Independence celebration offers space to pause and critically reflect. The objective is to shape a better tomorrow. Against this background, this article critically reflects on education in Namibia since 1990.
Education systems throughout the world are subjects of continuous review.
The purpose is to ensure relevance and responsiveness to the ever-changing needs of dynamic and complex societies.
This is vital in knowledge societies against the backdrop of a competitive global world where knowledge matters. UNESCO in the 90s for example, has established a commission to reflect on education for the 21st century.
The Commission in its report titled: “Report to UNESCO of the International Commission on Education for the Twenty-first Century: Learning the treasure within”, underscored four pillars informing education of the future. These pillars are learning to know, learning to do, learning to be and learning to live together.
This report is a necessary to read for everyone involved in education.
As I write, the UNESCO Institute for Statistics has recently released a fact sheet highlighting global and regional trends, and providing data to target policies, strategies and resources to get all children in schools.
Closer home, we had the Presidential Commission on Higher Education in Namibia that has produced an excellent report in 1991. Those with the responsibility to develop and implement higher education policies seem to have forgotten about the recommendations of this report.
The recent appointment of the Chancellor at UNAM validates the claim that we have forgotten the Commission’s advice. Furthermore, the 1999 Presidential Commission on Education, Training and Culture, and the World Bank study: “Human Capital and Knowledge Development for Economic Growth with equity”, have sufficiently diagnosed the Namibian education system, and have produced practical and concrete recommendations to fix and improve our education system.
We have therefore adequate evidence-based knowledge to fix the education system. Why are we not fixing the education crisis despite all the knowledge to our disposal is the big question? Professor Jonathan Jansen, one of the authorities on education policies, argues in the case of South Africa that it is the case, because of our contempt for the poor and working class.
Boldly stated, we do not care, because dysfunctional schools do not affect our children. Our children are in private and functional schools. It is important to emphasize that philosophy or worldview underpins education systems. In other words, education systems ought to answer fundamental questions such as; what is the purpose of education in our context? Why do we educate?
What ought to become of the people we educate?
What knowledge, skills, values and attributes should the educated possess? It is evident using these questions as analytical tools that Namibia lacks a properly articulated and grounded philosophy of education. Regrettably, the debate about education in Namibia, including in Parliament, seems to confuse schooling with education. Our debates focuses on passing and failing, and not on the personality that the education system ought to produce.
We seem to be happy with a 100% pass rate even if the attributes are personalities with questionable characteristics.
We need to be observant and look at a Tanzanian or Zimbabwean to appreciate value-based education.
To fix the Namibian education system, our country must:
Firstly state, as matter of philosophy and state policy, and without ambiguity, that the provision of equitable quality education for all is a common public good and a basic human right. Thus, we need a philosophy education derived from state ideology.
Secondly, we must develop long-term and evidence-based education plans. Education takes time to produce expected outcomes, hence the need for long-term plans. ETSIP was an attempt, and succeeding education ministers have unfortunately dropped the plan, and have replaced it with short-term plans.
Thirdly, quality education is dependent on the quality of your teachers and other inputs necessary to produce positive learning outcomes. Namibia urgently needs a comprehensive teacher policy.
A teacher policy amongst others, addresses selection to the teaching profession, content of teacher education, deployment of teachers and teacher conditions of service and retention strategies. Not everyone should become a teacher in Namibia, as the case currently. The 1966 ILO/ UNESCO Recommendation concerning the Status of Teachers provides guidelines that we could contextualize.
Fourthly, education needs a predictable and long-term funding formula.
The abolishment of the School Development Fund is an example of a policy that is not evidence-based. Up to now, the Ministry has not done calculations to determine the unit cost per learner to provide equitable quality education.
Introducing education policies for political and opportunistic expediencies are too costly.
Fifthly, appoint staff members on merit.
Sixthly delegate powers to Regional Directors of Education, Schoolboards and principals to manage education.
This is on the understanding that their appointments are on merit. Finally, appoint ministers of education who are visionary, humbly, and therefore, creates space for stakeholder engagements.