‘Education fails the nation’

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By Frederick Philander WINDHOEK Persistent multiple flaws and inherent weaknesses in the country’s school system cause tertiary institutions to bend over backwards to accommodate the mostly academically ill-prepared students before they go into the job market. These are the views of two leading academics – Dr Tjama Tjivikua, Rector of the Polytechnic of Namibia (PON) and Professor Lazarus Hangula, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Namibia (Unam). Both academics were separately interviewed on this very controversial issue that holds grave consequences for the future of the country. “The education system is failing the country due to many shortcomings ranging from a lack of proper infrastructure, discipline, management, work ethics and quality teaching consistency in most Namibian schools. This status quo will persist indefinitely unless a strong culture of greater inspiration and aspiration is inculcated within the system itself. Right now the education system is considered a big joke because of the many shortcomings,” Tjivikua said. According to Prof Han-gula, Namibia possesses an education system that can be characterised as one in transition. “The education situation is really problematic after 15 years of experimenting with it. We are still struggling with under and over-resourced schools. This is still apparent and reflected in the kind of students we at Unam annually admit from rural and urban areas. An “A” symbol of a rural learner compared to the same symbol of an urban learner may not have the same value due to backlogs in various fields of the education system,” Hangula stated. According to Tjivikua, it takes his institution up to six months per year to prepare the approximately 5 000 students coming through the school system to bridge the academic backlog and disciplinary divide between secondary school and tertiary training. “These remedial actions cost money and are time consuming because, let’s face it, the majority of Namibian secondary school learners are ill-disciplined and don’t have the faintest idea of how to study. Many of them act more like hoodlums instead of scholars because of weak discipline at school level, one of the most serious weaknesses in the school system,” Tjivikua charged. Professor Hangula told New Era that his institution makes full use of its language centre to assist students with the problem of English as a medium of instruction. “The BETD teachers training programme of the government instituted at Unam has so far paid dividends in the sense that teachers have improved their qualifications as well as teaching skills. This is but one effort, a drop in the ocean, to help improve the quality of education in the country. Much more needs to be done to bridge the two cultures of education, learning at school level and studying at university level,” Hangula asserted. Tjivikua went on to cite under-preparedness, the gross neglect of teaching basic learning skills by teachers, the absence of critical and independent thinking by learners, a no-reading culture in the society, laziness and irresponsibility, as some of the biggest drawbacks in preparing learners for higher education. “The foundation for further study is just not properly created by the education system. With such fundamental backlogs, how in the world can anyone expect tertiary institutions to ultimately produce knowledgeable, skilled, globally competent and employable study products that will be able to operate in a multi-cultural environment such as Namibia?” Tjivikua asked. The education problem in his opinion is further exacerbated by a huge backlog in infrastructure and properly qualified teachers. “It is true that since Independence, we have had much more learners attending schools, but within the same number of school buildings. Learner numbers increased, but schools remained the same number resulting in bigger class ratios, making education difficult and complicated for the masses. The mismatch is further complicated by the use of English as a medium of instruction among learners and teachers,” he said. By Hangula’s own admission, the University of Namibia has adjusted the rules and criteria to accommodate some of the weaker students coming through the education system of the country. “The education system weaknesses are really connected to the many societal problems. Everyone and not the government alone needs to get involved in solving these persisting educational problems. Unam is ready to contribute assistance towards solving such problems in a pragmatic way and manner,” Hangula said. Tjivikua contended that more funding should be made available to the education system if it is to be improved. “Expertise and skills from outside should be a high priority, especially the employment of qualified English teachers. That is what the system needs right now. However, there exists a phobia among Namibians against outsiders applying for teaching posts. We daily lose important educational skills to the private sector, too, professors in particular. The quality of education suffers tremendously because of these factors. A new approach, thinking and infusion of resources are needed if we want to save the deteriorating situation, ” Tjivikua suggested. Challenges facing the education system, according to Tjivikua, are the growing population, the increasing demand for education, performance abilities of learners, affordability and costs of education, infrastructure, education delivery and employability.