Rural School in Dire Straits

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By Petronella Sibeene OMATJETE The practice of multi-teaching, that results from the dire shortage of teachers in rural schools, could have a negative impact on the performance of most learners in remote primary schools. Multi-teaching, as it is commonly known, involves one instructor teaching two grades in one room at the same time. Abraham Tsheehama, a teacher at Otjohorongo Primary School located about 80 km northwest of Omaruru, confirmed his school is one of many in rural areas where teachers have resorted to teaching two grades at the same time because of under-staffing. “It is very difficult to teach such a class. I have to identify common topics for both grades but this has affected the pass rate of learners because in 40 minutes, I spend half of that on grade 6 learners and while keeping them busy with an exercise, I dedicate the other minutes to the other group. The problem is, some children stop doing their work and concentrate on what others are being taught,” he told New Era. According to school headmaster Edwin Kamatoto, this system is not effective. Children in primary school need constant stimulation. The school accommodates 85 learners with four teachers including the principal. Shortage of teachers has similarly contributed to the low enrolment of learners in the area. Tsheehama called upon the Ministry of Education to re-look into this matter, adding that incentives aimed at motivating teachers to practice their careers in remote schools must be provided. Though the ministry makes housing provision for teachers in remote areas, the three-roomed houses have no electricity and piped water. Depending heavily on the borehole that uses diesel to keep the water running, the school most of the time has no water since the ministry stopped supplying diesel for the area some time ago. Transport remains another major problem, like in many other rural places. “We depend on one car from a neighbouring high school. It goes to Omaruru every Friday and if you miss it then you have to wait for next Friday to do your shopping,” he said. He added that survival is a daily struggle and he is not sure how long he can still endure such living conditions. “I do not know if I can stay for a longer period, it is difficult to live here,” stated Tsheehama, who has been at the school for less than two years. Because of the non-availability of electricity, the school further lacks audio-visual facilities, which makes teaching difficult. Apart from that, the principal confirmed, “we have no photocopier or fax machines, we have to walk for 25 km to get to a place where we can access such facilities”. The school also has insufficient funds to enable it to purchase some of the urgently needed equipment. The problem has been worsened by most learners’ failure to contribute the N$30 required annually for the School Development Fund (SDF). “The school cannot even afford on its own to meet its demands. Sometimes learners have to participate in sports in other towns and as principal I have to at times sacrifice from my own pocket,” Kamatoto said. Last week, 20 British-based college students from Bradford Girls Grammar School who were in the country for a world challenge expedition discovered the school. Concerned about the learning environment, they volunteered to paint three of the classrooms, built three water-closet toilets, two hand washing basins and provided sport and other recreational equipment. According to the group leader Michael Emsley, these British learners spent about N$40 000 of their pocket money on the school. “We realised kids had nothing and so we thought of giving them something,” says one of the volunteers Kate Hammond. Most community members hailed the improvements made to the school, with some acknowledging that the better conditions will contribute towards a conducive learning environment for their children.