Absenteeism Threatens Education

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By Wezi Tjaronda WINDHOEK TEACHER absenteeism is one of the biggest threats to the effective delivery of education to learners especially in the six regions of northern Namibia. With an absence rate of 24 percent in the six regions of Caprivi, Kavango, Oshana, Ohangwena, Omusati and Oshikoto, the country’s education system is under threat. A study on teacher absenteeism in Namibia, a USAID/Basic Support Project found that the implications of teachers getting sick and staying away from school lead to the absence of instruction for long stretches, which leads to many learners not successfully completing their schooling. The study entitled “Roll Call on Teacher Absenteeism in Namibia”, which was done by Liman Muhammed and Tuaitiko Shikongo, encompassed 617 schools in the sample population of the six regions. Although teachers stay away from school for a variety of reasons, including official duties, attending funerals, study and maternity leave, the majority are absent from school due to sickness. Compassionate days are used to attend funerals and also to provide care and support in times of family need. Hence, the report notes: “By combining teachers absent due to illness, compassionate and special leave, the data shows that 74 percent of teachers were absent for reasons possibly related to the impact of HIV/AIDS on themselves and their families.” With a national HIV/AIDS prevalence rate of 19.7 percent, Namibia remains one of the countries that are hardest hit by the epidemic. Teacher absenteeism is a worldwide problem, but compared to other countries such as Bangladesh (15 percent), Ecuador (14 percent), Zambia (17 percent) and Uganda (27 percent), Namibia that has an absenteeism rate of 24 percent, has a more serious problem. With this situation at hand, the project says the country has empirical evidence to support the notion that the epidemic is having an effect on classroom instruction in terms of time lost. To avert a situation where learners do not successfully complete school because of absent teachers, the project says with the results of findings: “We can start to develop some strategies in the schools and clusters with the greatest number of days lost to teacher illness that could serve as role models for other circuits and clusters of schools.” Apart from this, the project feels there is need to work with the regions to develop a more systematic and clearer method for tracking teacher absenteeism. The country has a total number of 18 782 teachers distributed across Namibia, of which 64 percent (12 163) makes up the total number of teachers in the six regions covered by the survey. From September to November 2004, a total of 8 460 teachers were absent from the 612 schools. Of these, the majority 3 826 were sick, 2 176 were on vacation, while 1 267 were on compassionate leave and the rest 1 191 had taken special leave. The data collected per region indicates that Oshana Region had the highest number of absent teachers in the three months. The teachers (1 499) were absent for two or more days. Ohangwena Region with 992 teachers absent came second, while Kavango came third with 653 teachers absent for two or more days. From this data, the report says, the number of teachers absent due to sickness results in an unacceptable number of school days lost because if each teacher handles on average 30 periods per week, there will be a total of 344 340 periods lost in classrooms in the six target regions. With no guidelines on teacher absenteeism in place, the project made a number of proposals including training on multi-grade teaching, team planning and team work, applying for volunteers, involving parents in teaching, having enough textbooks and keeping a teacher absenteeism record. These would among others help learners not to lose out due to teacher absenteeism if teachers plan as a team as they would assist each other whenever one is absent. The availability of enough text books would also ensure that learners could be trained to do independent studies using the textbooks as references, while involving parents would ensure that they assist the learners in providing certain parts of the curriculum and guide learners with some projects. Additionally, the report notes that there are many international and local people who would like to work as volunteers. “Depending on the needs, all schools could have volunteer teachers who are fully trained to handle teaching of most subjects in the primary curriculum,” it says.

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