A rainy day is the best time to check whether the roof is watertight. For education policymakers in Namibia, the proverbial rainy day has arrived: it is an open secret that the system is not delivering the desired results, the question remains who is to blame-learners or teachers?
The recently released matric examination results have drawn criticism to the competency levels of the educators on the one hand while pondering whether systemic challenges are the reason why matric results continue to be dismal. Others have laid the blame squarely at the door of learners who are said to lack self-drive to educate themselves beyond the classrooms. Parents have also been accused of leaving education in the hands of schools.
Teachers have partly refused to shoulder the blame of the academic results saying the system in itself does not support them adequately. The refusal came despite the fact that an English competency test written a few years back exposed to poor competency levels in English amongst teachers.
Some have also questioned whether teachers are remunerated well to go the extra mile. The ministry this week said it believes, at least when compared to its regional peers, that teachers in Namibia are well paid.
The recent poor performance especially in the English Language, has presented flashbacks to the aborted English language proficiency test that teachers failed drastically who have since decided to dodge class, with the backing of the union.
Results of the test taken by teachers in 2011 revealed that 98 per cent of Namibian teachers (22089) could not read, write and speak English well enough, reported a daily newspaper. The results were quite compromising, seeing that those entrusted with the duty to educate the future generation do not have what it takes to cross the pass mark.
The report also brought to light that more than 70 per cent of teachers in the senior secondary phase cannot read and write English, while 63 per cent in the junior secondary phase are not proficient in English.
The results were even worrisome in the primary school level with about 52 per cent of lower primary teachers struggling to construct sentences verbally and in writing.
On the scoresheets, a total of 7850 teachers scored between 0 and 52 per cent in the test, while 10094 got between 53 and 74 per cent, 4145 between 75 and 92 per cent.
Only 561 managed to get between 93 and 100 per cent and were to be exempted from further training in the English language.
A deeper dig into the teachers’ results laid bare that educators needed more help should the learners’ results be expected to change. Cases such as teachers struggling with capital letters, subject-verb agreement, singular and plural forms, articles and the use of full stops came to light.
Others struggled with adjectives and adverbs, punctuation, tenses and plural nouns. On top of this, some teachers had troubles with severe problems around subject-verb agreement, all verb tenses and basic punctuation.
Ultimately, those who scored poorly in the reading and language use sections also performed poorly in the writing section. They also lack critical thinking skills and discourse analysis, the report stated.
The English Language test, a brainchild of the late and former education minister Abraham Iyambo, was an initiative born to seek answers for the flawed education system.
The innocuous intentions of the test were such that the ministry assess the teachers’ proficiency and should the result turn out dismal; the ministry was going to look into remedial actions to equip the educators with the lack of skill. It was not to pass or fail teachers but to improve their language skills.
After the humiliating results, teachers were placed in categories of competency and were provided with self-study guides to help them improve their flaws. Only a handful continued with this voluntary exercise while many who couldn’t stand the humiliation, decided to stay away.
A teacher who spoke on condition of anonymity absconded from the second test after writing the first. She says it was a waste of money and her time especially knowing that the same institution [UNAM] that wanted to asses her was the very same institution that did not equip her well. “How do they claim that they want to help us when all you get afterwards is a rating and a self-study guide? It is like wanting to help someone but you leave them on they own. We expected better,” she said.
Nantu defends teachers
At the teachers’ defence, Namibia National Teachers’ Union secretary general Basilius Haingura rebelled against the test saying the ministry should not place the poor performance of learners on the teachers’ shoulders just because they failed the test.
Haingura is of the opinion that the same system that trained teachers has failed them drastically before they[teachers] entered the classroom. “Teachers are supposed to receive in-service training in line with the subject/s they teach. If the competence that the ministry is testing them for was not part of the teachers’ training before they entered the classroom, then the test becomes invalid,” he said.
Haingura this week defended his stance on the test saying all education stakeholders should carry the blame if fingers are to be pointed. He said the current underperformance is a reflection of the entire system and not necessarily a poor job done by the teachers.
“You find that the same teacher who produces an ungraded in the English subject is the same teacher whose learners pass with ‘A’ symbols in other subjects. So let us look at the matter holistically and not blame the teachers alone.”
Personnel from the University of Namibia who formed part of the team that drafted the test said there were many misconceptions between the ministry and the teachers that brought about the resistance from the teachers union.
One of the officials, who cannot be named, said the initiative was primarily a diagnostic test to help the ministry to provide in-service training for the teachers based on their competency level.
Since the commotion between the ministry and the union, and with the passing of [former education minister]Dr. Abraham Iyambo, further implementation from the ministry started falling short which subsequently resulted into the early death of the initiative.
Parental involvement pivotal
Parental involvement in the education of children has been identified as one of the keys to success, and although some parents have heeded the call, many still leave education in the hands of teachers.
