By Frederick Philander WINDHOEK “We all know and are seriously pre-occupied with the fact that taxpayers are not getting adequate returns on what the Government is investing into the country’s education sector.” So said the Speaker of the National Assembly, Theo-Ben Gurirab, on Friday when he delivered the keynote address at the 2006 graduation ceremony of the Windhoek College of Education. More than 200 graduates received diplomas in lower-upper and junior-secondary teacher diplomas at the NG Church hall in the capital. “This graduation ceremony takes place at a time when our country and people are debating all aspects of our education system. As you are ware, no doubt, our education system has been subjected to extensive debate in Parliament, the media, in academia, in homes and in schools. The poor performance of grades 10 and 12 is one of the concerns underlined about our education system, receiving the biggest chunk of the national budget, that needs improvement,” the Speaker emphasized. He praised the students’ graduation as personal academic achievements and as part of a happy and bright future for themselves and the country at large. “Think of your diploma as a contribution to our national development plan – Vision 2030, which is calling for economic growth and the transformation of Namibia into a knowledge-based society. The Education and Training Sector Improvement Programme (ETSIP) is a response to the call of Vision 2030. ETSIP is based on a 2003 study of the country’s education system, which has informed us that Namibia’s economic productivity is low because of the unskilled and largely uneducated labour force,” Gurirab told the students and the families present at the occasion. He warned graduates that their future as teachers come with opportunities and challenges for which they have to prepare themselves. “In your teaching career that you are just about to embark upon you will meet various kinds of learners; the gifted and talented, the orphan and vulnerable learners, black, brown and white, belonging to different faiths and social backgrounds. All are important. They deserve your undivided attention and care, even if all you do is smile and say ‘hello’,” he advised as a former teacher himself. The Speaker also alluded to suspicion and discrimination that still exist in Namibian schools. “It is a true fact of life that one of the most serious problems being experienced by our children at schools is the issue of mutual suspicion and discrimination. I heard of learners in a community-based education project who summed it up as: ‘At school those with parents play on their own – they know we do not have parents because the teacher asks us in class. Even if we do good, no one notices, because we do not have parents,” Gurirab informed the audience. He also warned the new teachers about the rapid evolving situation in the education system with regard to technology. “Teachers like you graduating today and in the future should be able to be computer literate to survive in this competitive world and most importantly to prepare the children and youth to be able to meet labour market demands. I believe mathematics, science and technology can provide unlimited scope for creativity and learning opportunities for you as teachers and for your learners. Accept these windows of empowerment and discoveries as key to the future for a better world,” he said pedagogically. He warned the new teachers to be constantly aware of and on guard against the HIV/AIDS pandemic as a national tragedy. “The youth, the future leaders and the guardians of our society, are the prime targets for devastation by HIV/AIDS. Become involved in the HIV/AIDS campaign curriculum programmes. Be dedicated champions to save lives and be trustworthy models wherever you go. With commitment to change and hard work we as a nation can fight and bring under control this pandemic and turn the situation around,” the Speaker concluded.