This week the Namibian public was greeted with what many may think is a rare headline, or the phenomenon reported on.
“Knives, home-made weapons seized from Oshikoto learners,” screamed one of the headlines in New Era on Wednesday in an article on the seizure by the police of various weapons from learners across the said region.
The police had been on an awareness campaign in the region to sensitise both learners and the community about the consequences of committing crime with lethal weapons, such as knives. But is the root of the problem criminal activities within our schools, one is inclined to ask? Yes and no. Yes because one cannot deny the fact that among our children, and learners, there are those inclined towards criminal acts. Necessarily those found with such weapons may not be carrying and possessing them maliciously on the school grounds with criminal intent. One is made to understand that some of the learners may be carrying such weapons as a means of self-defence. Against bullying that seems rampant in our schools. To amplify the phenomenon of bullying one needs to look no further than the recently released survey report: “School Drop-Out and Out-Of-School Children in Namibia: A National Review,” a publication by the Ministry of Education, Arts and Culture, together with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) together with its Institute for Statistics, and the United Nations International Children Education Fund (UNICEF).
In Chapter 2 of the publication dealing with barriers and bottlenecks, the survey analysis report cites one of the factors or socio-cultural problems which prevents children from attending school, as violence against children, which includes bullying with 41% of the respondents interviewed stating bullying, sexual harassment or rape as one of the leading causes of school dropout in the country. This is among other factors such as low demand for education in certain households; norms surrounding child labour and learner pregnancy; violence against children; high HIV infection rates; substance abuse and disability.
“Of the out-of-school children who answered questions about the area where they went to school, 15% explicitly mention alcohol abuse as one of the defining characteristics of the area,” the publication points out, adding that 30% of people interviewed reported that one of the main challenges facing Namibian youth is alcohol and drug abuse.
Also glancing through the report one cannot but fully grasp and appreciate why the Namibian government has introduced, first free primary schooling, and lately, this year, free secondary schooling. Because from this publication it is obvious what a major inhibiting factor money is, let alone in accessing schooling, and even retaining children in school whatever the level may be – whether primary, lower secondary or higher secondary.
“A great number of parents were reported to be unemployed or underemployed (working on farms and receiving very low wages) and as a result could not afford to pay the school development fund levied in secondary schools, nor hostel fees for both primary and secondary school hostels,” the publication points out, thus underlining that money is a factor in accessing schooling. This is more so in rural areas where, according to the report, distances that children have to travel to access education is a factor in terms of transportation. In this regard the report recommends especially “early grades be taken closer to the population wherever it is feasible”.
Another factor that the report highlights is the importance of feeding schemes in schools with the attendance rate recommending that school feeding be expanded to secondary schools along similar lines as the successful primary school feeding programmes.
In yet another headline the same day, the Minister of Education, Arts and Culture, Katrina Hanse-Himarwa, was quoted through her deputy, Anna Nghipondoka, as being alarmed by pregnancies among learners, and the need to address it.
Similarly the said report observes that “learner motherhood is another serious issue affecting school participation with 19% of learners in the 15-19 years age group having started bearing children”.
But to cut a long story short, rather than relying on conjecture and guesswork, policymakers have, in the results of this survey, empirical evidence about the prevailing situation in schools, and the barriers and bottlenecks to accessing schooling. More than that the survey results contain some guiding and instructive recommendations. What remains is the application of this knowledge and the implementation, where feasible, of the given recommendations.