By Frederick Philander WINDHOEK Continued authoritarian attitudes of some school principals and a persistent divide between distance learning and mainstream institutions are some of the factors contributing towards the many problems the education system in the country experiences. This is the view of the director of the College of Open Learning (Namcol), Francis Mensah. She was addressing the staff and public on Namcol’s plans for the year to radically improve on last year’s results of Grades 10 and 12. “Unfortunately, many of our learners wanting to return to mainstream schools in the education system have been subtly or directly refused entry by a number of school principals, who still have the traditional, self-centered attitude of ‘I’m in charge’. These people have definitely not moved with the democratic times we live in,” Mensah said. She also indicated that there still exists a strong measure of antagonism between her institution and mainstream schools. “Since the inception of centers such as Namcol in 1994, mainstream schools have been very uncooperative with distant learning centers such as ours. I think it’s a societal thing. However, our results have proved beyond any doubt that Namcol has a right to exist within the country’s educational system,” said Mensah, who ascribed her justification to the fact that her center’s annual examination results have been improving each year. Namcol’s Grades 10 and 12 subject results improved dramatically last year to 89% and 79% respectively. “There had been a public outcry against Namcol’s examination performances. Personally, I am not happy with some of the results. Hence the fact that we have embarked on a set path of achieving a 50% or higher this year. Generally, I think we have done well despite the fact that contact sessions of learners have been decreased from four to two lesson sessions per week,” said Mensah, who stated that she and her staff are now more organized. According to her assessment, Grade 12’s don’t do better than the Grade 10’s due to the fact that the former do not regularly submit assignments for evaluation. “The argument has been that the three assignments per year are not important for examination purposes. We have now decided that assignments will form an integral part for Grade 12 examination qualification. The assignments will become part of a continuous assessment of Grade 12’s to be eligible to sit for examinations. We are confident that in this way, end of year results will improve upwards,” she said. Of the 51 top achievers in both Grade 10 and 12 results, thirteen were Namcol learners. “Part of this year’s onslaught in improving the results will be focused on Namcol tutoring. We are concerned whether tutors are still in charge of the subjects they are teaching. Subject matter has changed over the years. Therefore, we have invited educational experts to assist us in evaluating the quality of our teaching staff where necessary. “The qualification of tutors will be seriously looked at,” Mensah, who invited the two existing teacher unions in the country to assist Namcol in tutor in-service training, said. Asked whether tutors working on a part time basis at the center are less committed, loyal and dedicated because of their not being appointed on a permanent basis, Mensah said: “Make no mistake, most of our tutors are experienced teachers working part time, but they are trustworthy and committed. A lack of funding prevents us from appointing full time staff, but it is not totally out of the question in future,” she said of the situation whereby many full time teachers from government schools do part time teaching just to earn extra money. To assist teachers and learners to master the English language, which is the medium of instruction, Namcol has devised some plans this year. “Let’s speak English weeks will this year be introduced as a matter of urgency. Though we have made progress, it is still difficult for some teachers to speak proper English, which is the medium of instruction in Namibian schools. This contributes towards the weak examination results. We will also encourage tutors as well as learners to listen to and participate in English radio programmes to help improve the use of the language,” she said. Asked whether the return of Grade 10 failures into mainstream education as per a presidential decree will not negatively affect enrollment at Namcol, the director assured those present that her center’s future existence is not at all threatened. “We yearly register up to 25 000 learners country-wide and accordingly get subsidized by the Government to the tune of 65% as per the present rate. Furthermore, Namcol can make a difference because it is not the perceived so-called dumping ground for failures. In fact, with our localizing efforts of the Cambridge Education System in full swing, we are moving away from the system to make it more applicable to Namibian educational needs. The outcome of this is the new Namibian Senior Certificate to be issued this year, evidence of Namcol moving into mainstream education, too,” she contented.