By Petronella Sibeene WINDHOEK THE year 2005 has witnessed a lot of changes and as change takes shape, the education system has similarly experienced some adjustments. Reviewing the educational programmes for the year that ends in a week’s time, Minister of Education Nangolo Mbumba in an interview with New Era described the year as challenging in a lot of ways. During the Cabinet reshuffle early this year, the ministries of Basic Education, Sports and Culture and Higher Education were merged. According to the Education Minister, “the merging of the two ministries has been a challenging task”. Though he did not go into detail, Mbumba said the fact that the two ministries once existed independently and each had its own objectives and culture, amalgamating them with one goal was a challenge. However, he said, “we have overcome this challenge and we have learnt to work together”. In addition, this year saw a countrywide demonstration by teachers pressing for better conditions. Mbumba described the demonstration as the biggest challenge. Despite this major problem, both the Government and the Namibia National Teachers’ Union came up with a formula that turned these hassles into one of the biggest successes in the sector. “It was the biggest challenge but cool heads prevailed. Learners could still write their examinations,” he explained. The ambitious target of Vision 2030 that entails the country should become or rather join the ranks of the high-income countries implies rapid growth. To achieve this, the education system in the country should thus produce knowledgeable people. In light of that, the Ministry of Education this year subjected itself to the completion of the Education and Training Sector Improvement Programme (ETSIP) document in the form of a 15-year strategic plan. This programme approved by Cabinet in February this year looks at possible improvements to be made at different levels of the educational sector. Looking at early childhood education in the country, there is still a need to strengthen programmes directed towards improving the existing number of pre-schools. Recognising the impact that early childhood development has on the subsequent performance of children in the basic education programmes, Mbumba emphasised the need for communities to start their own pre-schools. “As children, they must be able to scribble their names no matter how bad it might look, it’s the start.” Though the country faces financial constraints, the minister is of the view that the Government would strive to provide early childhood education. However, the situation could be improved if communities would engage in initiatives directed towards building more pre-schools and the ministry is prepared to provide training for teachers. For children who might fall under the category of Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVCs), the Ministry of Education in collaboration with the Ministry of Gender and Child Welfare would cater for their educational wellbeing. The ETSIP document shows that if additional financial resources were mobilized, the responsibility for pre-primary education would move from the Ministry of Gender and Child Welfare to the Ministry of Education in 2006 where currently no structures of staff exist to support it. As a matter of priority, staff members would have to be allocated centrally and regionally. Appropriate structures and policies would also have to be developed. Primary education has been expanded to all the 13 regions of the country. Despite that, the quality in terms of management and teacher commitment on the future of their learners remains a challenge. The current educational system in general is inadequate to effectively support development goals. Most children leave school without the foundation skills and competencies they ought to have acquired. Given that situation, Mbumba calls on community leaders, businesses and other relevant stakeholders to support primary education. “Once efforts are concerted, the results will be positive. We have to improve primary education everywhere,” says the minister. When one looks at secondary education, inadequate output at secondary schools and the shortage of skilled labour are some of the most significant factors affecting economic growth. By nature, secondary education is not an easy level, as subjects get tough and demand that learners reposition themselves and get prepared to get to higher institutions. According to the ETSIP document, general education has failed to provide the quality and quantity of output required to provide a base for higher-level human capital development especially at the senior secondary level. This situation, according to the minister, would only be tackled if secondary quality of education is improved and learners are prepared for university education. At present, Mbumba says the first year at the university is spent teaching basic subjects such as English. This orientation should be done away with and it should start with the improvement of education in high schools. Mbumba believes that learners must also be exposed outside the classrooms. The University of Namibia (Unam) together with the Polytechnic of Namibia should consider branching out and liaising with other universities to enable Namibian students to go for further studies. He emphasized: “we will market, equip schools, add libraries, stock them with proper books, laboratories and through this way we will help high institutions to get ripe people.” Namibia as a country has been engaged in different negotiations with other countries. As such, there is need to have quality human resources who will understand the language and be able to check figures when engaged in negotiations. A round table meeting that would involve the Government, parastatals, international foundations and other developmental partners is planned for March 2006. The meeting would focus on financial mobilization to enable the smooth running of planned programmes. Considering that vocational training has potential to contribute to economic growth through direct link to labour productivity, the Government through the Ministry of Education has been engaged in negotiations with the government of Cuba and China to get instructors who would train Namibians in projects such as the Green Scheme. “You can train grade 10 learners in plumbing, electric engineering, etc. We do not have to look like we do not have people, we need people who can work as a team, being able to create and maintain our own infrastructure, importing people to come and build is not always good. Our people should take responsibility,” said the minister. In as much as the Government is working hard to ensure Namibian education is up to standard, Mbumba says learners should realise that when they are sent to school, it is not for play. “Life is no child’s play,” he emphasised. Sending a message of encouragement to learners, the Education Minister stated that as youths, they must enjoy their days but at the same time, there is a great need to take education seriously in order for them to be useful people in society in the future. The minister also thanked teachers countrywide and their unions for the great achievement involving negotiations over working conditions, adding that the good relationship that exists between the union and the Government should prevail.
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