoE). A rumour that we haven't seen [come true] in 2009, that 2008 Grade 10 first-time failures would be repeating the grade in 2009. The confirmation was made in the presence of the new Oshikoto Education Director. When the confirmation was made, I looked at the faces of the principals present and hardly before the IoE ended the message one of the principals fumed with rage and said, "Before those decisions are made they must talk to us [principals]." As an education policy scholar, I perceived and deduced that the colleague's utterance had its genesis, and thus rooted, in the manner in which the Ministry of Education (MoE) policies are crafted.

Having stated the above, this article examines and presents insights on some aspects of any policy process.

Among other aspects, it envelops a comparative presentation of the development of education policies during the early years of the attainment of independence and the last two to five years, including 2008. The implications of the later policy education development are drawn.

Insights into Policy Process

The critical/conflict approach to policy process discerns that policy process is a very complex exercise. The complexity of the policy process is attributed to the presence of the multiple stakeholders in the policy process (Cloete, Schleman & van Vuuren 1991:25, Taylor, Rivzi, Lingard & Henry 1997:25). The authors observe and agree that stakeholders, preferably termed as policy actors, do not all have the same power (authority) in the policy process. In other words, policy actors do not operate on equal footing in the policy process. The unequal operation in the policy process is attributed to the fact that some policy actors wield imputed powers (being in authority) while others wield knowledge and expertise (being an authority) over aspects that constitute the core and focus of the policy. Given such inequality of powers in the policy process, the question that arises is that who speaks, who hears and who is heard in the policy process.

Furthermore, it is observed that policy actors have different interests, values and hidden agenda in the policy process. Given such differences in interests, values and hidden agendas policy actors become competitors in the policy process. Observably, it is mostly those who are in authority that are more forceful in the policy process. Given such positions of being in authority such policy actors' values, interests and hidden agendas have more accommodation in the policy process than any other policy actors.

Comparative Presentation of Education Policy Development

The years 1990 to 1995 were characterised by an epidemic of educational policies. Among such noticeable policy working papers are the National Integrated Education System for an Emergent Namibia: Draft proposal for Education Reform and Renewal (1990), Change with Continuity: Nurturing our Future (July 1990), Change with Continuity: Education Reform Directive (November 1990), Pedagogy in Transition: The Imperatives of Educational Development (May 1991), Education and Culture in Namibia: The Way Forward to 1996 (November 1991) and Towards Education for All (1992) a policy document commonly called as Right Honorable Nahas Angula's speech.

Comparatively, another epidemic, if not an avalanche, of education policies have been witnessed in the past few years. These policies have been in the form of formal education circulars, programmes such as the National Standards and Performance Indicators for Schools in Namibia, the Education and Training Sector Improvement Programme (ETSIP) and many others.

A commonality that exists between the earlier set of policies and the later ones is that they are mostly, if not all, education reform programmes or policies. However, a distinct difference emerges when it comes to their developments. Harlech-Jones (1992:1) observes the ensuing on the development of the earlier programmes that "one of the main instruments selected by the ministry to effect democratic participation by stakeholders has been the dissemination of a number of working papers on the education reform, which formed the basis for discussions and commentaries at the regional level." Harlech-Jones further states that the "the frequency of appearance of these working papers during the first years of independency testifies the degree of transparency with which the ministry has gone about its business of education reform".

Given Harlech-Jones (1992:1) observation I got convinced that 1990 marked a turning point in our education system in terms of policy formulation, especially the participation of stakeholders. My conviction was that the culture of open debate and consultation by stakeholders in an independent Namibia was no longer alien, as was the case during the colonial dispensation (Lukubwe 2006:2). Despite the urgency to fast effect education reform the earlier policies were heavily debated prior to their implementation.

Despite the fact that the later policies are also reform policies it is the limited, if not the absence of, open debate and consultation during their formulation that is questionable. To be succinct it is the limited, if not the absence of, participation of the majority of the educational stakeholders that the colleague principal voiced during the meeting. What we see as educators (mainly teachers and principals) are circulars and programmes landing on our tables. It is true that as MoE employees we are at the mercy and discretion of our employer(s) to use us to realise the intended goals of the MoE. It is also equally true that there is a general feeling among teachers and principals that teachers and principals have no ownership over the MoE policies.

Teachers and principals are not accorded the opportunity to contribute to policies that affect them.

The readers may argue that teachers are represented in policy formulation by teachers' trade unions. It may be true of such representation. On the contrary, my observations and deductions from my 2006 Master of Education research findings are that teachers' trade unions lack the capacity and the expertise to meaningfully influence the MoE policy process (Lukubwe 2006:102). In addition to the lack of capacity and expertise, there is a lack of consultation between the union base and leadership on policy matters.

Furthermore, the fact that all teachers' trade unions are political party wings, raises reservations and questions as to whether these unions were formed to serve educators or were formed to be ladders to political office elevations.

Policy Development Implications

Given that the culture of open debate over education policies is noticeably absent, the principle and value of democratic participation is being trodden. Teachers who make up the greatest employment force in the MoE remain wondering as to what is at practice. The fact that some of the policies sound foreign, incomprehensible and way beyond the resources available to implement them, teachers and principals will resort to policy adaptations and not policy adoptions.

Policy adaptations are manipulative acts, whereby policy implementers twist or change aspects of policy under implementation to fit their needs and capabilities. Such acts constitute an ultra vires action. The results of such acts are non-uniformity of policy implementation and the production of different and unintended outcomes across the 13 education regions.

Way Forward

At no time in our transitional period or education reform did we need to debate over educational reform programmes as at present. We need to rearticulate and re-contextualise our educational policies to reflect the voices of the masses. Concerns over education policies are not only limited to their developments but encompasses the modalities of the policy implementation preparatory such as the cascading training modes that precede policy implementation. Further concerns include unequal access to resources in the implementation of such policies. Due to unequal access to government resources teachers and principals use their resources and private properties in the performance of work directly associated with MoE policies.

Based on Harlech-Jones observation and the time that has passed since the commendable stakeholders' participation in the development of education policies up to the regional level, one would have seen an expansion of breadth of policy participation to include all teachers' trade unions, the entire teaching fraternity and parents. Inclusive policy participatory models, based on bottom up approach to policy process, are to be developed and applied in the education system. Such inclusive participatory model enriches policy process by adding value to the policy process in terms of soliciting inputs from all the stakeholders as one of the ways of informing our educational policy process.

It is my conviction, as an education policy scholar, that the successful implementation of our education policies will hinge on the mass participation in their development as well as the capacity, in terms of the expertise of those that are entrusted with the whole education policy process responsibilities.

Conclusion

Education transitional periods, all over the world, have been characterised by an epidemic of education policies and Namibia has not been an exception. Observably, when Namibia attained independence initial education reform policy developments were characterised by most, if not all, stakeholders' participation in their development. Instead of seeing a broader stakeholders' participation in later policies, a narrower participation of stakeholders is what is observable. The ideals and values of democratic participation in policy process are notions that only exist on lips and not in practice.

About the author

The author is an education management practitioner at Sanjo Senior Secondary School in the Caprivi Region.

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