Epoko school: from laughing stock to centre of excellence

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Nuusita Ashipala

Epoko-Dilapidated and limited infrastructure is not unique to any rural school and Epoko Combined School in the Okalongo circuit of Omusati Region is no exception.

But despite its odds, the school has gone from passing a mere 50 percent of its learners to attaining a 100 percent pass rate in the Grade 10 national examinations last year. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the school recorded an abysmal pass rate of not more than five pupils in Grade 10.

Simply put, Epoko Combined School was the laughing stock of the circuit and the butt of every joke in the region. It became the readily available reference for failure. The change is the fruit of hard work and commitment from teachers, parents and learners of the school, situated about two kilometres from the Outapi-Okalongo road.

A walk around the classrooms reveals broken chairs, some without seating planks and table planks detached from the metal bars, but more gloomy is the fact that there are not enough tables at the school, forcing two to three learners to share a table even when writing mid-term exams.

The principal at the school, Immanuel Haindongo, said the school is in need of at least 50 chairs and a 100 tables to ensure their learner population of 437 are catered for. Narrating the school’s miracle of attaining a 100 percent pass rate in Grade 10 last year, Haindongo said turning around the fortunes of the school was no Sunday picnic.

The school, he said, had to put in extra hours, including camping at the school during the final examination. Teachers whose subject were to be written the following day had to spend the night with the learners, so the children can have contact sessions with the teachers on matters they were struggling with.

Head of department for mathematics and science Johanna Mukulu said the effort would have been fruitless if there was no teamwork, because it required those with cars to ferry fellow non-driving teachers early to bathe and return to school again.

“In all of this we would also thank the learners’ parents, who volunteered to cook for the learners throughout the camping period and also took turns to overnight at the school with the learners,” Mukulu said.

Haindongo said while camping provides a conducive environment to study, it is a challenging exercise, hence the school sought assistance from the men and women’s network to guard the school and also crafted a daily programme to avoid slip-ups, such as learners sneaking out of camp.

Mukulu chipped in to say that at one point they had to send the learners home, because there was no food to feed them. In addition to that, villagers also often sneaked in to the school to distract the learners, hence the school is in need of a well-structured fence to avoid such disturbances in future.

“But the learners were always well-behaved, with the exception of a few minor cases which the school had to deal with,” Mukulu noted.

Haindongo further said camping was always the last resort, because it is the work done during the course of the year that has proven pivotal in ensuring good performance in final exams. He said the school has from time to time had one-on-one performance sessions with the parents and at the same time created foster teachers to guide the learners.

But their hard work has paid off and for that they have received various accolades from both the education circuit and regional awards, including a national recognition for one of their learners.
Like many other schools, Epoko Combined School unqualified teachers make up 16 percent of the teaching staff of 22.

The school principal said though that such teachers are dedicated and were currently enrolled with various institutions to acquire full teaching qualifications.

Cementing the principal’s testimony of hard work as the key to their success was Grade 10 learner Verena Sheehamandje, who moved to the school from A. Shipena Secondary School in Windhoek this year.

“The teachers here are dedicated and serious. Teachers here do not move onto the next topic, unless all the learners understand. Here teachers even come to assist us on Saturday,” Sheehamandje said. Another learner, Elias Konghola, formerly with CJ Brand in Windhoek, said the school environment was conducive for learning.

Apart from the positive achievements, the school is evidently in need of a library, a proper fence, some computers, and an additional block to house a classroom, a proper staff room, as well as a science laboratory.

Mukulu said science teachers at the school perform their practicals sessions in an un-prescribed space, raising the risk of chemicals spilling onto teachers and learners. “But we do this because we believe it is important for the learners to see how things are done, rather than just hearing them because it assists them in answering questions,” she said.

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