Many children in Namibia start school late, which increases their risk of eventually dropping out of school.
Also, dropout rates in Grade 10 and 12 are a serious concern which affect how well the country is able to prepare young people for the job market, to be young entrepreneurs and secure sustainable livelihoods.
Speaking at the two-day conference on school dropout and out of school children, UN resident coordinator Anita Kiki Gbeho said it is clear that there is a need to focus attention on children in their earlier grades of schooling.
A study was conducted on the issue by the Ministry of Education with the support of Unicef and Unesco.
The study provides information on the barriers to inclusive education and puts forward useful recommendations on how to address the challenges of out-of-school children.
“Without a firm foundation, there is little hope of quality education in the later years of schooling,” stated Gbeho.
According to Gbeho many children remain out of school due to barriers such as poverty, disability, cultural practices and teenage pregnancies.
“These children have an equal right to education and their needs must be met,” she adds.
Gbeho further said the conference is indeed timely and an opportunity to reflect on the recommendations of the report on school dropout and out of school children in Namibia.
“We need to understand why despite progressive policies and increased access to education, some Namibian children still do not complete secondary education.”
At the conference, a Windhoek young woman related how health matters and teenage pregnancy became barriers in her finishing Grade 12 and going to university.
Deborah Gowases’ dream was to pursue a degree in marketing and communications, which would have made her first in her family to go to university.
But towards 2008 her mother became very ill and later her younger sister, whom she took care of, fell pregnant.
“My mother was hospitalised and bedridden and this started affecting my grades. As a single mother she had no one to look back to except my sister who was in Grade 8 at the time and me.”
Gowases, a teenager then, was tasked to take care of her mother’s duties at home while focusing on her schoolwork – but maintaining good grades became difficult. She completed her Grade 12 but did not pass with the required points to go to university.
Gowases immediately found herself an unskilled job as sales assistant in the retail sector to take care of her sister’s school fees and her mother.
“As an 18-year-old, I made sure my sister’s school fees, uniform, books and food were provided from what I earned.”
Gowases’ younger sister then fell pregnant while in Grade 10, and dropped out of school and refused to go back to school because of the stigmatisation from teachers and her peers at the school.
“Teenage pregnancy is an epidemic in Namibia society. Young girls are becoming young mothers at a young age with an alarming rate of unplanned pregnancy. This affects their lives and those around them. Awareness on parenthood and support of out of school young girls in the society and at school will reaffirm the importance of education,” said Gowases, who is currently enrolled with the National Youth Service (NYS), which is a doorway for her dreams to be fulfilled.
According to Unicef nearly 104 000 children in the pre-primary, primary and secondary phases were out of school in Namibia in 2011, while 99 200 children in the primary and secondary phases were at risk of dropping out of school in Namibia in 2011.
Minister of Education, Arts and Culture Katrina Hanse-Himarwa, who is also a farmer, stated that she has witnessed many children of farm workers dropping out of school.
“A child today drops out of school; instantly becomes an adult prematurely, a parent, a wife and the husband is also a school dropout. They are victims of the same vicious cycle of poverty,” remarked Hanse-Himarwa, adding that children born under these conditions would likely fall in the same circle.