NAMCOL faces major challenges

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The Namibian College of Open Learning (NAMCOL) is arguably one of the fastest growing institutions of learning in the country. New Era journalist Alvine Kapitako spoke to NAMCOL director Heroldt Murangi about the country’s education system and NAMCOL’s ability to produce skilled and competent graduates.

What is your impression of the country’s education system, especially regarding the national examinations of Grade 10 and 12’s?

My overall impression with the education system is… I don’t have serious problems with it. I cannot even say that maybe as a country we have a bad education system, but I think what we can say is that we have quite a variety of challenges. As you know education is a collective responsibility. It involves us as service providers. It involves the Ministry [of Education, Arts and Culture], government, parents and the students. I get the feeling sometimes that we don’t move, or we are not pulling in the same direction. We really don’t support each other where we need to support each other. I think overall as Namibians we are so good and qualified at criticism, but we sometimes don’t come up with practical suggestions and solutions on how we should improve our education system. In my view, as a country we are not at a level where we want to be in terms of the performance of learners.

In 2015 there was a drop in the pass rate of full-time candidates compared to the previous year. Would you attribute that to the transition in government or are there other reasons for this?

I will not say anything in terms of the full-time candidates. The only thing that I need to say is for the learners I am responsible for. But, I have been in the system for some time and there are people to be blamed. In my view, the first culprit is the learners. The learners of today are not serious with their studies. I have travelled this country and last year I went to various places. I would see that tutors are there but the learners are not there, so the seriousness of the students is not there, they lack discipline.

But, we also have challenges with our tutors. The tutors that we use are teachers from the formal education system and they have their full-time responsibilities. They have to cater for their learners and in the afternoon they have to come and support NAMCOL learners. Yes, there are really tutors who are committed to the learners, they are there every time, and they provide their cellphone numbers to learners and all the support that a teacher should provide to the learners.

But, I should also admit that we have those who are just there for the additional income; those who are really neglecting their learners. You find that the learners show up for class, but the tutors are not there. Tutors are coming drunk to centres; tutors come late. They use their cellphones during lessons.

But we have created an SMS system because across the country we have more than 90 tutorial centres to give afternoon classes. If a learner is at the centre and the tutor is not there they send an SMS, which reaches all NAMCOL staff, because sometimes people don’t show up and yet they submit claims that they were at the centres.

I should also applaud those tutors who are committed and go the extra mile. I think those tutors are being compensated through the good results that they deliver.

Also, most of our part-time candidates don’t get support from their parents. The fact that our learners are not getting the necessary support from home they get discouraged and if you are discouraged you will not be able to perform better. Even in formal schools, the schools that perform well do so because of discipline and support that learners get from their teachers and parents.

What is your capacity at NAMCOL for the Grade 10 and 12 learners?

If you can reflect on the performance of our learners during the 2015 national examinations you would see that last year, for example, we had 37 441 full time candidates but we could only qualify 20 318 learners to Grade 11.

Last year we had 11 534 part-time candidates for Grade 10. So, if you combine those two figures, we had around 49 000 learners who sat for our Grade 10 national examinations. I think the concern to me is we should work very hard for those part time and full time candidates for at least about 50 to 60 percent of those candidates to be able to proceed to Grade 11.

But as to who should be blamed I would say it’s a collective responsibility. For example, at the performance of part-time candidates, which I’m responsible for we have managed to get 89.5 percent of the candidates graded. So these are the candidates that got an A grade up to G grade, but I think our concern also is that we still have a high percentage of 10.5 percent of the candidates ungraded.

It’s not an ideal situation. We want to have 100 percent of all the candidates graded. So, we have a challenge. And the biggest challenge for us is how to move the majority from E, F and G grades to the D grades. I think that is the challenge that we need to address.

Not only as institutions providing studies to part-time candidates, even full time schools should try to push as many learners to get the higher grades – D grade and above.

For part-time candidates in 2015, we had 22.5 percent of candidates who got a D grade and above. That’s not good enough. We should be able to push all the students so that at least we can say we have 50 percent of the candidates who got a D grade and above. That should be the ideal situation.

But, I can tell you as an institution we are trying to put all the necessary systems and resources in place. Like now we are busy with our enrollments. Every student is getting our learning resources, which we call study guides and materials at the points of enrollment. As they enroll we give them their books, but I cannot force a learner to open their books.

That’s why I’m saying it’s a collective responsibility; the parents should remind their children to open their books; our tutors should remind their learners to open their books and most importantly the learners should know why they are studying. If they don’t know the reasons why they are there they will not make it.

In 1997, we had below 40 percent of learners graded and today we are almost 90 percent of the Grade 10 learners graded so we are getting there, but as I said right from the beginning parents, service providers, students have to move in the same direction and we have to pull together if we want to get better results.

Coming to our Grade 12 part-time candidates, we are having more students sitting for Grade 12 national exams if we compare to fulltime schools.

If we go to the students who sat for the examination last year there were 20 301 full-time students, which is 42.4 percent, and there were 27 531 part-time candidates, which is 57.6 percent. And that on its own is a challenge. All together last year, as an institution we registered more than 37 000 students for Grade 10 and 12. So, if you are an institution with limited resources with that number of students you are going to have and face serious challenges.

