Education – The Biggest Test

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By Frederick Philander WINDHOEK With complaints, queries and condemnations flying left, right and centre, the state of education is undoubtedly the biggest challenge the country faces right now. This was yesterday said by the Minister of Education, Nangolo Mbumba, in the National Assembly. “Inequalities in education have been substantially reduced, yet unemployment rates, poverty and low economic growth still prevail. Therefore the challenges for the education sector are to implement able programmes, which will raise the quality of education playing a pivotal role in economic development. It is not only what happens in the classroom that has an impact on young people’s achievements, but whether they are part of a learning society with an integrated approach to learning, one that seeks synergies between different components of the education system,” Mbumba said. As an alternative for classroom accommodation, the minister suggested the country invests more in distant learning systems from which many others in society can benefit. “Our education system faces a number of challenges that will require collective wisdom and ongoing commitment from us all to resolve them. These challenges include the fact that 16 years after independence the country has been unable to provide adequate skilled human resources and therefore continues to experience high rates of unemployment and underemployment. Furthermore the levels of expenditure on education may not be sustainable in the long run due to low economic growth and the present level budget deficits,” he asserted. Mbumba pointed out the dilemma his ministry faces, having to spend 90 percent of its annual budget on personnel costs. The ministry is unable to reduce the number of teachers it engages because of the increasing school population that it has to yearly cater for. “There exists a need to improve the conditions for teaching as well as learning to improve the quality of educational outcomes. This may be achieved by more in-service training and support to teachers to acquire relevant competencies for effectiveness. Despite all these challenges the fact remains education is the vehicle through which development and prosperity of our country is heavily dependent on,” Mbumba, who informed the House about the additional N$10,3 million the government had to spend to resolve an accommodation problem for almost 3 000 school children recently, said. The minister further elaborated on other problems within the education system, citing efforts currently underway to improve the situation in secondary school education to prepare school leavers for the world of work and further studies. “The Ministry of Education is fully aware of the fact that access to education at secondary school level is limited. This trend was brought about by the strong emphasis placed on primary education after independence. We are now in the process of preparing for the expansion of secondary education to allow more young people access to further and higher levels of training as well as better job opportunities. Currently only 50 percent of learners can be accommodated,” Mbumba admitted. To achieve these goals the ministry intends to increase the intake and retention of secondary school learners to about 80 percent, broaden the curriculum to provide a broad foundation for work skills and further studies, increase the allocation of teaching aids, upgrade teacher qualifications and pedagogic competence, as well as expand physical learning infrastructure in the country. “Presently the education system is undergoing its second reform since independence. The first 15 years were guided by the need to redress the past inequalities and injustices through access to education for all. Now the system is focused on relevant quality education, which embraces the ever-changing world of work as an ongoing process,” he said. In his view the legacy of the country being left with an underdeveloped human resource base needs to be overcome in order for the country to be able to compete internationally. “Vocational training centres have been identified as critical elements to empower communities with skills that correspond and are responsive to the needs of the economy and the country. More resources will be required to sustain such expansion,” Mbumba warned. “The teaching of mathematics and Science has been a challenge since independence. This has been due mainly to the neglect by the previous regime, which excluded the majority of black Namibians from the teaching of these subjects. In accordance with Vision 2030 all efforts are being undertaken to ensure enough mathematics and Science teachers are trained. Some are already being trained in Zimbabwe and South Africa through government loans. All institutions of higher learning are also required to have components of ITC as part of their training programmes,” he said. He also contended that the country has realised the need for entrepreneurship as part of the general education system. “This was necessitated by the fact that not all who enter formal education complete with adequate and relevant skills for the world of work. In the current curriculum reform entrepreneurship features strongly with the understanding that it will equip learners with appropriate skills that will enable them to be self employed if they cannot find formal employment. The subject has been introduced to Grades 8 this year and it is hoped that in four year’s time it will be available up to Grade 12,” the minister hoped. Mbumba expressed the hope that colleges of education will in time start producing quality teachers grounded in the philosophy and methodology of a learner-centred approach of teaching “The HIV/AIDS pandemic presents the single biggest challenge to the actual management of the education sector. In the long run it will be difficult for children to enrol and remain in schools. Namibian teachers are at high risk of HIV/AIDS infection, with a projection done in 2002 as one in seven educators was HIV positive. This will have a major impact on the quality of education as the efficiency of such teachers is affected. More resources are needed to address the HIV/AIDS pandemic,” he warned.