Optimistic about Future Education

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By Frederick Philander WINDHOEK It’s all systems go for the country’s education in the New Year. The Minister of Education, Nangolo Mbumba, expressed optimism during a frank and wide-ranging interview with New Era this week. “I am very confident about the future of education in our country, thanks to the support of our many overseas friends who are more than willing to assist us in almost every sphere of improving the system to the benefit of the nation,” he remarked, specifically mentioning the European Commission, America, Asia and Africa. According to the minister, these are trusted and valuable friends and partners on whom the country can rely. “These partners have availed funding to us to upgrade and radically improve education in the country for the next five years, besides the annual N$3 billion the ministry of Education receives from the national budget.” Asked specifically what his ministry was doing to decrease the monthly chunk of money that primarily goes into monthly salaries for officials and teachers, the minister defended the situation as follows: “Surely, no one can expect the ministry to reduce its staff merely for the sake of saving money. For every 35 learners in a classroom we need a teacher; for every 700 learners in a school we need a principal, and for every region we need inspectors and directors for the delivery of quality educational services through hard work.” Though generally satisfied with the majority of his staff, there are those officials and teachers who still do not perform satisfactorily, he said. “Though not everyone has the same qualifications and skills, nothing prevents them from working hard. In fact, there are those officials who go the extra mile in service delivery. On the other hand, there are those who are just blatantly lazy because they don’t perform. I have no sympathy for them. Such persons are inhibiting all our good efforts and intentions to improve education,” the minister charged. In his opinion the education system still has many needs, primarily caused by a growing population. “Undoubtedly, education is a demanding and challenging but very important national entity, which plays an extremely pivotal role in the preparation of our citizens in trade and commerce, the backbone of our economy. My concern is that the education process is at present moving at a lacklustre pace due to a number of factors,” he said. He specifically mentioned problems like English as a medium of instruction in schools, giving rise to poor results. “We are slowly making progress with English as a medium of instruction in our schools, but it remains a problem in certain areas, especially those isolated rural ones with no access to television, radio and newspapers. We need to do much more to resolve these shortcomings in those areas. Notwithstanding this, I am expecting much better results this year,” Mbumba said. He is expecting a 10 percent increase in enrolment at government senior secondary schools in 2007. “I want to assure the public that there will be enough classrooms to accommodate all learners in our schools, unlike last year. We have contingency plans already in place for any eventuality. This time things will run smoothly because we have enough chairs, desks and books available to provide for all needs. This time all senior personnel in the ministry will be present in all regions to take on-the-spot decisions regarding shortages and accommodation problems,” he asserted. The minister said that since the inception of the first phase of ETSIP earlier this year,his ministry has built a number of new schools and renovated hostels in some of the most shortage-affected areas. “A few senior schools have been completed and will be ready for use in the new year; others are under construction and will be completed later in the year. A number of disused hostels in the country have also been transformed to serve as schools. These actions are all aimed at doing away with schooling under trees, a phenomenon we hope to totally get rid of in the next few years,” he promised. The minister urged communities, and especially traditional leaders and tribal heads, to become involved in every aspect of education in the country. “It is a fact that the culture of education has not yet completely taken off or developed in many parts of our country. We need to resolve this issue in the next five years if we are to overcome some of the resistances to education which we still encounter,” he argued. The minister also made reference to the more than 2ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ 165 under- and unqualified teachers in the employ of his ministry. “We will definitely not get rid of or fire such teachers. In fact, we will continue encouraging them to improve their qualifications, and will provide them with more opportunities to do so. However, they will just have to be more serious about their work and qualifications. They cannot expect to teach learners properly if they themselves lack the necessary qualifications. My hope is that at least 75 percent of teachers in each region will be qualified within the next year or two,” the minister said. With regard to the pressing problem of teacher accommodation in rural areas, Mbumba suggested that modest government assistance be provided. “The government is morally obliged to provide modest accommodation for teachers in rural areas, a problem that has been there for years. I am happy to say that the Head of State is right behind us in trying to find solutions to this particular problem,” the minister, who also had sound advice on better relationship with the two existing teacher unions, said. “I understand the fact that there is competition between the two unions, but that does not mean NANTU and TUN should not be able to find common ground to work together. For the sake of education, both unions should concertedly try to work and live together side by side in an effort to strengthen the teaching profession as a whole, although only one is recognized by the government. They need to steer clear of things that interfere with the noble teaching profession,” Mbumba said. In conclusion, the minister thanked his staff as well as the parents of learners for their contributions towards the improvement of education in the country. “I thank parents for their unfailing contributions and urge them to continue supporting all efforts, particularly the ETSIP programme aimed at improving the education system in total.”