Parents, Dawie Fourie and his wife Dr. Chrisna von Gericke – Fourie, sat down with The Patriot to talk about the role of parents in the lives of their children, as far as education is concerned.
Their three sons Tinus, Charlie and Dawie all made it into the HIGCSE top ten performing learners in 2008, 2012 and 2017 respectively. They all matriculated at Windhoek High School. “As a parent you must be fully involved in the life of your children, whether it is education, sports or any activity. Parents must communicate clearly with their children so that the children can be comfortable to approach the parents. School is a big part of any child’s life, hence parents must play their role in preparing their children both mentally and emotionally to ensure that they raise children who can be assets to the nation,” said von Gericke – Fourie. She said although the emphasis is placed on government to take care of learners’ education needs, parents also have a role to play. “As much as parents must provide security to their offspring, they must also deal with the discipline aspect and ensure that children believe in their potential. Nowadays children lack self-confidence because their parents do not have such conversations with their children.
Dawie said government is to blame in some aspects such as ensuring that teaching materials reach schools timeously. “Rather than shouting for free education, we must ensure that the capacity has been developed to deal with all challenges that comes with free education. Free education is pointless if there is no results to show for it. The education system must be well-oiled and we must ensure that the best teachers are promoted,” he said.
He also questioned the process of appointing school princiapls, saying some schools perform poorly because of poor leadership.
“You will see that in most cases teachers who perform well in their subjects are promoted to become HoDs and then school principals even though they lack the required leadership qualities,” he said.
Chrisna, on the other hand, cautioned parents against comparing the abilities of their children.
“Comparing your children with one another is cruel and might demoralise some of the children. We must allow our children to dream and at the same time affirm their potential by continuously encouraging them to excel,” she said.
She also urged parents to teach their kids “to suffer well”.
“When we say parents should be involved in the education of their children, we do not mean being overly involved like doing the child’s projects but merely to play a guiding role.
When a child is treated unfairly at school, parents should not go moan at the teachers – only when it is an extreme case. But in general, parent involvement does not mean overruling teachers,” she said.
She also highlighted the importance of early childhood education in order to stimulate the minds of children at a tender age. “Parents must at all times make their children feel significant. No matter the circumstances, parents must not underestimate what they can do for their children. The development of a child’s brain is key from an early age,” she concluded.
Phasing out of grade 10
Plans to phase out grade 10 in 2019, will start off with a parallel system, which will include both the old curriculum and the new curriculum until learners who will not be successful next year, exit. Only then, will the Ministry of Education focus on the new curriculum on its own.
In an interview with The Patriot on Tuesday, the deputy permanent secretary in the Ministry of Education, Charles Kabajani, noted that there are many Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries that have done away with grade 10 examinations as it serves no purpose and Namibia is following suit. He explained that the design of the new curriculum system is responsive and articulates more balance between academic and pre-vocational subjects which at the same time increases the interests of students to learn.
“The system is also designed to keep children in school rather than having a high number of student drop outs each year” said Kabajani. He further highlighted that the new system change will not throw away the benefits of the previous system.
It will only change its focus and philosophy to better the education system and everything else will remain the same.
“The Ministry aims to diagnose learning instead of examining it, which will then pinpoint to where failure as a problem comes in” he said.
In addition Kabajani noted that despite the strain of the economy, the Ministry is preparing teachers and school managers for the new system to ensure that it will run smoothly. “We are well aware of the costs, however we will work within our means to make sure that learners are not disadvantaged”.
Grade 8 and 9 will continue to remain a junior secondary diagnostic entry for learners who proceed to the senior secondary phase which will now start from grade 10 and continue on to grade 11 and grade 12.
Learners will thus write on ordinary level from grade 10 and at the end of grade 11, learners will write the Namibia Senior Secondary Certificate Ordinary (NSSCO).
During this phase learners will take two promotional core subjects, four elective subjects and four support subjects.
The new curriculum of the NSSCO will be inclusive of promotional subjects and support subjects such as Life Skills, Arts, Information and Communication and Physical Education. Core subjects such as English and Mathematics or Advanced Mathematics will also be included.
Learners will then be allowed to enter university which offers diploma and certificate programmes pitched at NQF Levels Five and Six, such as technical or vocational education, teacher education for pre-primary and junior primary teachers.
Learners will also be allowed enter the job market if they opt not to further their studies.
Those who excel in grade 11 will have the choice to continue onto Grade 12 in schools that will offer it, for the Namibia Senior Secondary Certificate Higher (NSSCH) level which will be benchmarked against the Cambridge Advanced Subsidiary Level.
The Advanced Level based on the Cambridge A level will be introduced into Namibian senior secondary education through a phase-in plan.
Those who choose to write A level will thus write A’ Level National Examinations after 13 years of schooling.