Education Sector: Prospects and Challenges

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By Clemens Kashuupulwa

Much has been said about the poor performances of learners in Grade 10 and Grade 12 for the past 17 years, with smaller numbers of learners being promoted to Grade 11 and tertiary institutions than those registered in Grade 10 and Grade 12 every year.

The government, parents, learners and individuals have raised concern about where Namibia is leading to with the high rate of school dropouts, many of them crying for employment.

More importantly, government’s investment in education has exceeded all sectors every year. Parents are sending their children every day to school to learn while learners and teachers are busy at every school in Namibia.

But when it comes to the end of every year, government expenditure as well as that of parents, learners and teachers do not reflect results.

Where does the problem lie? Can Namibia still continue with such a learning environment?

Improvement of education is a national issue. As a people, we can only improve the learning environment when the challenges leading to poor performances in education are identified.

In 2007 alone, the total number of full-time candidates who sat for the Junior Secondary Certificate [JSC] examination in Namibia was 31 961, but only 15 330 learners or 47.6 percent were qualified to proceed to Grade 11. That makes an improvement of 2.1 percent when compared to the JSC final examinations of 2006.

This is really disappointing to every Namibian and the government at large as the government is investing a lot of money every year for infrastructural development, school facilities and remuneration of teachers. Such input is impressive enough to show government’s commitment to improve the education system.

It is true that pointing fingers blindly at the government, parents, learners and teachers may not help us to address the situation.

But as a nation, we must find out among the four catalysts involved directly in education puts in more effort than the others. There must be a culprit among us.

Namibia needs to identify where the challenges of improvement in education lie to address the situation of unemployment in the country that leads to social evils.

In 2007 alone, 16 741 full-time learners dropped out of school in Namibia.

This is a huge number of youth who may find themselves in the pool of unemployment if they are not absorbed by the Namibian College of Open Learning [Namcol] who should get credit for turning 2 700 learners to Grade 11 in full-time schooling, bringing both part-time and full-time learners to 17 900 this year.

This shows that NAMCOL, though highly criticized by the public, is doing well. Some learners need only to improve on a few points in English and Mathematics to acquire the necessary points to proceed to Grade 11. This is better to avoid repeating all subjects again once a learner is allowed to repeat Grade 10 or Grade 12.

However, at some schools in Grade 10 and Grade 12, one can identify who is to be blamed for the failure of learners. There are incidents where six out of 30 learners managed to pass mathematics in Grade 10’s classroom B whereas in another classroom the passing rate was 20 out of 30 learners.

In this case, a class teacher of mathematics in Grade 10’s classroom B cannot escape the blame. This means some teachers have contributed to the poor performance of some learners in some subjects because of their poor mastery of those subjects.

Regular training workshops for teachers should be organised to improve the learning environment of Grade 10 and Grade 12.

Laziness of some learners and teachers to study and prepare for classes are also problems leading to poor performances at many schools.

However, principals can address these problems by ensuring proper management of the entire school.

There are also some people who assume that schools with Grade 10 in towns are performing better than those in rural areas because of better facilities in towns, such as access to libraries, electricity and studies after hours.

Better performances may not entirely depend on these facilities, and proper management of schools by principals is another factor that plays a significant role above many other factors.

In Oshana Region, for example, under the top ten well performing JCS schools in 2007, were ranked as follows: Gabriel Taapopi SSS, Omuhama CS, Mweshipandeka SSS, Erundu CS, Amutanga CS, Kapolo CS, Enguwantale CS, Etambo CS, Oluno SS and Omagongati CS.

Omuhama Combined School came out number 2, better than Mweshipandeka SSS, Erundu and Oluno SS that have better facilities.

Private schools such as Oshigambo High School are doing exceptionally well because of better management of the school and nothing else.

The Right Honourable Prime Minister Nahas Angula recently put it correctly when he highlighted the consequences of repetition “as horrendous” and leading “to a vicious cycle of the drop in the quality of learning and more failures” because of possible overcrowding of classrooms and thereby compromising the government policy of teacher/learners ratio of 1:35 for primary schools and 1:30 for secondary schools.

Though a “temporary arrangement is made to increase teacher/learners ratio for primary schools from 1:35 to 1:40 and for secondary schools from 1:30 to 1:35 to accommodate repetition of learners under 17 years, this issue is not quite addressed yet”.

The Prime Minister’s recommendations if implemented may address the poor performance of learners in both Grade 10 and Grade 12. These recommendations are outlined in New Era Newspaper’s Editorial entitled “Reflections of 2007 Junior Secondary Certificate Examination Balance Sheet” of Friday, January 18, 2008 as follows:

– Full implementation of ETSIP in order to improve teaching and learning in all schools;

– Development of all National Skills Acquisition Programme to target the unemployed youth;

– Strengthening NAMCOL Programmes with double shifts for NAMCOL Learners;

– Creation of Labour Based Employment Programmes to target unemployed youth;

– Development of the National Youth Service Production and Industrial Programmes; and,

– Recruitment of well-qualified teachers to implement the full Higher Level Namibia Senior Secondary Certificate in rural schools.

While these recommendations hold water in the improvement of the learning environment of learners at Grade 10 and Grade 12 and reduction of unemployment among the youth, the experiences of many JSC and SSC who performed exceptional well also need to be applied to schools that performed poorly during the past few years.

Oshikoto, Erongo, Khomas and Oshana regions have been “the best consistent performing regions” with many rural schools doing well every year.

These indicate that there are also experiences that can be applied to the less performing schools. That “magic” if any cannot be ignored if Namibia is to improve the learning environment of learners.

As I see it, there is a lack of input by some parents, learners, teachers and principals that contribute to the failure of many learners at many schools in Namibia.

And, there is much commitment and hard work [input] among some parents, learners, teachers and principals too that contribute to some schools performing well.

That is why we have some learners doing exceptional well and they get enrolled at the University of Namibia and Polytechnic of Namibia.

Credit must be given to those who deserve it and blame to some parents, teachers, learners and principals who show little commitment.

Members of school boards and the principals of schools are instrumental and catalysts for the outcome of better performances of learners at any school in Namibia.

To have good outcomes in any organization, be it a school, business entity of any nature or any institution, the determining factor is the management team that is behind any organization.

Now, one wonders, whether the management teams of those schools that have been performing poorly since independence lack capacity to run those schools, or what is the problem with those schools?

Parents, learners, teachers and principals as well as the government can make all the input, but as long as the management teams of those schools are not responsive and accountable to improve the learning environment of their learners, there will be no good outcome at all. Education of our learners is a national responsibility that needs input from all stakeholders not the government alone.

The year 2008 must be a year of greater improvement in the education system of Namibia. As the government still invests more money than in any other sector, let us not only condemn those who are responsible, but encourage them also that they have a national responsibility to improve the performance of learners in the best interest of our future generations.

As a people, we give credit to parents, teachers, learners, principals and members of the school boards in Namibia who make strides in the improvement of Namibia’s education and wish them to continue doing so.

Let us also encourage those who put less efforts in education, to set targets.

– Clemens H. Kashuupulwa is the Governor of Oshana Region.

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