Education Dogged by Bad Planning

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By Surihe Gaomas WINDHOEK Scarce financial resources plus the failure to plan efficiently are among the major factors that have contributed to a weakening of the country’s education system. The Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Education, Vitalis Ankama conceded to this yesterday, saying there is an element of failing to plan on the part of the ministry, but this does not mean that the education system has failed the nation. “There is nothing wrong with the Cambridge system or curriculum, it is rather the endemic problems in society that weaken the system,” Ankama told New Era. These endemic problems range from the growing number of learners who need placements and have to contend with a lack of qualified teachers, to dwindling financial resources. Two days ago, President Hifikepunye Pohamba expressed grave concern over the state of education in the country, where there is a perennial lack of adequate classrooms, hostels and qualified teachers. “It disturbs my mind and leads me to think that we are either planning to fail, or failing to plan. This state of affairs must be brought to an end and must not be repeated in the coming year,” said the President. Pohamba said the views recently expressed by the Vice Chancellor of the University of Namibia Professor Lazarus Hangula and the Rector of the Polytechnic of Namibia Dr Tjama Tjivikua should not be taken lightly. As the accounting officer, Ankama reiterated that the ministry would strive to avoid this kind of situation during the next academic year, by improving its planning and finding ways and means to cater for the huge demand as a result of the massive number of children that need to be accommodated in schools. “It’s an issue of prioritising the allocation of resources and identifying the number of requirements,” said the Education PS. In terms of allocation, New Era was also informed that the bulk of the budget goes towards remuneration, with less being channelled into educational materials for students, particularly in rural schools. Ankama admitted that such a situation merely serves to weaken the children’s chances of achieving better grades at the end of the year. At the same time, the ministry will also look into phasing out unqualified and under-qualified teachers to enrol for the Basic Education Teachers Diploma (BETD) in the near future, while qualified ones are being sourced from a group of Namibians who are studying in Zimbabwe. So far, 70 teachers have completed their courses in Zimbabwe in the fields of Mathematics, Science and Agriculture and another 500 are still studying. However, responding to what the two academics have said, Ankama refused once again to accept that the education system is failing the nation. He contended that the problem was that the two institutions are working as “lone rangers” while being in the same field. He explained that the education structure is not as rosy as it is supposed to be because tertiary institutions have decided to function on their own, without trying to accommodate the ministry’s concerns. “Unam is supposed to train the teachers and the Polytechnic the trainers we need so much. Where are they and what is their role in this? While the grade 1 to 10 teachers are trained in Zimbabwe, the grade 11 and 12 teachers were supposed to be trained in Namibia,” said Ankama. He noted that though attempts were made to approach these institutions on this issue, nothing materialised. He urged all relevant stakeholders to work together, to ensure the education sector functions efficiently for the benefit of the nation. New Era has established that some ministers and other well-off Namibians who can afford it send their children for secondary grades to schools in South Africa, rather than local schools. When asked why this was happening, Ankama said this “shows a lack of trust in the system”. “Sometimes it’s a matter of a hangover from the past. We never had our own education system before and that’s why some still want to go back to the (Cape) Matric system because this is what they know and have been through themselves. So, there has been resistance towards the Cambridge system, but the majority have accepted it and therefore implemented it,” explained Ankama. The current education system has been in practice for the past 14 years. Continuous reviews are being made by the ministry to localise it. One such plan to help improve the education sector is through the Education and Training Sector Improvement Programme (ETSIP). Though the UK has scrapped the Cambridge Education System, Ankama says the local situation is different from that of the UK, and as such Namibia is trying to create a homegrown system.