3 April 2013

Namibia: Education Remains Top Priority

With the country allocating the largest chunk of the national budget to the Ministry of Education the returns from the education sector seem not to match the massive investment over the years.

A week ago, the Minister of Education Dr David Namwandi openly admitted that since independence billions of dollars have been pumped into the Ministry of Education, but there have not been tangible corresponding results in the performance of grades 10 and 12 learners. New Era spoke to various educationalists and stakeholders on the high failure rate countrywide among grades 10 and 12 learners. Defence Minister, Nahas Angula, who also served as the country's first education minister from 1990 until 2004 said it's true that government has prioritised and invested heavily in the education sector but no real tangible results have come out of the effort, adding: "If it was a business it would have been declared bankrupt."

By way of comparison, he said, at independence his budget was only N$600 million and 23 years down the road, in 2013/14 the budget now exceeds N$10 billion. "Yes few things have been achieved, but we have a long way to go before we are satisfied that the investment in education corresponds to the outcomes of education," said Angula. He made reference to the results of the November 2012 Junior Secondary Certificate examinations for full-time Grade 10 learners, where the ranking of regions saw the Oshikoto Region topping the list with 32.2 cumulative percentage points (scoring C or more), followed by the Omusati Region with 28.4 percentage points and the Oshana Region with a passing percentage of 27.2.

These figures, he noted, show serious variations in regional performance and this may have severe social implications in the future, because regions that are under-performing would not be able to send their children to tertiary institutions.

He also cited the three worst performing regions, namely, the Hardap Region with 18.9 cumulative percentage points, followed by the Karas Region with 20.6 percentage points and Otjozondjupa Region, which achieved a mere 19 percentage points.

"All need to improve - if you can have your cumulative percentage increased to 50 percent from 32.2 percent then you know your promotional rate to Grade 11 will be high, but now it is not the case," said the current Minister of Defence. He attributed the high failure rates in public schools to a lack of leadership and commitment by teachers compared to private schools that enforce strict disciplinary measures. "If you look at the top performing schools they are all private. It might be that teachers in private schools spend time teaching and those in government schools just go there for the sake of going to school. They don't spend most of their time in classrooms to help learners, especially the slow ones," said Angula.

To improve these results, Angula advised government schools to make an extra effort such as teaching during school holidays. "If you go to teachers here in Windhoek and say go and supervise, they will ask you, 'Are you going to pay me?' That is why some schools are able to send their children to tertiary institutions and others become mere statistics, meaning failures," he noted. He therefore suggested that the ministry should retrace its steps to the Education and Training Sector Improvement Programme (ETSIP) that aims to align the entire Namibian education system to the country's Vision 2030 initiative and the needs of the Namibian population.

"That report identified a few challenges that should be overcome, such as tasks of time. You divide learning into tasks so every time you go to class, learners must learn new things but it's not happening. School management is another thing that is lacking. Another thing is that all along three learners were sharing a textbook. Can you imagine the type of learning? These are the things that were never properly addressed," he indicated.

Respected former school principal Andrew Matjila in a recent New Era interview said one serious setback the country faced at independence was the short period of transforming qualified teachers from the then Afrikaans language, which was the medium of instruction, to the official English language.

"Teachers who were qualified to teach in medium language Afrikaans had to switch to English in which they couldn't express themselves better and children suffered heavily," said Matjila, also a former minister of education, in the interim government before independence. He opined that the medium of instruction (English) should have been phased in gradually through grades 1 to 12 "and not simply introduced throughout Namibia overnight". In this way, he believes children and teachers could have worked themselves into the new system slowly but surely. "It takes at least 25 years for a new system to succeed," he noted.

He further said one of the biggest challenges in the educational system is the fact that children are pushed through by way of automatic promotion after failing. "Automatic promotion in schools had a psychological impact on their thinking. Children realised that it was no longer important to think critically like it was before independence," he maintained.

Meanwhile, Teachers Union of Namibia (TUN) president, Mahongora Kavihuha, said no education system in the world should be imposed on people if it were to work.

"It should not be foisted on people dictating how they should live, but should contribute to improving their livelihoods. It should not be imposed on people ... but should add value to the operation of people. But our education system has been assuming that we all should wear ties. Government never had interest in adding value to specific life styles, of individuals in their own respect," he remarked.

He further said: "That is why TUN has since day one been advocating for educational reform. For example, agriculture, to what extent has it been given attention. Is our curriculum able to add value to our people?" Kavihuha said agriculture, both crops and livestock, should have been addressed a long time ago from the early stages of pre-education. "Most of our population live in rural areas. So if you teach them agriculture, then you will add value to their lives," said the TUN leader. He also criticised government for focusing on subjects that he said are not aimed at improving citizens' lives in general.

He is however optimistic that as soon government incorporates and makes agriculture compulsory in all schools from what he terms the pre-education, value will be added to people's lives. He also advocated for more vocational technical subjects rather than just focusing on social and science subjects. "We Namibians have a lot of ideas on how to fix the education system. So government should enhance the concept of social dialogue," he said.

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