Teachers Find the Going Tough

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By Wezi Tjaronda WINDHOEK TEACHING they say is a noble profession. And because of this, teachers are amongst the few very respected members of any community. Different tribes have different words for teachers such as Mitiri in Otjiherero, Omlongi in Oshiwambo, Mwalimu in Kiswahili and Mfundisi in Zulu. Once a teacher, this name never leaves you. What is happening nowadays has however left teachers feeling that they are regarded as second-class citizens and failures. Part of this label has come from critics who say that the education system is failing, and part of the blame is apportioned to teachers, who are responsible for teaching. While this is the case, Namibian teachers face their own challenges, which if not addressed will lead to serious problems. These are lack of accommodation especially in rural areas, lack of incentives to attract qualified teachers in rural schools, inadequate teaching material in schools, salary discrepancies and professional development of teachers. Most teachers, who are posted to rural areas that are not their homes, usually struggle to get accommodation, a situation, which is so serious that it demotivates teachers to do their work properly. Teachers and their unions agree that this is a serious problem, which could also affect the quality of education that teachers impart to their learners. A classic example is a teacher from the Caprivi region who was posted to a school in some remote area in the north. “Knowing nobody and not understanding the language, this teacher had to stay in a classroom until he/she could find a house,” said Secretary General of the Namibia national Teachers’ Union (NANTU), Miriam Hamutenya. “Since it was school time, the teacher had to wake up very early to clear beddings and cooking utensils to prepare the classroom for lessons,” she added. While this may be one of the worst cases of what teachers face due to lack of accommodation, many others live in squalid conditions. A teacher at a school in Opuwo told New Era recently that the situation was bad. The school, which is 60 km out of Opuwo, has no electricity, no proper water structures, inadequate resource materials and little accommodation for the teachers. The four teachers at that particular school have two houses at their disposal, which they have to share. The teacher, who was transferred to that school this year, refused to be named because he is still on probation. Teachers at the school have to use candles to prepare for their lessons, they have to walk some kilometres to fetch water for their daily use, which the teacher said, “Was not conducive to teaching.” Although the school does not have many learners, the instructional material is not enough as one text book is shared among five learners. Due to situations such as these, many teachers dig deep into their pockets to make photocopies of textbooks for their learners. Coupled with this is a lack of incentives for qualified teachers to remain in the rural areas of the country. Hamutenya said the union wants the Government to reinstate a package, which used to act as an incentive for teachers to go to rural schools. She contends that learners in rural schools need much more attention as most of their parents are not well educated to be able to assist their children with their school work. It is common knowledge in rural areas that most parents can neither read nor write. Another problem that teachers face is a lack of professional development to upgrade themselves in order to face the changing times because of lack of opportunities for them to do so. NANTU says that although teachers should now and then upgrade themselves to improve the way they do things, most of the service providers in this regard are not recognised, which has left teachers who underwent upgrading courses in limbo. “It is high time that we encourage teachers to learn and improve the way they do things because as times change, we need to fill that gap,” she said. While every change is usually for the better, NANTU feels that the change of the education system at independence was done too quickly as it did not prepare the teachers for what was to come. One of the aspects that the change brought was that the medium of instruction changed from Afrikaans to English. “Most teachers still find it difficult to teach in English as they were trained in Afrikaans,” Hamutenya said, adding that consequently, many learners are not conversant in English, which means that more teachers need to attend English Proficiency lessons, which are not available in rural areas. While most of these concerns need to be addressed by relevant authorities, teachers have to do their part. Commentators say lack of seriousness with their work has also led to a situation where teachers have lost the respect accorded to them. They say teachers abuse alcohol and drink with their learners, a thing that was unheard of in the past. Teachers, they also say, impregnate learners and sometimes absent themselves from school for no proper reason. Others, like Hamutenya, feel that teachers will regain their respect if officials that are charged with teachers’ issues desist from saying things that seem detrimental to the status of the teachers. Hamutenya recalls a time when teachers were said to have “diploma and degree diseases.” Be that as it may, the problems that teachers face, says the Opuwo teacher , should be addressed to make their working environment conducive. “If teachers are not happy, it contributes negatively to the performance of their learners because if they have to prepare using candles and have to walk long distances to draw water, they will not put in 100 percent of their time into their work,” said the Opuwo teachers. NANTU adds that well qualified and highly motivated and professional teachers are key to realising quality education for all. And the success of every education reform relies heavily on the professional development of the teacher, which the teachers themselves say is not adequate. Although learners are the product of their teachers, Hamutenya said Namibia has to come to a point where teachers and other professionals are encouraged to advance. But unfortunately like in most African societies, educated people are normally looked at as “sell outs, betrayers”. This, she adds, “discourages learners from being well educated.”