Education in Namibia

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Tue Mar 8 16:07:21 UTC 2005

Education in Namibia - What Challenges?

New Era (Windhoek)

March 7, 2005
Posted to the web March 7, 2005

THE post-colonial, Swapo-led government has seen the increase of
educational opportunities for all Namibians as one of the cornerstones of
decolonisation. During the colonial era proper education in Namibia used
to be enjoyed only by privileged few whites mostly enrolled in schools
that were no go areas for indigenous black Namibians. Some communities had
their own schools and the rest were opened and maintained by Christian
churches and other religious institutions.

Like most African countries which underwent the colonial phase, education
was a matter of control and workforce policy. Namibians were educated in
view of specific targets in the economy, vocational and
industrial-professional training were dormant, and only a very tiny
minority of Namibians was given the opportunity to become "intellectuals"
equip-ped with university degrees and so on. At the attainment of
independence, the Namibian government placed education on the agenda as
one of the top national priorities. Despite that, the target of this work
- the educational system - is in and of itself perhaps still one of the
biggest problems facing the country. The high failure rate itself speaks
volumes and this trend brings very little joy to educationalists and to
the country at large.

As an architect of the educational policy in the reformation of the
educational system in today's post independent Namibia, Minister of Higher
Education, Training and Employment Creation Nahas Angula says in as much
as the ministry has given its best to provide every child with the best
education, it has not really been that easy. From the beginning, a number
of problems were encountered in the transformation of the system from
Bantu to IGCSE that is in use today. Due to the fact that people were
already used to colonial education, Angula explained to New Era that there
was silent resilience towards educational change especially in the areas
such as language policy, integration of educational entities and the use
of English from Grade 5 onwards.

"Others felt the reform system was too fast and some initial people
withdrew in the process. One could realise that these were huge, dramatic
changes," he reflected. Considering the fact that education is one area
that is not static but is ever on the move, as one addresses one challenge
others emerge. With all these efforts, some members of the public believe
that the current curriculum is not effective enough, resulting in products
that are not ripe enough for the market.

This has come as a result of unsatisfactory classroom outcome. However,
the minister indicated that since the introduction of the "Education For
All" principle, children are encouraged to go to school where they receive
free instruction. Indeed, "Grade 10 has become a great issue to many
parents," says the veteran ruling Swapo Party educationalist. Grade 11 can
only absorb 50 percent of Grade 10 graduates and the rest are left with
far fewer options.

Though that is the case, the blame cannot be put on the curriculum, as
there are other factors that lead to learners not performing well. A study
was carried out in 2003 in some countries in an effort to compare the
Namibian curriculum with the rest of the world and the results show that
everything is on par with the international standards.

"A curriculum is just a guide. There are many steps and if not properly
followed, the intention might not match the outcome," says the minister.
Though the curriculum is said to be not that effective, many young people
estimated at about 10 000 have received tertiary education in the past 15
years and this according to Angula is visible in companies where one finds
young people working and using English when communicating with service
users. But that does not mean that institutions are efficient, he

Equally, the impact of HIV/AIDS on education has called for a process of
re-engineering the educational system, as significant numbers of teachers
have succumbed to this malady while others are infected. As the
educational sector tries to identify all the problems that are leading to
limited progress, one is tempted to point at the poor foundation as the
other main contributing factor to poor performance in schools, or the
graduation of students of poor intellect.

The learned recommend that the most impressionable, plastic and
educationally potent period of a child's life is the first three to five
years of age and thus an adequate provision for pre-primary instruction
should be made. In most cases, both parents work away from home and as a
result they cannot provide basic childcare or education at home. Children
from marginalised groups have different educational needs.

Given all these reasons and needs, the Ministry of Basic Education, Sport
and Culture is trying to support communities to expand early childhood
education. "We advocate communities to deliver early child teaching though
there is need for technical support as well. We realise that if young
people have to achieve optimally, education must start from early days,
learn from cradle to the grave," he noted.

Further, the ministry has strongly involved itself in supporting the
building of schools in even the remotest areas. Putting emphasis on how
committed the ministry is in promoting education, the minister broadly
indicated that communities usually start up a school and then the
government recognises their efforts by putting up new modern buildings.

"I can tell you that a lot of money, in billions has been put through the
rural development programme," New Era was told.

Do We Have Qualified Teachers?

Looking at the current trend in Namibia, teachers are qualified on paper,
and yet their competencies are suspect. This problem is bred from the
culture of higher institutions granting students educational certificates
without necessarily equipping them certificating for the job market.

The ministry realises all these problems and thus it will soon establish a
statutory body that to look into matters pertaining to how much teachers
are feeding their learners, as well as to monitor if proper methods are
being used.

As one of the founding fathers of post-independence education in Namibia,
Angula added: "Some teachers have the basic education but lack the
methodology to transfer the knowledge. That being the case, teachers will
have to demonstrate their competencies."

Further, being a labour-intensive industry, there are close to 20 000
teachers across the country with 80 percent of the budget being channelled
to teachers' salaries. That has left people with the question of whether
or not it is worth the ministry's while to spend so much, considering the
fact that the input does not seem to march the output. The current
situation carries the message that teachers are demanding for more money
but salaries might not be sustainable in the long run, especially
considering the fact that salaries are being measured by the
qualifications a person holds.

Lack of know-how on transferring knowledge has been identified as one of
the contributing factors to challenges that teachers face today. The
language barrier has also been identified as the culprit in some cases. In
Namibia, education in children's mother tongue continues till Grade 3 and
from there the European models of the monolingual educational system
becomes dominant, certainly for as far as post-primary education levels
are concerned.

"We have recognised that some areas do not use English on a daily basis
and find that in some cases the use of mother tongue interferes," he says,
adding that the Ministry of Higher Education, Training and Employment
Creation through the National Institute of Education Development (NIED) is
addressing this problem.

What about the San?

Upon attainment of independence, Namibia talked of "Education For All" and
that includes people from the formerly disadvantaged communities.

According to the minister, a lot has changed with regard to the San and
Himba people who are now strongly involved in the country's educational
activities. "We have teachers' training colleges for the Himba and (the)
San people," he explained. In order to attract young people from these
once marginalised groups, entry points to colleges have been lowered and a
lot of progress has indeed been achieved.

As head of a ministry that is not only tasked with educating the masses
but also with creating jobs, Angula says conditions have been created to
enable one to get a job. "We are also trying to extend the youths'
employment network with the involvement of the private sector."

Youths would also be advised on what to study and the job prospects in
that particular field of study.

In order to serve the needs of individuals and society at large, education
calls for constant review so as to meet the needs of an ever-changing
society. With commitment to the set goal Vision 2030 in place, independent
Namibia must see the role of education in the process of nation building.
The ministry is dedicated and ready to face the challenges in this sector
and would try its best to provide the best education for every Namibian
regardless of their background.

Copyright  2005 New Era. All rights reserved. Distributed by AllAfrica
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