It is that time of the year again when the education debate reaches its peak. The timing is right because it is the beginning of the school calendar year, which usually coincides with serious problems associated with under performance, poor examination results and a shortage of space for learners. Both sets of problems could be defined in terms of quality and quantity. There is no denying that huge strides have been made in addressing the broader issues of education in the country since independence, some 15 years ago. The number of children who access school each year has risen dramatically. More schools have been built in areas that were formally neglected. In some instances, distances between home and school have been shortened for learners. Teacher and learner ratio has improved. Generally, a lot has been achieved by way of providing logistics but much more needs to be done to enhance the quality of education in the country. The performance of Grade 10 and 12 learners each year somewhat provides a realistic yardstick with which to measure the content of our education system – its quality, effectiveness and relevance to our national development goals. Are we producing literate and competent learners with the necessary skills to contribute to our socio-economic transformation, or simply certificating people in the rush to show results? Year in and year out, the examination results have almost been the same with slight variations and of necessity, the education debate has tended to remain the same. We need to take the debate to other levels. This requires that those responsible for education make the bold move of inviting a thorough education analysis. A national dialogue on education is necessary for the development of intervention strategies that would get us moving instead of being bogged down in a worthless blame game every time the examination results are out. The bureaucrats in the ministry of education and policy makers have to accept that education is a partnership between the various stakeholders, the different communities, teachers, learners and other interest groups. They alone cannot drive the education process especially when it is still reeling from teething problems. This government has set a precedent for consultations as a prerequisite for consensus and nation building. The first Prime Minister Hage Geingob organised a national land conference way back in 1990 to tackle the thorny issue of land reform. The deliberations of that conference formed the basis for the current land reform policy that enjoys nationwide support. Last year, Prime Minister Nahas Angula called together a high level forum consisting of imminent persons and key sectors to deliberate on an employment creation policy. These are just two examples. That is the way to go and the sooner the Ministry of Education does the same, the better. There is so much to talk about vis a vis education. Teachers have a lot to say about why things aren’t going right in some instances. So are the learners and parents. There is a pool of retired educationists and former teachers whose expertise and experience is vital if we are to institute the right corrective measures. Automatic promotion of learners from one class to another is an issue that the public is dissatisfied with. The ministry is also playing Ping Pong on the issue of fees and that is why it keeps surfacing every year. Principals have been instructed not to turn back learners whose parents are poor, but little has been done to define the meaning of poor parents. A holistic view of the system of education, curriculum, learning materials and teacher competencies is what could ultimately take us out of the current morass, hence the need of a national education conference to critically assess the situation and provide for a remedy.
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