Education in a Multi-Racial Society


By Gerty Fredericks WINDHOEK Namibia is a multicultural country with many different ethnic groups. When Namibia gained independence in 1990, the condition of public education was a matter of grave concern. While Namibia was under South African rule, the education system was divided along ethnic and racial lines. The apartheid system led to dramatic inequalities and disparities in the quality of education rendered to the various ethnic groups. With the demise of colonialism and the advent of independence, the system of education experienced major changes. One of the biggest challenges was to build a new education system, where quality education for all became the cornerstone and a single Ministry of Education replaced the eleven separate educational authorities. The previous practices of apartheid education became irrelevant and unsuitable to the needs and aspirations of the Namibian people. A more ethnically inclusive education system replaced the apartheid system. This change resulted in the multi-ethnicity that can be seen in our classrooms today. Although Namibia is one of the most sparsely populated regions in Sub-Sahara Africa the rich variety of its people in terms of culture, language and racial origin is hard to equal. This multi-ethnicity within the Nami-bian society is also evident in the Namibian school classrooms. In an effort to accommodate all ethnic groups the Namibian Government follows a policy which aims to harmonize inter-ethnic relationships, thereby fostering nation-building and democracy along the theme of Unity in Diversity. Namibia has various ethnic groups with different languages and dialects: Capri-vians (five tribes with different dialects), Coloureds (persons of mixed ancestry speaking mainly Afrikaans or English), Afrikaners (European ancestry speaking mainly Afrikaans), Damaras, Rehoboth Basters (persons of mixed Nama ancestry speaking mainly Afrikaans), Na-mas (with 14 tribes), Kavan-go (five tribes with four different dialects) , Hereros, Ovambos (eight tribes with different dialects), Tswanas, San (Bushman), German and other European language groups. The Ministry was faced with the challenge to include all ethnic groups in one ministry instead of the separated system as with the previous dispensation. We also had to be careful that the different groups do not lose their history, customs and languages. The History syllabus therefore includes the various groups in Namibia and their different customs, beliefs and languages. While the Ministry is overall responsible for the running of the education system, it is the regional education offices that shoulder the bulk of the implementation of educational programs on a day to day basis, by working closely with schools and communities of different ethnic groups in their respective regions. Actions by the Ministry of Education The Ministry of Education undertook a comprehensive education reform process aimed at providing access, equity, quality, efficiency, democracy and lifelong learning as principles to promote socio-economic development. The following actions were aimed at providing equitable access to qua-lity education for all Namibian children. – The development of a curriculum that does not perpetuate race, class, gender or ethnic divisions but instead promotes reconciliation and lifelong learning. – The development of a curriculum that encompasses a culture of human rights, multilingualism, multi-culturalism and a sensitivity to the values of reconciliation and nation-building. African languages are offered at Lower Primary level and as subjects in the Secondary Schools. – In a multi-lingual society, English was introduced as the official language. This was the Namibian govern-ment’s move toward reconciliation and nation-building. The new education system is based on the principles of co-operation, critical thinking (learner centered education) and social responsibility. – Special effort in Life Skills and a broad curriculum to change the attitude of learners with regard to issues like tolerance, responsibility, honesty, justice and fairness. Each learner should foster respect for the feelings and views of others. – Teaching materials. Learning and Instructional materials are learner friendly. They meet the needs of learners, they are stimulating, challenging and include examples from various ethnic groups and environments. – The Revised Curriculum (Syllabi) was translated into the different ethnic (African) mother-tongue languages. – Cultural institutions were established to promote culture and ensure the enjoyment of cultural opportunities. With independence, tea-chers were confronted with the challenge to cope with different ethnic groups in one class. Schools were integrated. For example, two high schools in Swakopmund amalgamated. The Ministry needed to implement strategies to ensure that all aspects of education including the hidden curriculum, staffing patterns, discipline, and extra-curricular activities addressed the needs of all learners. The Ministry realized that education must do more than reflect only the dominant society; it must begin to reflect diversity and support all learners. The teachers were challenged to deal with different ethnic groups and to deliver an education that is multicultural. There is the belief that the recognition and promotion of cultural and ethnic diversity will strengthen the nation. Multicultural activities were designed to help unify a deeply divided nation and to provide the opportunity to learn more about each other and to interact on an equal basis in schools and society. Learners areencouraged to respect the cultures of other groups. Members of diverse groups could maintain their ethnic and cultural diversity while developing a common civic culture. It is therefore common for the young people from various ethnic groups to come