Neglected academic subjects: The root cause


The recently conducted National Conference on Agriculture, Life Science and Biology has prompted the writing of this opinion piece. At the very onset, I would like to bestow a vote of appreciation and admiration to individuals whose mindset crafted the realisation of such a long overdue national conference on neglected subjects. Thanks to the leadership.

Let me then indicate that the conference had indeed confirmed the fact that the subjects in whose privilege the conference was conducted, have been, are and will indeed be and remain neglected if administrative reforms are not implemented as a matter of urgency.

This article is underpinned by one of the notable assertions delivered during the conference. In her speech delivered on her behalf, Basic Education, Arts and Culture Minister, Katrina Hanse-Himarwa, noted that “…subjects such as agriculture, life science and biology took rather a back seat and as a result, did not get their fair share of attention and resource allocation. It is therefore
important that we give these subjects the attention they deserve.” This is a true reflection of the injustices these subjects are exposed to in the education system. For the purpose of this piece, I will situate, contextualise and enunciate the neglect of these subjects from an administrative perspective.

Administratively, independent  as they are and given the magnitude of their scope, these subjects have been and continue to be regarded as add-on features in the department of mathematics and science among many schools. Undeniably, the department of mathematics and science as the name suggests literarally deals purely with the administration of mathematics and physical science
full force, and perhaps less biology as a matter of observation. A perception that agriculture and life science are ‘science’ subjects, I believe, coerced these two subjects to be add-ons to the mathematics and science department, with minimal or no emphasis at all
bestowed on these two, instead of having their stand-alone department.

As a matter of observation, a mathematics and science department only sees to it that secondary aspects of subject administration
such as CASS marks are prepared and examination scripts are moderated, but administration of agriculture goes beyond that scope. This is no fault of the head of department for mathematics and science as they do not have specialised subject expertise to be proactive and initiate dialogue in terms of subject syllabus requirements, methodological layout and pedagogical aspects. Ironically, an
agriculture and life science teacher has never been, and cannot, and will never ever be, under the current appointment requirements, appointed to head the mathematics and science department, during which time one will be expected to improve the administration of the two subjects.

However, mathematics and science teachers are, in a blink of an eye, appointed to head mathematics and science departments and oversee agriculture and life science subjects’ administration. How fair is it that mathematics teachers are appointed
to administer agriculture but an agriculture teacher can never be appointed to administer mathematics?

Not teaching, just administration. This is an underestimation of the intellect and competence of all agriculture teachers in the profession, and this must be addressed head-on to avoid further damage to the subject specialisation.

Fact, mathematics and science have been, are and continue to be advantaged at the expense of many subjects in addition to agriculture
and life science – there is no doubt about that. On the contrary, the fact  remains that agriculture, praised as the backbone of the economy, is a more extensive, practical and technical subject than mathematics and science. Agriculture syllabi are composed of topics that are purely practical, technical, sophisticated and require extensive coverage, dealing with tools (not garden tools here, talk of pulley, block and tackle, pipe nipple, pipe spanners, vice-grip, etc.), farm structures, water installation materials and machineries. All these instructional resources need an expert in the field as a head of department to pursue their availability at schools for increased learners’ theoretical and practical comprehension. A mathematics teacher is not instrumental in advancing a positive discourse to mobilise all these resources. I personally have to carry my tools (those I have) to school to reinforce learners’ theoretical and practical
understanding. Mathematics departments all use the available resources to promote and procure the nitty-gritties for mathematics
and physical science, and they are correct in doing that.

As a point of departure, this conference should be an eye-opener that all is not well in the school system and a complete subject administrative overhaul is required. I m not privy to any resolution taken at the conference, if any, but as an experienced subject matter expert in the field of agriculture, it is my proposition that agriculture, life science and biology must have its own head of department, an expert who will manage and administer the subject specialisation accordingly, methodologically soundly
and pedagogically well. Yes, there are some schools that have taken a bold decision to have an agriculture and life science department, but quite a minority unfortunately. The intensity of the concept ‘science’ in agricultural terms has never been, cannot be and will never be equated precisely with the intensity of the same concept in mathematics and physical science terms, so as to qualify agriculture and life science to be add-ons to the mathematics department. These subjects should thus stand on their own for improved
administration, teaching, learning and output.
• Elock Shikalepo is a Namibian scholar with a deep-rooted interest in educational management. He can be reached at


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