24 January 2014

Namibia: Destination - Mediocrity


ONCE upon a time in Namibia, before and after independence, the rich (in Western terms the classification is middle-class) did not think twice about sending their children to government schools or seek treatment at state hospitals. It was the norm.

In making a sweeping statement like this, it is fair to remind ourselves that there is always a caveat to many a situation. In this instance, apartheid reigned supreme up to independence. Blacks had no choice and were forced to make do with what their oppressors gave them. So-called coloureds and whites will attest that there was a high degree of confidence in government institutions to provide those very basic of services.

Let's not get side-tracked by the colour issue, though, because even up to five or 10 years after Namibia became independent in 1990 confidence remained.

Today, even so-called lower middle-class parents will instinctively scrape the bottom of their eshisha [a grain storage] to send their children to private schools or to buy medical insurance in order to avoid being treated at a state hospital or clinic. Sadly, some of the private institutions are not even at a standard superior to those of government, but confidence is a very expensive commodity.

More tellingly, no government minister would willingly insist on putting their children through Namibia's state schools from grade zero to university. None, and this is a bet we can comfortably entertain, would agree to being treated mainly (if at all) by government doctors and solely at state hospitals and clinics.

It is thus plain and simple: if people who are presiding over institutions have no trust in them, why would anyone else? How did it come to this? Can the situation be saved?

Let's answer the questions back-to-front - the situation can be saved from the moment our leaders start putting themselves at the front of the queues at state hospitals, schools and other critical services, just as they enjoy being the first to line up to register and to vote.

But that they will not do, will they? In many instances, they are still taking decisions that continue to destroy the little trust that even the poor had in state institutions. In fact, state facilities in those critical areas would be empty if every Namibian had the means to pay for what they want.

Nothing will improve, for instance, if Minister of Education David Namwandi, as he did over the past couple of weeks, calls on parents to take a share of responsibility in the education of their children, but days later prohibits schools from asking the parents to augment the government's provision of free education with stationery and other materials.

By insisting that all schools make do with what the state budgeted for them, the government might achieve a "level playing field" but that field will be mediocre. All state schools will thus be at their weakest compared to private and church schools in the country and definitely when compared to most of the world.

The revelation that Namibian medical specialists are worried about the quality of students at the University of Namibia's School of Medicine should concern every citizen, including those who want to stream-roll the mass production of doctors in the shortest time possible. Of what use is it to come up with many local products who will simply further reduce the quality of care?

Can our government leaders and the trainers, who insist teaching the medical students in such half-baked conditions, declare themselves ready to be treated by the graduates when they join the free-market? Already, we are told that even the hospitals where the students are to do their internships are not up to a level to be able to be considered teaching institutions. This is in addition to students themselves complaining that they were given points for courses they did not study. Who are Unam's leaders using as a benchmark for the medical school? What happened to talk that the University of Stellenbosch with their medical campus of Tygerberg in Cape Town would be the Unam partner institution?

At this rate we are not only destroying the confidence of the public in state institutions, but soon that of the would-be professionals.

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