Twenty-five years of self-rule and great transition has not taken us anywhere in so far as our education system is concerned. The nation remains divided on what it perceives education ought to be about. Some believe that it has been good enough to get rid of apartheid edifices that came with Bantu Education and aspects of non-Bantu Education. Others say Bantu Education was better than the uncertain, unproductive and haphazard spasms of systems of education we have had since independence. To say that Bantu Education was better is a wrong argument. The statement only attempts to state that we have not figured out what education is about in the same manner that our oppressors thought and used education to produce the result that we are today: a people with a deep sickness of inferiority complex which manifests itself in self-doubt, self-pity and self-hate.
Bantu Education was not better – it was just better planned by people who knew what education was about, and who had the right people with the right sets of skills to design a system that was to serve a particular purpose and clear objectives in the context of nation-building. The bigger consequence of the types of education we have had after independence, which is a build-up, not an improvement, of Bantu Education, is that we still live in a society without a national identity and a national consciousness. Our leaders have not been able to define what Namibia’s national interests are around which we as a nation coalesce and go back to when we disagree and quarrel. We continue to operate with the idioms of the liberation struggle: us versus them, guilt, self-righteousness, political correctness, sense of entitlement that the world owes us something when it does not, uncalled for racism on both ends of the equation when we are intolerant to one another and revert to racist stereotyping, and fear-mongering. In the absence of a well-defined set of national interests, our equality as citizens suffers as entrepreneurs of fear grow in stature and wealth.
In the 1950s, long before Hendrik Verwoerd became the minister of Bantu Education, or Prime Minister of South Africa, he declared: When I become the minister of Native Education, I shall teach the black children that equality with the Europeans is not for them. The teachers who advocate such equality are not needed in schools. Verwoerd might have been wrong in his attitude towards race relations, but he knew what education was about, and he set out to accomplish just that: an unequal society from birth registration to religion to learning to citizenship to town planning to sharing facilities to understanding security issues to marriage to burial rights. Earlier planners of formal education systems were concerned about basic problems that philosophy has grappled with for ages, namely life and its ups and downs, the meaning of power and the forging of relationships for a common good and culture. A critical aim of education is the preparation of the young for the life into which they are entering. The young are inducted to know about, understand and develop methodologies of managing challenges of life in relationship with other people and other forces that can impede the ongoing actualization of a better life. Life is about managing rights, power and authority. It is an aim of education to sensitize the young and even the old to appreciate how power is obtained, used and even abused by those who have it. This is what sets the human beings apart from other species that do not have an appreciation of power and its abuse. Other species come and go without interrogating life and how to change it. Humans do. This is the essence of education – to critique life in its current form and try to find combinations of activities to improve it so that in the end, the primitive instincts in all humans to be greedy and selfish is mitigated with values and ethics and faith-based precepts of contributing to the common good.Education was and remains about aims, presupposed by the following questions: What are the proper aims and guiding ideals of education? What are the proper criteria for evaluating educational efforts, institutions, practices, and products? What must go into education curricula and methods of teaching?
Answers to these vexing questions all relate to the context and time. They would include the cultivation of curiosity; the disposition to inquire; the fostering of creativity; the production of knowledge and of knowledgeable people; the enhancement of understanding; the promotion of moral thinking, feeling, and action; the enlargement of the imagination; the fostering of growth, development, and self-realization; the fulfillment of potential; the cultivation of enlightened and sensitive persons; the overcoming of tribalism and close-mindedness; the development of sound judgment; the cultivation of civility and obedience (not obsequiousness) to authority; the fostering of autonomy; the maximization of freedom, happiness, or self-esteem; the development of care, concern, and related attitudes and dispositions; the fostering of feelings of community, social solidarity, citizenship, and civic-mindedness; the production of good citizens; the protection of students from the deleterious effects of foreign civilizations; the development of piety, religious faith, and spiritual fulfillment; the fostering of ideological purity; the cultivation of political awareness and action; the integration or balancing of the needs and interests of the individual and the larger society; and the fostering of skills and dispositions constitutive of rationality or critical thinking.
