Education under spotlightBy: CATHERINE SASMAN
POLITICAL and educational experts placed great emphasis on practical outcomes and actionable recommendations to the failing education system under discussion at the five-day national conference on education in Windhoek.
It provides a broad-based platform that will focus on what has worked so far, what has not, and to turn the corner in a sector that has consistently been dogged by questionable outcomes despite massive financial investments.
The conference is expected to propose a blueprint that can be used by Government to make tangible changes.
The first national conference on education and training was held 10 years ago.
President Hifikepunye Pohamba said the conference should aim at improving the quality of education in Namibia and expanding access to all Namibian children.
“As a nation we must join each other’s hands to find the most effective manner of overcoming the challenges within Namibia’s education sector,” Pohamba said.
The conference was opened with much pomp and ceremony with Pohamba, founding President Sam Nujoma, regional governors and traditional leaders, school representatives from all corners of the country, international and diplomatic partners.
Instead of the anticipated 600 to 700 delegates, more than 1 000 participants arrived, many of whom are from the civil society sector that has demanded representation and input during the conference.
Minister of Education Abraham Iyambo expressed satisfaction with the investments the country has so far made in the education sector, as well as the policy and legislative directives, but acknowledged that the implementation of the system leaves a lot to be desired.
Over the last 11 years, the budget of the Ministry of Education has increased from N$1,8 billion in 2000/1 to a whopping N$8,3 billion, which translates into a 360 per cent increase.
Academic and member of the organising secretariat of the conference, Professor Andre du Pisani, said the education review is urgent.
But whether the sociology of the process – or the manner in which delegates to the conference have been selected, and the way in which discussions will be structured – would deliver the desirable outcome, he said, remains to be seen.
He suggested that there would be inherent tensions among the groups legitimising the system, as opposed to a diagnostic approach that will be geared to identifying the fault lines in the system and generate solutions.
An audit of the education system showed that there are currently 600 000 students in Namibia, with 400 000 enrolled in the first two cycles of the system. A total of 174 000 are in secondary school, and 8 475 in preschool.
The audit showed that while there has been a general increase in enrolment from 2004 to 2010, two regions, Oshana and Omusati, showed a decrease.
A worrying trend is lower promotion and a higher dropout rate among boys; there is a marked increase of female enrolment in secondary schools.
Another worrying trend is that the national average in mathematics and English is below 50 per cent, and that – with the exception of Erongo and Khomas regions –- the majority of pupils are performing below basic standard and most regions only show marginal improvements.
THE ELEPHANT IN THE KRAAL
Prime Minister Nahas Angula said the principal areas of concern are the diversification of the system, and that sound principles of the current curriculum are not being implemented.
He said teacher education programmes are out of step with what is required by the pupil-centred curriculum.
Another failure of the system, he added, is the lack of progress in the expansion and diversification of the vocational education and training system, charging that the only vocational training centres that offer “truly relevant and demand-driven” training opportunities are those under the Namibia Institute for Mining and Technology at Arandis.
“Others are mediocre,” was his blunt assessment.
The audit showed that the single most critical issue that could destroy the Namibian education system is the poor discipline and work ethics of teachers, which results in many pupils being short-changed by about 40 to 50 days of learning per year.
If this is not addressed, the audit suggested, the education system will not improve.