Dear Editor, allow me to continue from where I left off last week. To affect the present commodification of education, we need more than just lobbying for price control laws, thus the need to appeal to the conscience. At present, the unquestioned idealisation of private education, which is idolised, is simply strengthening brute consumerism and very little of public good.
The question we need to ask is: does the high cost represent quality or simply profit? I tend to think that the latter is the case and the system is deliberately designed with a strong disregard of underlying social conditions and relations. While I do not advocate for a Marxist view, we have to acknowledge that the current system of overpriced private education has created a commodity out of education, independent of the general socio-economic conditions of the average Namibian. The only structures that now exist between these Christian schools and the public is not human but an agreement of service provision, which is actualised by settling your bill.
The child in a school where profit making is the central relationship is only human to the extent that his parents pay the bill. For Christians schools to step to a level of exchanging the human relations to mere trade as part of their philosophy of education – is worrisome. This blind approach of advancing the cause of consumerism in the name of education is promiscuously creating new structures of social relations. Where schools are supposed to be institutions that inform the way we think and build new relationships of peers – private schools, in general, are advancing a culture of economic exclusivism.
Capital is in command of the operations of these Christian schools. Although there may be claims of seeking to equip the Namibian child with quality education, they have the public thinking that high cost of education defines quality. When in reality it represents a capital driven system that has little concern for human relations. This form of costly or overpriced education is an arrangement made around a model of capitalist profit making and has very little to do with the claim of Christian ethos in a society of dominantly poor people.
What is obvious is that these schools are centrally to be considered as enterprises whose services are to be primarily thought of in term of cost-effect. Thus, be it hiring policy, resource acquisition, curriculum etc are all structured around maximizing profits.
While private school need to make profit in order to continue operating, we should question the degree of these profits. Especially, as to whether they are structured with the consideration of the public of the working poor or simply for the well-off working middle and upper class. So far, all evidence indicates that the Christian schools operating in Namibia are aimed at catering for children whose parents are economically well off.
Although I do advocate for a legal process of monitoring charges, I’d like to appeal to the conscience of those who operate and govern these schools. First, there is need to redefine the images of these schools by putting the Christian ethos they claim by reflecting in their pricing. Thus, to make their existence to be about educating the Namibian child rather than the present preoccupation with economic policy and objectives – which sees education as a sub-branch within the schools’ economic policies.
Secondly, there is need for social transformation, which should be actively persuaded. Schools that claim to be based on Christian ethos should seek to actively bridge the gap of social divide. Instead, many of these present schools are all located in areas accessible to middle class and wealthy parents, strategically enhancing class division. Instead of wielding the ‘invisible hand’ of Adam Smith’s free market, they should extend the visible hand of human solidarity with the less privileged as by the teachings of Jesus.
Thirdly, especially for church owned schools. That the churches, which are aware of the socio-economic conditions of majority of Namibians, are happy to watch their schools exclude the children of majority of their church members should be a point of great shame. Noting that majority of these churches have been involved in the liberation struggle but now joining the structures that are oppressing and excluding the children of the poor is unimaginable.
Schools that claim to be founded on Christian ethos have an ethical obligation to be part of the change required to transform the structural injustice upon which our society orbits. It is unethical that institutions that ought to model ethics of care of the highest standard are leading at intensified injection of market principles into educational institutions. Moreover, Christian schools should be the first in understanding that the means to acquire knowledge that would equip our nation to affect their socio-economic conditions must not be left to the control of the wealthy and powerful few.
Finally, education is a public good and Christian schools are meant to promote that, even where they are registered as private entities. Therefore, they need to work towards providing accessible, affordable and quality education as a way of combating ignorance, poverty, and social exclusivism. This would foster a practical contribution of combating social injustice. Then and then only when schools found on Christian ethos demonstrate these values can we truly claim that we are working towards a civilised and just society.
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.