An a simplistic sense, the formal education system is chiefly concerned with the clarification of concepts, such as knowledge, truth, justice, beauty, mind, meaning, and existence, and to identify the particular meanings of charged or contested concepts, but also to identify alternative meanings, render ambiguities explicit, reveal hidden metaphysical, normative, or cultural assumptions, illuminate the consequences of alternative interpretations and/or actions, explore the connections between concepts and conduct; and elucidate the relationships that answer for a good or bad life in any given society. It is all about meaning and relevance. It is about peace, harmony and the equilibrium of life in a society in a given historical context at a given time.
Education ought to prepare citizens, especially the young to know, understand and have a discerning ability to judge between right and wrong, to be ethical and moral, and to appreciate the goodness of life for all so that they can in turn deal with questions such as: What justifies the state in compelling children to attend school? Where lies the authority of the state to mandate school attendance? What is the nature and justification of the authority that teachers exercise over their students? Is it right or fair for the state to curtail the freedom of learners and students? Is the public school system rightly entitled to the power it exercises in establishing curricula that parents might find objectionable – e.g., science curricula that mandate the teaching of human evolution but not creationism or intelligent design and literature curricula that mandate the teaching of novels dealing with sexual themes or violent revolutions? Should parents or their children have the right to opt out of material they think is inappropriate?
Should schools encourage students to be reflective and critical generally by following Socrates and the tradition he established – or should they refrain from encouraging students to subject their own ways of life to critical scrutiny?Back to the purpose of education in the context of Namibia. We did not replace Bantu Education, White education, Coloured Education with something suitable for a New Namibia wherein all people are equal and have a responsibility to contribute to the future of the country as a whole. What we have seems to be half-hearted answers to our anger with apartheid, our semi-informed commitment to some social justice, and an overall justification for power relations that remain skew and self-righteousness. One evidence of this is that if we had a real education system for the new Namibian Personality that we wish to see functioning effectively in his/her country and competing meaningfully in the new world, that education would have the children of the elite in the same classrooms where the rest of the children are. It would be necessary to create a system of education that caters for citizenship, equality and responsibility, rather than entitlement and mindless elitism.
In the final analysis, the enterprise of education is about the triumvirate that is the three pillars, Knowledge, Understanding and Wisdom. An education system must offer its recipients knowledge but knowledge alone is not good enough because animals have knowledge too of the environment wherein they have to make a living. The only use of knowledge of the past is to equip us for the present, and knowledge of the present to equip us for the future. Education must offer its recipients understanding and it is at this level that humans begin to be different from other species. With the knowledge they have they understand and begin to discern between opposites and the fact that similar things can be different in their functions and the consequences they inflict.
Animals do not have this faculty of discernment because when an animal has experiences with a black pot, all pots are similar regardless of their distance to fire. It is a pot and it hurts. Education must finally offer its recipients tools to develop wisdom to discern with judgment and authority and power. Namibia is now at a stage where we do not value education but value bogus and fake titles. In Namibia we value positions, not ideas. In Namibia we value arrogance, not humility. In Namibia we value showing off, not adding value. In Namibia we value imitations, originality. If we valued true education and its real purposes, we would be doing things differently, as Robert Mugabe did with his education system such that Zimbabweans are the most educated Africans today who can survive meaningfully anywhere in the world. In the first ten years of independence, Zimbabwe placed serious emphasis on education by honoring those who were educated, rewarding education and placing in the leadership and administration of the education system the best brains that Zimbabwe had. Mugabe did not fear educated people. He inspired and challenged them. The first Minister of Education in Zimbabwe, Professor Dzingai Mutumbuka, tells the story that they looked for and used the educated citizens to become the role models of the young. That includes Mugabe himself, whose English and rhetorical skills even the British media marveled at. Mugabe’s first education team vowed to Build One Classroom a Day! The rest, as they say, is history. The truth is that education is, literally and figuratively, costly. If you think education is expensive, please try ignorance!