Still Separate and Unequal – Namibia’s New Education Apartheid [opinion]

A SPECTRE – the specter of education apartheid – is hunting Namibia in that the post-independence education reform of access, equality and democracy is in danger of failing to create a fair and equitable education system.

So as a nation why aren’t we doing more about our seemingly two education systems, with one system-the functional one-for the haves and the dysfunctional one for the have-nots. Not the society as the whole, not the President, not the minister of education, not school administrators, and not even the civic groups are nearly doing enough to halt this unacceptable scar of apartheid in our schools.

The other day, a fellow scholar cautioned about the danger of over-dramatising issues. He is completely right, but when it comes to education in a free Namibia, let’s not under-dramatize, either.

This is simply because today students from low-income background (both in rural and urban areas) are overwhelmingly locked into failing or poor performing public schools (schools that previously were segregated and marginalized). In contrast, their counterparts (both black and white) from affluent backgrounds predominantly attend best performing private schools (schools that were previously reserved for whites only).

I would like to think that Namibia’s post-independence education system has at heart the promise of every child in the sense that all students have equal opportunity to learn regardless of their socio-economicracial background.

However, ‘education for all’ for most of the low-income students remains a mere slogan if not elusive. And there is plenty of evidence to prove this: More low-income students (mostly blacks and coloureds) now attend doubly-segregated schools by race and poverty line in urban and rural areas. They are more likely to be taught by unqualified teachers. They also are more likely to attend schools with more student instability and indiscipline. They also are more likely to show up in classrooms with poor speaking, reading and writing skills.

And they are more likely to face a challenging learning environment due to many characteristics related to poverty, racial isolation, poor administration and run-down learning facilities. They also are the schools where much of the nation’s dropout and teenage pregnancy crises are concentrated.

Equally, if you are a student attending one of the best performing schools (mostly private schools) in the country, academically you are indeed part of the privileged few-an exclusive club- who will benefit from a qualified teaching workforce, and well-balanced teacher-student ratio.

Your parents are more likely to afford the aomical fees required by the private schools.

Your school will be far more resourced, with well-maintained facilities, libraries, books, school uniforms, and up-to-date technology. You will experience a supportive and conducive learning environment.

You also stand a chance of a greater future career and earnings. And most importantly, your school will probably exhibit a degree of higher performance on the national examinations.

It is turning out, after a record number of black and coloured students migrated to former white schools after independence, that the performing schools also are more likely to have racial diversity, contributing to better learning in terms of exposure to diverse views and positive social development to prepare and equip students with skills needed to successfully navigate today’s increasingly multicultural society.

The contrast between poor and best performing schools means that thousands of low-income students in Namibia are being dealt a different fate, an unjust fate-by an education system that condemns them to low achievement, less rigorous learning, debilitated school facilities, low academic expectations and opportunities for aancement.

Unequal opportunity to learning is a threat to the peace and stability of this country, and has deleterious effects on our society. Therefore we cannot continue to educate a small number of our student population well, while undereducating the rest. The price of doing so are unemployment, dependency, poverty, high crime rates, less productivity, less competitiveness, and increased social ills.

Given this widespread bias in our education system, how then can we ensure that every Namibian child attend a quality public school, and get a high quality education? How do we make sure that every student, irrespective of hisher background, is exposed to the learning they need to compete in the increasing knowledge-based and global economy? How do we ensure that the education our children are getting is not based on chance but rather given rights?

There are no easy or simple answers, however, one central remedy is to equalize education resources-in the form of qualified teachers, leadership, functional administration, an enabling learning environment, mentorship, parental involvement, quality early childhood education and access to technology, in order to guarantee an equal opportunity of learning.

* 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