together and enjoy a common culture (music, arts, drama, dance, etc.). There are some instances where schools will celebrate multicultural education by tasting ethnic foods and participating in ethnic festi-vals.While these programs can contribute to cultural education, they are side attractions and do not represent and integrate the curriculum and school environment. The formal school curriculum was revised to strengthen cross-curricular themes like different ethnic groups and their customs, HIV & AIDS and health education, human rights and democracy, environmental education, Information Communication Technologies, entrepreneurial skills development and other emerging issues, and the elimination of obsolete content and practices. Multicultural education is based on the principles of democracy, equity and social justice to ensure that all learners participate equally in the school system. It values the cultural diversity of learners as reflected in their gender, ethnic, racial, language, religious, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Teachers and educators strive for the provision of educational equality in which all students are provided with challenging and stimulating learning experiences. Inequalities in instruction, the school environment, the quality of teachers, facilities, and resources are confronted in an effort to overcome current injustices based on continued practices of privilege and power. Teachers face many challenges in delivering education that is multicultural. The teaching style of the teacher may be very effective for some learners, but not for others from cultural backgrounds different from that of the teacher. To help learners learn at higher levels, the teacher must develop a wide array of strategies to build on the prior experiences and cultural backgrounds of learners. The curriculum and teaching materials must regularly be adjusted to integrate diversity throughout the study of a curriculum area. Interaction with learners must be monitored to ensure that learners are not being discriminated against because of their race, gender, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status. Beginning and experienced teachers must continue to learn about diversity and its implications for teaching and learning. Learners, parents, and communities will be valuable resources in the learning process. Current Problems/Challenges to Multi-Cultural Teaching/Learning: – Parents who move from rural areas to urban areas seeking better education for their children; – City schools use English as the medium of instruction to accommodate different ethnic groups who speak different languages; – Ministry not in a position to build special schools to accommodate single mother-tongue instruction to prevent stigma/labeling; – Difficult for teachers to teach in the learners’ mother-tongue; – Insufficient training of teachers in the official language as the medium of instruction; – Rural-urban migration resulting in overcrowded classrooms puts greater demand on teachers to cope with backlog in language proficiency; – Target of access has been achieved but the target of equity and quality is far from being attained; – Unqualified and under-qualified teachers cannot serve the children as well as fully qualified teachers do (especially in the San Community where young people with Grade 10 and Grade 12 qualifications are often teaching these learners); – Training of teachers to help them draw on many different strategies to take advantage of a students’ unique learning style and cultural patterns. Recommendations – A department of basic education (Grades 1 – 10) should be implemented at the University, which concentrates on the provision of suitable programmes in training teachers to specialize in mother-tongue teaching especially in early childhood development. – Encourage teachers in rural areas to experiment with strategies to develop affordable, appropriate materials from their immediate environment to use as a substitute for materials that are expensive and difficult to obtain, in which the learners are familiar and can identify with. – Our textbooks need to be sensitive toward the Ova-himba children who cover (wash) themselves with clay. – Systematically teach the communication patterns of different ethnics groups to learners and teachers. – Teachers have no problem with the integration of multi-cultural groups, but with the academic background of some learners. – Learners like to know other cultural groups too and learn more about their peers’ cultures. – Authentically involving people from different ethnic groups in developing learning materials for lower primary school kids, which celebrate their heritage and their differences. – The sensitization of teacher educators to socio-cultural differences, and how that impacts their training of student teachers, and as well as the monitoring/evaluating of both the trainers’ and student teachers’ ability to incorporate that in their teaching/training The challenges for delivering multicultural education are great. The diversity of the student population is growing differently than in the past. Because many student teachers have either no or limited experience with the ethnic groups that will be in their classrooms, they often face the unknown. Education that is truly multi-ethnic and multi-cultural requires teachers to be active participants in the educational process. Social justice, democracy, empowerment and equity become more than concepts to be discussed in class; they become guides for actions in the classroom, school, and community. Teachers become advocates not only for their own empowerment, but for that of their learners and other powerless/voiceless groups. Most teachers will find it an enriching experience and a worthwhile, life-long endeavour. *Gerty Fredericks is an education officer in the Ministry of Education.