Quality education in Namibia prior to the attainment of political independence was meant only for a small elite.
Shortly after Independence, the then Ministry of Education and Culture came up with new policies to ensure that every Namibian citizen has equal educational opportunities.
In its policy document, Towards Education for All, which was formulated to ensure that all Namibians, irrespective of race, color or creed, have access to education, the then Ministry of Education and Culture committed itself to ensuring that all learners, educators and communities share a common responsibility in ensuring learners have access to quality education.
The Towards Education for All policy document criticised the approach used by the education system prior to Independence. It argued that the colonial education curriculum was unsatisfactory in important respects, that it was only concerned with teaching indigenous learners to describe, label and categorise things. It did not focus on in-depth learning, the document concludes.
Following the needs analysis as outlined in Towards Education for All, a new curriculum was formulated to replace the Pilot Curriculum Guide for formal Senior Secondary Education. This was done to ensure continuity of the foundational principles of the Namibian education system.
As a result, automatic promotion was introduced. This refers to transferring a learner to the next grade in case the learner fails to meet the promotional requirements for the second time in the same school phase.
The policy stipulates that a learner is only allowed to repeat once in each school phase. The policy has been received with mixed feelings. This article discusses the benefits, shortfalls, as well as implications of its implementation in Namibian schools.
Arguments in favour of automatic promotion policy are numerous. In its National Curriculum for Basic Education document, NIED (National Institute for Education Development) argues that, “making a learner repeat a grade will be of no benefit unless the learner receives learning support”.
There’s no doubt the curriculum advocates for the assurance of learners’ promotion, regardless of the attainment of basic competencies, rather than focusing on the learners’ attainment of the basic competencies for promotional purposes.
Some arguments in favour of the policy are based on the fact that repeaters are likely to fall far behind, compared to their peers. This may lower their self-esteem and subsequently cause them to drop out of school.
The researchers further argued that if learners were held back it could negatively affect classroom management due to large age differences. The researchers further claimed that learners who are held back are subjected to name-calling by their peers and the fear of being labelled as stupid.
In as much as there are arguments in favour of the automatic promotion policy, we strongly feel that the interest of the child has not been adequately considered in this regard.
The African Charter on the rights and welfare of the child, Article 4, states that “In all actions concerning the child undertaken by any person or authority the best interests of the child shall be the primary consideration”.
Article 5 of the same document also advocates for the survival and development of the child. It is our strong conviction that the decisions taken, as outlined in the National Curriculum for Basic Education, are in no ways in the best interests of the child: allowing a learner to progress to the next grade without mastering the required level of competencies is detrimental to the child’s academic development.
The social survival of the child is also neglected, as such learners are likely to end up in the exit grades without having developed the required competencies to pass that particular grade. Some researchers confirm that promoting the learners to the next grade without having attained the required level of competencies negatively affects their graduation at the exit grade.
They further point out that since learners know they would be promoted anyway, regardless of whether they have satisfied the promotional requirements or not, this would promote a culture of laziness. This may result in the learner dropping out of school and not being able to secure employment.
The automatic promotion policy also makes learners less responsible with regard to their own learning. Observation and experience have it that in some cases (if not all) if the learner is aware that he or she will, even if they fail, not repeat a grade, this particular learner tends to relax and not work harder as may be expected of them. This is so because learners expect to be automatically transferred to the next grade.
We have also observed that automatic promotion appears to have a ceiling. Learners are only allowed to be automatically promoted in grades preceding Grade 10. Unfortunately, the same cannot be done in Grade 10 and Grade 12. In most cases this may force them to exit the basic education system without having mastered any taught competencies. Statistics show that some learners finish Grade 10 with no more than 15 points.
Automatic promotion has proven to be a dismal failure and must be stopped for the betterment of the learners’ future, the schools, as well that of the education system at large!
* Aron and Itana are M. Ed (Management, Leadership and Policy Studies) students at the University of Namibia