Principals’ Honeymoon is Over

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By Frederick Philander WINDHOEK The Ministry of Education is seriously considering appointing school principals on five-year contracts as a matter of urgency to help improve the quality of education in the country. This announcement, expected not to auger very well with teachers, was yesterday disclosed in a wide-ranging interview with New Era by Nangolo Mbumba, Minister of Education, at his office at Government Park. “The time is definitely up for life-time appointments to principals, especially those that have become complacent and whose schools yield weak results whereby the nation constantly has to suffer. It goes beyond any comprehension that some principals shamelessly accept their month-end salary cheques knowing that the whole Grade 10s at their schools have failed,” Mbumba said about the yearly unsatisfactory Grade 10 results in particular. According to Mbumba, education is a cultural, social, psychological and developmental long-term process. “Some Namibians expect education should improve with great leaps and bounds, whereas in reality it is a step by step process with many pitfalls. Understandably, the education system in this country cannot deliver everything all at once. We cannot succeed overnight, as is the case with the country’s economy, health and other sectors. We need to be patient,” Mbumba said in response to a pertinent question on why the quality of education is still below national expectations and has been unsatisfactory over the past 16 years. There has been a general public feeling of dissatisfaction about the quality of those graduating from the education system over the years. “Granted, a whole generation of learners has gone through the education system, but we still experience problems with the quality of our education due to many factors. Yet, the government has over the years done everything possible to rectify the situation. We have decentralised education into the regions, each now having regional directors and circuit inspectors, who control school groupings in basically all the regions of the country. “With all this, we have created enthusiasm for learning in the whole country because constitutionally, every Namibian child now has access to a classroom,” Mbumba said proudly of his government’s educational achievements. He blamed the un-preparedness and high salary demands of educational experts for the problems experienced by the system. “Admittedly, many of our educationalists were not ready to assume their educational responsibilities when the system was implemented. Furthermore the Ministry of Education is obliged to pay high salaries demanded by educationalists, with them uncompromisingly not taking into account the small size of the country’s economy. However, I am confident that we will eventually be able to deliver high quality education,” the minister predicted. On a question that the Ministry of Education puts too much emphasis on quantity by pushing too many learners through school on a yearly basis, resulting in poor outcomes, the minister had the following to say: “In April this year, we will have a two-day national educational roundtable discussion at which we will thoroughly weigh the strengths and weaknesses of the system. An overall improved educational plan will then be submitted for public scrutiny and discussion. All the levels from childhood training methods, primary, secondary and tertiary education will be covered in the discussions.” The biggest problem facing the education sector has been and is still the lack of adequate financial resources. “If we are to properly address the existing imbalances and backlogs between rural and urban schools alone, it will be expected from basically every Namibian citizen to at least contribute N$500 for it to materialise. That’s without the contributions of our development partners. Presently the demands and expectations for better education, exceed what the education system can offer,” he moralised. On teacher and public suggestions and intimations that the present education system be combined with the previous system for better results and greater effectiveness, Mbumba said: “We cannot jump from one educational system to another. We need to improve the existing one to reap the maximum benefits for the nation. This should be a priority to all of us.” The minister further announced that more than 2 000 Grade 11s, particularly in the North, are still without classroom accommodation. “Next week, we will make a final assessment of our accommodation needs and will then decide what next steps should be taken to accommodate those Grade 10s that have passed and are eligible to attend government schools. This year my ministry will make sure that infrastructure enjoys much more attention in the allocation of the budget,” Mbumba said.