Fixing Public Education in the Age of Inequality

THE Ministry of Education channels billions of dollars to State schools each year, yet it appears the private schools may have more to offer.

Given this current environment, in which private schools are smashing records in passing, it is tempting to think that we can emulate and transfer ideas that are working at thriving private schools to failing public schools.

Therefore, I think it may be a bit presumptuous to think that the private education model is the answer – or simply the best way – to Namibia’s failing and underperforming public education. Private education is not an effective model for an inclusive education.

Why private schools (and some public schools too) are doing better than their counterparts in the State-run education system is not a secret. The private schools are generally more attentive, allocate resources efficiently, and they are good at teaching innovations. And the students who attend them are very smart, they study hard, and their hard work pays off big time.

But private schools have their own shortfalls too, including limited spaces and exorbitant fees, which makes it unaffordable to the majority of students in this country. Most private schools also do not believe in second chance because a student who does not meet the requirements of their quality assurance screening processes is likely to be de-registered from their institutions.

Though such screenings are necessary benchmarks for quality education, doing so, however, not only are they selectively enroling the top of the tops, but by excluding some students they are also doing more harm to society than good.

I am for quality assurance screening because it is vital to success in education. The difference, however, is that it should not be used as a tool to exclude a student from participating in education. Instead, it should serve a gate-keeping function of linking students to resourcesservices that can be made available to them in order to meet their educational needs.

We also probably have a good measure why public school education continues to lag behind, especially when it comes to Grade 10 and 12. Ineffective teaching methods, inefficient allocation and misappropriation of resources and poor administration are some of the contributing factors.

But public education failure must also be contextualised in terms of teacher-student ratio in public school system the types of students who come to public schools and the quality of the schools that are feeding public schools ‘enrolment.

Only through this context would one realise that our public schools, for better or worse, are actually educating more and channelling many students to institutions of high learning than their counterparts in the private sector. In reverse, it can be said that only a tiny fraction of students is being educated through the private sector education or makes it to tertiary education through private sector education.

Of course, the true reality of our education system is that the combined number of students (for both public and private education) who qualify for tertiary education each year is very low compared to the total number of registered students nationally. That each year thousands of young people who do not make it to tertiary education are dumped in our streets, should give any nation sleepless nights!

How then should we fix Namibia’s public education? In other words, how and where should we spend our dollar for better education outcomes?

The trouble with our public education is that we seem to focus too much at the top-tier of our education system, especially Grade 10 and 12. Neglected in this process is the bottom level (starting from pre-k and upwards) of our education system.

Therefore, my policy doctrine to fix our broken education system is in the form of a pyramid, which is wider at the bottom and thin on the top. My model hypothesises that the more we spend (in the form of resources, energies and efforts, strategies, creativity and innovation) at the bottom of our education pyramid, the less we would spend at the top-tier of our education pyramid (Grade 10, 11, 12 and university).

Learning is a bottom-up journey, measured in carefully nurtured steps. Therefore, we cannot expect excellent Grade 10 and 12 outcomes by starting moulding and building students’ learning foundations when they are already in Grade 10, 12 or university.

g foundation is the mother of all success. This is your chain-effect that takes place when you build a g foundation from bottom-up. With this approach we can never go wrong because by the time students in our education system reach their Grade 10 and up, they would all require less effortresources as they are already well-polished and prepared to perform superbly at such levels.

Source : The Namibian