Turning Namibia’s education sector around

On the surface, Namibia’s education sector would appear to be doing just well, with about 19,000 teachers teaching some 550,000 children in 1,550 schools. About 80 per cent of the country’s two million people are literate, and 90 per cent of children of school-going age are enrolled in primary schools.

But scratch below the surface and one discovers there is more than meets the eye to these figures. In fact, critics have been insisting on a complete overhaul of the current education system, which they blame for having failed to produce quality graduates that can compete with the rest of Africa.

Their demands are not far-fetched. The Grade 10 average for the November 2010 examination was a mere 33.8 per cent for fulltime examination takers, and only 50.1 per cent of them managed to achieve grading (A-G) for English.

More than one out of every 10 learners failed to score any grade in Mathematics, and even the best average in the subject was less than 40 per cent. And this is despite the education sector receiving the largest chunk– more than half– of the national budget annually.

The Namibian general education sector follows a 7-3-2 system comprising primary, junior secondary and senior secondary education respectively. For a few children, primary education is preceded by two to three years of pre-primary education. However, early childhood development (ECD) and pre-primary programmes do not form an integral part of public education provision.

It is compulsory to attend ten years of schooling. Namibia’s constitution makes a provision for free, compulsory basic education from Grade 1 to Grade 10 or 16 years of age, whichever comes first.

The country’s learner-centred approach places more emphasis on the ability of the learner to grasp detail as opposed to the erstwhile South African Cape Education System, which placed such responsibility sorely on the shoulders of the teachers.

Apartheid era

A lot of the blame for the current state of affairs in the education system is placed–some say wrongfully– on Namibia’s apartheid era under which most of the country’s black majority suffered at the expense of a white minority.

During this time, the education system in Namibia was essentially focused on the white minority. With independence in 1990, the new Namibian government introduced far-reaching reforms in order to eliminate these disparities.

And there have been plenty of greenshoots of improvement. Compulsory school attendance is up to the age of 16 or up to the end of grade 10. Girls have equal access to the education system. The rate of enrolment has been increased to 95 per cent, and 82 per cent of all learners reach the end of the seven-year primary education cycle.

But this is not yet enough. More schools and classrooms are needed. More teachers have to be signed up in order to meet the increasing number of learners, whereas the percentage of qualified teachers should also be increased. The learner: teacher ratio should ideally be lowered to 30:1.

In 2006, Namibia’s education ministry drafted a holistic and comprehensive strategy for the education sector– the Education and Training Sector Improvement Programme (ETSIP).

As a reform programme for the next 15 years, the ETSIP is about aligning the entire education system towards the needs of the 21st century and Namibia’s Vision 2030.

Such good intentions, however have remained only on paper. In practice, it is all a different story. The curriculum is overloaded with too many subjects and lacks clear standards; there is a shortage of schoolbooks, and the fact that 21 per cent of all schools have no permanent classrooms worsen the situation.

The methods used by teachers to assess pupil performance, and by school principals to assess teacher standards, is another weakness in the Namibian education system, the World Bank noted in a report on the country’s education system, published in 2006.

Failures

Repetition rates for Grades 1 to 9 averaged 16 per cent, while 10 per cent of grade 8 and 9 pupils dropped out of school. At the end of the junior secondary level (Grade 10), as many as 38 per cent of learners “are pushed out of the system, with virtually no opportunities for further education, training or direct employment”, noted the report.

All these could change for the better: the Namibian Government has bowed to pressure from critics and given the green light to the line Ministry of Education to work on new strategies that would revamp the current education system.

Namibian President Hifikepunye Pohamba, in response, shifted his hands-on minister Abraham Iyambo – who made huge progress at the fisheries ministries – to the education portfolio during the last Cabinet reshuffle.

First on the cards is a national conference on the state of education in the country, which is expected to tap into the skills and expertise of various stakeholders in the industry.

Reforms expected to the sector include, amongst others; the elimination of the automatic promotion of learners who had failed the same grade before and the introduction of Mathematics as a permanent and compulsory subject to Grade 12 level. Mr Iyambo has also announced plans to re-introduce technical subjects into the school curriculum by the year 2013, as alternatives to average performing learners.

While many would be resting their hopes on the national education sector conference slated for June 27 to July 1, 2011, others would not necessarily share the same enthusiasm; they have seen similar conventions come and go with little or no significant changes.

It however still provides a glimmer of hope to thousands of citizens rooting for a drastic reform to the sector.

Source – Africa Review – by CHARLIE TJATINDI