Allow me to write the first part of a series on Christian schools, exorbitant fees and commodification of education. Public education in the Namibian came as a blessing, when the first missionaries thought it prudent to teach local Namibians the basic skills of reading and writing. From that time, churches took the role of public education, which grew tremendously, equipping people who never knew anything about reading and writing, to literally become literate – overnight. Year later, with the strengthening of colonialism, education came under the control of the state.
However, the first form of education equipped people only to read the bible and the catechism; it was not a form of education that allowed the black child to progress beyond becoming a glorified church layman, school tutor or local clinic assistant. The education didn’t train black children in advanced medicine, agriculture, mathematics, politics, law, philosophy, administration etc. Although the church laid the basic bricks for education, colonialism reinforced this form of education in order to continue keeping the black child as ignorant as possible, and to become nothing other than what the education system was designed to make him – a literate parrot.
Particularly under the apartheid system, state resources were used to create two forms of education – the black child’s education was simply called ‘people’s (Bantu) education.’ This education of the black child reinforced the limited career and academic development in the child and didn’t enhance functioning at demanding cognitive tasks. This education system affected hundreds of thousands and the effects have spilled into our modern days.
Thus, the education system, as we have it, is flawed in many ways and it is only by the cheer mercy of God and luck that so many are escaping this tool of social oppression. However, the Christian schools which ought to have been at the forefront of providing quality, progressive, and effective education, have turned to profit-oriented models – capitalising on the failure of the state. Models in which education is no longer a tool for social transformation but a luxurious commodity. Given the high demand for quality education, they supply it, but only for a selected few who can afford it.
Doesn’t it raise ethical problems to think that schools (St. George’s Diocesan School & College, St. Paul’s College, Amazing Kids, Gymnasium, Kleine Professor, Windhoek Christian Academy [N$25 000 – N$130 000, annual school fees]) which have publically declared themselves to be based on Christian ethos, are the very ones at the centre of providing education which excludes the poor and poorest of our society. We acknowledge the giving of scholarships to some the less privileged children by some of these schools as part of their social responsibility. I’m not condemning them for good works but for their contribution to the divide between the rich and poor – setting themselves up as schools for access by the middle and upper income parents only.
On the other hand, society has accepted this as a norm – even something to boast about. As a society, we’ve embraced the notion that elitism promoted through this Christian institutions of learning is actually the meaning of education. We’ve collectively become blind to the fact that this form of education is headed into a direction that will systematically marginalise children from poor families – simply because of cost. The same way poor people are left to fend themselves off against high home rent, high food costs, high transport costs etc, they have to do the same when it comes to education.
How do schools that are based on Christian ethos manage to follow a purely capitalist system of education – in a society where an overwhelming majority of the pollution earn less than N$ 120 000 per annum? While capitalism in itself is not a evil system, but when followed to its logical conclusion, cannot help but wield the kinds of results we now see in the money-driven Christian schools. Unless we begin to question the ethics of this form of education, Christians have no business to question the disintegration of society in general.
I don’t want us to think that the Christians schools are necessarily responsible to the state of things. However, if they were established under the guise of being interventions to the inadequacy of state education, they have tremendously failed on how they have gone about to address the issue. Instead of providing affordable and accessible education, they have created exclusive systems. Literally clubs for well off children, situated in areas of the city where they are unaware of the sufferings of children born to poor parents and growing to think it’s a normal systems of life.
At this junction, it is time, that there should be laws to regulate the cost of private schools in general. However, this should never have been a call from the public, as far as Christian schools are concerned. They ought to be serving as guardians to fill that gap which the state left open through neglect; instead, they have become economic vultures and creators of new socialites. It is obvious that these are profit-making institutions that see the education of the child only through the lenses of the dollar signs, and catering only the children whose parents have the financial means. So what exactly is the Christian ethos, in the face of this growing commodification of education? (To be continued…)
Basilius M. Kasera
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are in my private capacity, based on Article 21 of the Namibian constitution, granting freedom of speech and expression. They are not views of my employer IUM or its affiliates