By Petronella Sibeene WINDHOEK Sixteen years after the country’s independence Namibia, like most other African countries, is still experiencing a strong, traditional, conservative belief that mathematics and science subjects are a male preserve. In its efforts to improve the performance of female learners in mathematics and other science subjects, the Forum for African Women Educationalists in Namibia (FAWENA) has engaged about 60 learners in what it calls holiday school. Holiday school entails providing focused revision for mathematics and science subjects for girls. Yesterday, chairperson of FAWENA and also Minister of Home Affairs, Rosalia Nghidinwa, commended learners from six local schools who have been attending these classes at the Dawid Bezuidenhout High School in the capital. She called upon these learners to use this opportunity to advance their performance in these critical subjects. “You have decided to use your holiday time in a productive manner. You made your priorities clear and I am proud of you,” commended the minister. She added that outstanding performance in critical subjects such as mathematics and science will increase the learners’ chances of obtaining future scholarships and getting well-paying jobs. Namibia as a country, Nghidinwa says, lacks skills in science- and technology-related fields such that most of the country’s materials have to be sent beyond its borders for value addition, a process she describes as costly. In her capacity as a parent, the minister also highlighted the importance of learners concentrating on their studies and refraining from behaviours that could be described as detrimental to their bright future. “Refrain from alcohol, smoking and sexual relationships”, she advised. In the same vein, she urged learners to always walk with Vision 2030 goals and Millennium Development goals in mind as this will act as their guide in their endeavours. “Vision 2030 and MD goals are yours. Respect your parents, government and teachers, and you will reap the rewards later”, she told the learners. Maria Tjituka, a Grade 12 learner from the Augustinium Secondary School told New Era that since she started attending these holiday school sessions, her work has improved tremendously. “I was doing subjects on core (lower level) but now I have moved to extended (a step higher). It would have been impossible without FAWENA,” she acknowledged. Learners attend classes ten hours a week. According to Tjituka, there is a public perception that female learners cannot compete well with male learners in subjects that are science-related. Many teachers, including women teachers, despite much lip service to the equality of girls and boys, just do not believe that girls have the ability to study mathematics and science – they believe these disciplines call for struggle and determination and they simply do not believe the girls are capable of coping with ‘difficult’ subjects. Given that, there is a great need to destroy this myth that girls cannot do mathematics and science and should therefore be discouraged from taking the requisite subjects that would open career opportunities in mathematics and science. Tjituka says, “Intelligence can never be weighed, based on someone’s gender. It is just a matter of creating an enabling environment for such a learner.” The learner also lamented the lack of facilities at her school, especially the laboratory which presently lacks essential equipment which would enable learners to conduct experiments. She called on the Ministry of Education to look into this problem which would benefit learners and the country at large. FAWENA is the brainchild of FAWE, a non-governmental organization founded in 1992 and currently operating in 32 African countries. FAWENA’s operations started in Namibia in 1999 with the support of the Ministry of Education. Its goals are to increase access, improve retention and enhance the quality of education for girls and women in Namibia and Africa at large. Since it came into existence, the organization has established girls’ clubs in 21 schools, has mentoring activities in 19 schools, and a total of 29 teachers from nine regions are involved in the tutoring of these learners. At least 374 girls have received scholarships with the support of Africa Education Initiative-Ambassador’s Girls Scholarship programme.