On site – Sanet Steenkamp: doing more with less

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The Namibian education system continues to face many challenges, including a lack of materials, infrastructure and qualified teachers.

New era Veteran journalist Albertina Nakale interviewed the Executive Director of the Ministry of Education, Sanet Steenkamp, ​​on some of the burning issues within the education system.

NE: How has the government been able to respond effectively to these pressing challenges to ensure equitable and quality education in Namibia?

SS: The ministry follows the Medium Term Expenditure Framework, which also guides the budget process. When required, all cost factors and their multipliers per regional data are collected and taken into account for the respective allocations. This has enabled the Ministry of Education to make notable progress in providing accessible, equitable, inclusive and quality education in Namibia, including the need to provide a conducive learning environment.

The latter is achieved through school infrastructure development projects for the growing population of learners, which, for example, in 2015 amounted to 675,405 learners, taught by 27,990 teachers in 1,783 schools with 23,432 classrooms. compared to 822,574 learners and 30,995 teachers in 1,947 schools and 26,090 classrooms in 2021. When you analyze this growth rate, you will see that the growth in the number of learners has been twice as high in during these years in relation to the growth of teachers and classrooms; it clearly shows you that the ministry is doing more with less. The need to economize in education is often in conflict with aspirations to achieve desired standards and quality at all levels.

NE: Has the entire new program been rolled out and implemented, and if not, what other phases still need to be implemented and when?

SS: The introduction of the implementation of the revised program has matured over the past seven years. It started with the implementation of the first cycle of primary (pre-primary, grades 1 to 3) in 2015 and ended with the very first cycle of implementation of the AS level (12th year) in 2021.

NE: Namibia has one of the most unequal school systems. For example, learners from the top 20 schools get more accolades than learners from the next 1,723 schools combined. How to level the playing field?

SS: The country’s school system is uniform. It remains the same in all schools registered with the ministry. However, school needs and circumstances differ due to a number of factors, whether natural or geographical, social, cultural or economic. Many schools in remote parts of the country are disadvantaged due to underdeveloped school infrastructure compared to urban schools or the inability to attract qualified teachers. This will subsequently influence the disparity in learner performance across the country.

It can be said that over time, the “playing field” can improve. However, this requires strong investment in school infrastructure development and increased partnership with stakeholders at all levels. One way to achieve this could be to improve the working conditions and teaching environment in rural schools, for example, the construction of decent housing for teachers and the electrification of schools in rural areas to attract qualified teachers.

There is a need to introduce ICT solutions and blended learning in all schools to facilitate access to online learning opportunities, which requires better ICT infrastructure and tools.

NE: The question on many people’s lips is whether free education in Namibia is really a reality? What effect has the removal of school development funds had on learners and schools to fully realize quality and equitable education?

SS: There are various interpretations of what ‘free education’ means in a Namibian context. In 2010, a study found that it was essential that the then customary practice of collecting funds in the form of school fees from parents and guardians became a barrier to access to education. Inability to pay and fear of humiliation often lead to school dropout or “out-of-school youth”, which at the time accounted for almost a third of all school-aged youth. ‘school.

This was logical for the ministry in its aspiration to widen access to school, regardless of the socio-economic situation of households, hence the removal of the compulsory contribution to the school development fund. Instead, it was agreed to compensate schools with a school allowance to continue to enrich teaching and learning at school and to support overall school administration and management of school activities for learners. . Some schools, located in low-income communities, are positively benefiting from this universal primary or universal secondary education grant introduced to fund their school activities more than before.

However, the removal of this compulsory contribution to the school development fund has given the impression that parents and guardians are no longer responsible for supporting the school and their learners on a voluntary basis. Often, this apathy towards what is happening in school creates a strain on the limited funds obtained through these universal school grants.

The ambition to improve the quality of education provided in schools is a shared responsibility. If parents who can afford voluntary contributions are unwilling to support their school, it will have a negative effect on schools. This lack of school ownership will essentially mean that moral support and guidance from parents will also diminish, leaving teachers alone to bear responsibility for learners.

NE: What is the government’s plan to ensure that vocational education is taken seriously from basic levels to give learners the conditions to succeed?

SS: The basic education program offers pre-vocational and technical subjects from grades 5 to 11, at NSSCO level, and some also at AS level. It should be noted that the term ‘vocational’ refers to post-basic education, ie vocational qualifications offered at vocational training centers are registered with the Namibia Training Authority (NTA). The following pre-vocational subjects are offered in the upper primary stage (grades 5 to 7): elementary agriculture, design and technology, and home ecology.

Among all vocational subjects, technical subjects are offered in a few secondary schools. The ministry is working with Unam and NSFAF to prioritize and increase the number of trained teachers in these subjects. This will facilitate the extension of these subjects to many schools and regions. However, technical materials require investment in workshops and equipment, as well as subsistence in terms of the cost of consumables.

Overall, pre-vocational subjects are covered in many primary schools. Learners following pre-vocational subjects can progress to VTCs and universities. Even learners who have gone through the academic stream can qualify for VTCs using quality-enhanced, compulsory, maths and English subjects, although they will not get subject credit for some modules to start with at a different level compared to those who have done pre-vocational technical subjects in schools.

NE: We have seen cases of learners carrying weapons, including firearms in schools or ending up using them recklessly. What is the government doing to ensure school grounds remain safe so learners can study without fear or violence?

SS: Violence of any kind or form is intolerable and unacceptable in Namibian schools, therefore, it is a serious offense for anyone to bring any type of weapon into a schoolyard as it may have potentially fatal consequences.

The Ministry of Education has put in place legal frameworks; such as the National Safe Schools Framework and school codes of conduct, which are consistent with the Constitution and the Education Act.

These are all aimed at preventing violence in schools and providing advice on safety on school grounds.

All principals and school boards must ensure that their schools are safe.

Carrying guns on school property is against the law and school rules, and principals need to know how to deal with gun violence in schools.

Likewise, schools are expected to address the broad problem of violence in schools as well as in the community.

NE: Unplanned pregnancies and alcohol abuse are big problems among teenage girls. What is being done to address these high rates of teenage pregnancy?

SS: The Ministry of Education has put in place the Learner Pregnancy Prevention and Management Policy with emphasis on prevention of schoolgirl pregnancies. The policy provides guidelines to strengthen the life skills curriculum in schools with a strong emphasis on prevention as well as the teaching of life skills by trained teachers. It also provided for the authorization of health professionals and school counselors in schools to provide training and regular sharing of information on reproductive health topics, teaching integrated health education and life skills. of life to all learners from the fourth year or at an appropriate age.

It also provides for the referral of pregnant learners, especially orphans and vulnerable persons, to social workers in the ministry responsible for child protection, so that they can obtain relevant information on childcare and legal obligation. Although the policy emphasizes prevention of pregnancy among learners, it also provides guidance for learners who have become pregnant to ensure that they return to school after giving birth.

2022-03-11 Albertine Nakale

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