Education and the Path to Success in Namibia [opinion]

“IN THIS country, if you don’t make it to the University of Namibia (Unam), you are condemned to failure”, a colleague of mine at Unam told me the other day, implying that for a young person to succeed, one has to go through a very narrow educational path.

This also means that mass students of the class of 1990-2013 have been dealt different fates. You may call them “the lost generation”, some may have had the chance of upgrading their grades to qualify for Unam, the Polytechnic of Namibia or the International University of Management (IUM).

Others may have had no other alternatives but to simply retreat and vanish to townships and villages. The rest (with unimpressive CVs) may have attempted to defy the impossible odds of trying to enter the Namibian job market with a Grade 1012 certificate, qualifications widely mistrusted by most employers.

Mind you, we are talking about employers who don’t even trust the quality of graduates from the country’s institutions of higher learning!

The disdain towards the graduates isn’t necessarily the fault of Unam, the Polytechnic of Namibia or IUM. But it is a general problem of our unsatisfactory education system that is overshadowing the promise of the next generation, and undermining their potentials as future leaders. How so?

Namibians are on record boasting about an “education for all,” obscuring the reality that we have an education system that benefits the few privileged at the expense of many. It is a system which is also pitting affluent students against those from poor family backgrounds.

We don’t need statistics to know that since independence wealth – in the form of private schools, enabling learning environment, safe neighbourhoods and well-resourced schools – has given some Namibians an educational edge in terms of good and quality education.

We also don’t need statistics to figure out that we are still a nation of two-tier education system – one functional and the other dysfunctional. The difference today is that under the Bantu education, the functional system was reserved for whites only and the dysfunctional for the blacks and coloureds. In post-independence Namibia, the functional system is de facto for the few haves and the dysfunctional for the have-nots to fend for themselves.

This is also a top-down, one-size-fits-all education system that does not enable all Namibian children to thrive in their own potential and unique way. Whether one is a bird with wings, a slow tortoise, or a fast runner cheetah, under our education system there is only one instruction that of “run fast and climb up the tree!”

There is, however, a price tag for reaching the top under our education system, which is “success” or “failure.” Those who made it are usually well thought off as “winners” or the best. And those otherwise thought off as “losers” who didn’t make it for unclear reasons are doomed and condemned to failure.

Also obscuring this one-size-fits-all education approach is the reality that students are not monolithic in terms of interests, dreams, aspirations, experiences and life stories, important characteristics that must be reflected in how we assess and teach students.

In other words, different learning abilities are not rewarded under our current education system. Missing is the realisation and recognition that not all people learn in the same way. So, where do we start to ensure that each Namibian student in our schools not only has an equal opportunity but also the foundation for success?

Therefore, there is a great need to revisit our approach and, if need be, revamp it in order to move towards a system of mass customisation, a system that invites, excites, stimulates and provides students with the learning opportunities they deserve, including life skills, practical and vocational learning.

In short, instead of demanding that every child in our schools learn the same way, we should allow students to develop their own unique skills, talents, aspirations, and academic interests. In doing so, we will be able to have an education system that better connects with the diverse interest of our young people, equipping them with tools they need to succeed, and providing them with opportunities to meet their diverse needs.

Instead of a mere slogan “education for all” we must implement education for success!

The author is a lecturer at Unam in the Department of Human Sciences-Social Work. His work examines the intersection between policy and governance. The views expressed are entirely his.

Source : The Namibian