Wednesday 21 April 2021
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Learning Poverty: Is Namibia keeping its promise on Education?

The United Nations General Assembly Resolution 70/1 of 2015 established the Sustainable development Goals. Goal 4 of the Sustainable Development Goals required member countries of the United Nations, including Namibia, to “…ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”. Goal 4.1 further demanded countries to “… ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary education leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes.” by 2030.
As far as Namibia is concerned these commitments are in line with the mandate of the country’s Constitution on education.
Article 20 of the Namibian Constitution mandates that “… all persons shall have the right to education”. The Article further mandates that, “… primary education shall be compulsory and the State shall provide reasonable facilities to render effective this right for every resident by establishing and maintaining State schools at which primary education will be provided free of charge.” Learners are expected to remain in school until they have completed primary education.
Recent data from the World Bank shows that 53 percent of all children in low- and middle income countries suffer from Learning Poverty.
This means that these children are unable to read and understand a simple text at the age of 10. Learning Poverty is a share of children who have not achieved minimum reading proficiency and the proportion of children who are out-of-school and are not able to read proficiently.
Yet, reading is a gateway for learning as a learner progresses further through education.
The World Bank concluded that poor educational outcomes have a major cost for future prosperity given that human capital is the most important component of wealth globally. The Bank is calling for an urgent action on the part of society to re-commit itself to invest more and better in people. Poor educational outcomes is an indication that school systems are not well enough organized to help children learn other subjects such as mathematics, science and social sciences. This, the World Bank declared, is a global crisis especially in low-and middle income countries where half of the youth are leaving school without acquiring the foundational skills they need in their adult life.
The World Bank announced on 17 October 2019 the launch of a new operational global learning target to cut the Learning Poverty rate by at least half by 2030.
The global learning target shall consist of a literacy package with a list of interventions promoting acquisition of reading proficiency in primary schools.
The package shall also have “…refreshed education approach” aimed at strengthening the entire education systems and at scaling up all other education outcomes. The package will further promote an ambitious measurement and research agenda.
This agenda shall focus of measurement of learning outcomes, innovation on how to build foundational skills and provision of digital infrastructure and information systems. This will assure that resources reach teachers, students and schools. The global learning target shall in addition promote enrollment in early-childhood education, ensure retention and completion rate at primary school level, as well as reduce drop-out rates at secondary level.
Through Minimum Proficiency Level for reading ,learners are expected to independently and fluently read simple, short narrative and expository texts.
They should be further able to locate stated information in a text and interpret key ideas.
They should also be able express personal ideas and opinions on information and events narrated in such text. In other words at the age of ten learners should be able to read with comprehension.
For countries in need the World Bank is establishing a Global Education Finance Platform to support countries’ efforts to ensure that education systems are adequately funded and resources are used effectively.
In particular, The Global Education Platform will provide technical support for countries to have capacity to measure learning and implement systemic educational reforms. Looking at countries which provided data to measure reading proficiency at age 10, Namibia is not included in the list.
This suggests that Namibia is not measuring learning at lower primary level. Children master the “mechanics of reading” at that level. If the education system is not able to measure learning at lower primary level the chances are that education authorities are not able to devise remedial measures to help slow learners.
The learning situation at primary level is complicated by Mother tongue instruction. At least a test of reading proficiency is needed at Grade 4 to determine whether a learner is proficient in Mother Tongue. An English language proficiency test is needed at Grade 7.
This is the best  way to determine whether Namibia is meeting its Constitutional mandate on education and the promise of the Sustainable Development Goals.
Namibia may wish to leverage the technical expertise either from the World Bank or UNESCO. Some years ago the World Bank provided technical support to education and developed the Education and Training Sector Improvement Programme (ETSIP). Given the wide-spread Learning Poverty especially in Sub-Saharan Africa Namibia should develop measurement or reading proficiency.
What you cannot measure you cannot fix!

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