In terms of performance, we are now at 79.7 percent of Grade 12 learners graded, but what is pleasing to me in terms of the Grade 12 results in 2014 is we had 17.8 percent of the learners who got a D grade and above. Last year, we moved from that 17.8 percent to 20.4 percent. And that is what I have explained to you that we should strive for as an institution and what formal schools should strive for is to push candidates with the grades E, F, G’s to the D.

Also, if you take our learners who got a C grade and above, in 2014 it was 6.7 percent and last year it moved from 6.7 percent to 8.2 percent, so our ultimate objective really is to move the majority of our learners from the lower grades to the higher grades.

So, overall, because of those slight increases in the higher grades I can say I’m fairly happy that we could push some learners from the lower grades to the higher grades.

What is painful is that NAMCOL gets the blame for the mess that was created by somebody else. The learners that we are taking on board did not fall from heaven. They came from the formal system and I am always saying if the formal system is good enough, why are they not passing their learners? Why should I (NAMCOL) take every year half of the Grade 10’s that were in the formal schools?

In addition, there were 20 301 Grade 12 learners last year. But the ones that got a C grade and above in English is just slightly about 6 000. This means that in order for other learners to be admitted in institutions of higher learning they need to improve on their English.

And so, the biggest challenge that I’m going to face this year, is the fact that we are expecting almost 14 000 learners from the formal schools coming to improve their English and already we had almost 15 000 of learners that did English last year at NAMCOL. And from those learners only 3 000 performed well in English.

So, we also have a challenge in terms of capacity, but that is something that we are going to address. In terms of the part-time candidates there is a slight improvement every year, but the years also differ. Last year might have been a good year for us but this year might not be a good year because it depends on the type of candidates and the number of candidates that we receive. Some of these candidates are people who lack discipline.

Please give us a breakdown of how many Grade 10 learners qualified for Grade 11 and how many Grade 12 learners passed.

I think the one thing that people don’t understand is the question you are asking now. How many learners have passed Grade 10 or Grade 12? That’s the question people normally ask. It’s a very difficult question to answer if you deal with part-time candidates, because part-time candidates don’t take the full scope of the syllabi. Part-time candidates take on average two subjects.

Those who were in school last year will have their results from the schools, but maybe in two subjects they did not do well so they come to us to improve those two subjects. Therefore, I will never be able to tell you how many part-time candidates have qualified to go to Unam (University of Namibia) or Polytechnic (now called the Namibia’s University of Science and Technology). Normally, the way we report our statistics is that we have so many subjects and that is how they have been graded.

Even with the ones who passed Grade 10 at NAMCOL, we will never be able to know because the admission is being done by the formal education system. So normally what they will do is to invite all the students with NAMCOL [qualifications], who were qualified students and look at their results of the previous year, add them up and on that basis determine how many have qualified to go to Grade 11. But I have noticed that between 3 000 and 3 500 learners are admitted to Grade 11 from NAMCOL or other private institutions.

There is a general impression that private institutions like TUCSIN are doing a better job than NAMCOL. What are your views regarding this?

I just told you that we should compare apples with apples. If a learner is going to TUCSIN and TUCSIN is having its own admission requirements that is not a fair comparison. NAMCOL is a public institution and that’s why the Ministry [of Education, Arts and Culture], with the release of the Grade 12 results ranked private and public schools separately.

Why do we need to compare public institutions with private institutions? I mean, how many learners is TUCSIN taking? How many learners are we taking? We are taking 38 000 learners and because this is a government institution we cannot discriminate and have requirements that will prevent learners from pursuing their studies.
So, we take even those who got ungraded (U), even those who got G’s while some private institutions are very selective to such an extent that U’s and G’s and F’s will not be admitted. This is a national institution; we have a national responsibility. We cannot select and chase learners away because we are publicly funded.

Talking of funding. Are you adequately funded?

Money will never be enough. Whenever you conduct an interview with any educational institution I don’t think they will omit funding from their list. But I think we should be appreciative of what we receive from the government.
NAMCOL has been in existence since 1997 and due to government’s funding we are always able to provide materials to our learners and we conduct face-to-face sessions with our learners. What more do you want? We have managed to put infrastructure in Windhoek. We have our regional offices in Ongwediva, Otjiwarongo and Rundu, and we are about to establish a sub-regional office in Walvis Bay and Gobabis. We are all over this country.

At least we have managed to set up our infrastructure through funding by the government. And you know the government is one mother with many children, so we cannot always be selfish and say we are not funded properly and the resources are limited. What we should do is to invite the private sector to also assist government, so that we are properly funded. I don’t think education should only be government’s responsibility alone.

And finally, what is your message to the public?

I have to conclude that overall we are happy with our performance, especially our Grade 12 learners of last year. There was an improvement in the higher grades and I wish to encourage learners to work hard and to make use of all the available resources that we have.

You are aware that we broadcast our [educational] programmes through the radio. We have Edu-TV on the NBC (Namibian Broadcasting Corporation) decoder channel 6, where we broadcast educational programmes and we have online content. As long as any NAMCOL learner and those from the formal education system have access to Internet they can access this free content.

The learners of today don’t have excuses to fail, because they get the books and the content is online. Further, we are going to reflect on our results and do a proper analysis on the results and we are going to devise strategies to improve the results.

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