A few years, not long ago, Namibia witnessed a rather, controversial English Proficiency Test for teachers in Namibian schools. I say this was controversial because it was received with mixed emotions. Some teachers and ordinary citizenry, felt it was an unfair request towards teachers who (most of them) undertook their schooling, plus their teacher training in English. This surprisingly included qualified and certified English teachers. As if the latter is not enough, the institution which was mandated to administer and run this test is the one which trained the largest percentage of the teachers who were expected to take that test, they are graduates of the same institution (OUR UNAM).
While a good number of teachers undertook the ordeal(in my opinion) of writing a series of tests which were set, another good number of teachers out there did not take any or took one and left all others not written. As I write, I am yet to understand what this was intended for. I am yet to get clarity on the evaluation on how it went and how much our teachers learned and improved especially when it comes to classroom practice; and what the certificates some were given is useful for? Having taken the test myself, upon receiving the certificate, I asked whether it could function for example, like those others of TESOL or TOFEL.
The answer was a sure NO. I was disappointed and until now, I lack the understanding of the purpose of and the usefulness of the certificate in my possession (especially as a qualified and already certified English teacher) and many other teachers out there. Colleagues, I am leaving this here, I am hoping that someone out there can explain to those who, like me, lack the understanding of what the purpose of the certificate we got is. I should mention here that while this whole Proficiency test for teachers was run by UNAM, the Ministry of Education mandated or entrusted UNAM to do so.
Now my question is; Did UNAM consider that by accepting that obligation, they agreed that the quality of the graduates they produced, especially in English, is very questionable? This leads me to the main discussion of this article.
Being a graduate of our University of Namibia as an English teacher, it pains me every time I hear concerns and complains which range from the learners failing English especially in national examinations, to, hearing that we have incompetent English teachers out there. Let me be quick to mention here that there are several causes of the situation of English in Namibian schools and in Namibia as a country. 1. We are coming from a background where Afrikaans was the lingua franca and a main language of education. 2.
We still have many teachers teaching English who undertook their basic education in other languages than English. 3. We have the recent issue and the challenge which can be addressed now, which is that we have graduates from our then colleges and UNAM and other teacher training institutions certified to teach English but are still challenged to even express themselves fluently in English. I painfully listed all the above, not to make anybody feel bad, or belittled nor to question anybody’s ability.
I listed these, to trigger real and helpful discussion nationwide on the issue of English in Namibia. We need to seek to do to what one may call, MASS, PRACTICAL, VISIBLE RESULT DRIVEN CAMPAIGN FOR/ON ENGLISH.
In my opinion, something can be done – should be done. I am confident that, if we, language scholars can seriously engage in a discussion and collaborate with our institutions that train English language teachers (and teachers in general), engage the Ministry of Education and NIED, we can come up with an amicable practical plan to address this. Perhaps we can assist many teachers out there who are struggling and we save the student teachers who are being trained currently from the present trend.
We may need to remember that our learners and students, look up to their teachers (still a good number), for inspiration and for modelling. An English teacher, in my opinion, needs to be fluent (In the last article, I explained what linguistic fluency entails). The learners and students taught by an unsure and therefore a non-fluent English teacher will likely come out as such.
They will feel English is not easy and such it remains. They will not be bold to attempt to express themselves and to write. They will be scared, because if the teacher went to school all her/his years and is even certified as specialised in that language, and yet struggles, who is he/she (the learner/student) to master it?
Allow me to highlight the following realities about our country: 1. English is a problem in Namibia and it will be as such for a time from now, 2. English needs to be unproblematized because it is currently a cause for many dreams shattered and opportunities lost, 3. We need a practical action to do the latter, and not a theoretical test on paper, 4. We need to revisit our prime purposes when it comes to examining and marking our learners during the national English examination, and 5. We need an English School, through which all trained English teachers go before they are certified and send out to teach… I will briefly dwell on the last of the five points I listed above.
Being a language of Mass Communication, an Official Language and a Medium of Instruction, the English language is indeed a necessity to the masses in Namibia. Currently, instead, English is more a challenge than an enabler. I do not agree that we should sit back and quietly watch our children’s dreams go to waste because of a system we ourselves put in place.
As indicated earlier, I am not placing blame on anybody here, I, like others concerned, am looking for an amicable solution to the challenge which we are faced with and are concerned about. I just feel English in Namibia needs a revolution— Yes— a revolution. I just feel that just like anything else, the English issue CAN be resolved, with action.
As a starting point, our teacher training institutions can be the driving forces. I mean I am of the opinion that if we are serious about English and getting it right, we need, now than ever, to rethink our teacher training for the teachers we are sending out to teach English. I feel, in addition to the language courses the teacher training institutions offer, separate, special schools be established, where student teachers specialising in English be placed, go through practical sessions, combined with field works, in schools and communities, and for this, such colleagues will assessed and when they produce satisfying outcomes, they can then go on and teach, inspire, serve as models.
When the above is achieved, we will have teachers who are fluent and fluent teachers would inspire fluency in their learners and students. When this is done, we develop a chain of fluent English users. This is my opinion, and suggestion. I believe, others out there have other better solutions, let’s talk about them and begin to engage responsible persons and institutions.
Following the latter, we sure need to also do something about us who are in the field already. The teachers who are teaching English. I am aware that our English commands and abilities vary. Being English teachers does not mean that we have now become Americans or British as some expect of us.
We are still who we are with the various teacher training backgrounds. Some of us are really good when it comes to English. Some of us are really not so good, even if we teach English. Some of us almost can’t even speak and therefore, teach English, but we still do. This is unfortunately a reality in our Namibian schools. What we need to do as individual English teachers is to begin by individually assessing ourselves, identify areas of need in our English and admit that we are in need of additional assistance.
Thereafter, let us join forces and do something about it. Remember, Language has many components and we all have areas which we are strong in, and those we struggle with. Let us mutually seek ways how the gaps we have in our language skills can be filled so that we can fully teach all skills effectively. We need to start engaging one another constructively; and collectively do something about this situation, without feeling we are looked down upon or judged and without feeling we are better or worse than anybody. The revolution I related to earlier in this article should be spearheaded by us, and by nobody else. Let’s talk and do something about THIS!
Disclaimer: Theresia Nepolo, is Junior Lecturer for English at NUST, However, the views expressed in this article are her own and do not reflect that of her employer or associates. She can be reached at: [email protected]