Covid-19 has exposed the vulnerabilities of Namibia’s education system and particularly across the vocational educataion system. Despite the positive image that senior government education officials present about the resilience of the school system, evidence shows that the Covid-19 pandemic has decimated the already sorry education system of Namibia. Additionally, the Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated pre-existing education disparities in the country. For example, the coronavirus pandemic has undermined genuine learning opportunities for thousands of vulnerable children living in semi-urban and rural areas and children with disabilities.
In a nutshell, the disruption of the virus on education has led to learning losses not only beyond this generation, but has also erased previous decades of progress, if any. Similarly, hundreds of vocational education and training students dropped out of their training opportunities. Clearly, the Covid-19 crisis is far from over, as hundreds of prospective students will not be admitted when schools reopen due to the pandemic’s economic impact.
Namibia’s post-independence history is famous for undermining the legitimacy of its own policy and legal frameworks, particularly those meant to benefit the majority poor citizens. Among others, Namibia’s education system hinges on equality and equity principles of education. Regrettably, for the past 30 years, the government has used the two concepts interchangeably, despite the terms representing different objectives. Indeed, equality and equity demand social justice in terms of resources allocation and learning opportunities. However, it is in their meaning and application that matters. Equality, for instance, is associated with treating students the same or students having equal access to resources and opportunities. On the contrary, equity means ensuring that every student receives what they need to be successful in school. This explanation suggests that for equity to succeed, students from poor socio-economic backgrounds, including students with disabilities must have access to resources that can guarantee them learning opportunities equal to their counterparts from rich family backgrounds.
Unfortunately, for the past three decades, education authorities have promoted quality over equity education. The current passion with equality education suggests that the government disagrees with the underlying benefits of equitable education. As a result, equitable funding in the TVET sector remains a challenge. And here is how.
The Namibian government under the Vocational Education and Training Act of 2008 and through the Namibia Training Authority (NTA) implements a levy funding system. With funds from other sources, the NTA uses this legitimate funding system, which harvests one percent of participating companies’ payroll to pay the tuition fees of vocational education trainees. It will be disingenuous to discredit the benefits to thousands of previous and current beneficiaries of the existing funding system. Most Namibians will agree that the funding system has contributed to the government’s desire to promote industrialisation and economic development. Indeed, Nelson Mandela was right when he designated education as the most powerful weapon, which one can use to change the world. He was also correct when he observed that “The power of education extends beyond the development of skills a country needs for economic success because it can contribute to nation-building and reconciliation.”
Sadly, the current funding system has dismally failed to redress educational disparities among hundreds of students from low socio-economic backgrounds. Lessons from the Covid-19 pandemic crisis show that students with higher educational needs, namely those from low-income backgrounds, students with disabilities, students experiencing foster care, and so on, faced and will continue to experience extra challenges to learning. For instance, when schools introduced virtual teaching it was the under-privileged students who did not have access to the right amount and combinations of resources necessary to meet their educational needs. Hundreds of vocational education students failed to migrate to virtual teaching and learning because of lack of technologies required to access remote teaching. We could argue that the root cause of resource inequities at vocational education institutions or specific groups of students lies directly with the current equality funding approach inherited and endorsed at Namibia’s political independence in 1990.
We can thus make the following six conclusions: One, the biases of the current equality funding system have been an inefficient, low-impact investment deliberately designed to exclude the genuine educational needs of students from low-income backgrounds. Two, the existing vocational education funding formula is inconsistent and disloyal to the equity policy and legal frameworks of Namibian government. Three, the existing funding formula is not broadly shared and accessible to ordinary people, making it difficult for training providers, students, and parents to understand which resources are funded and why.
Four, the existing funding formula has not funded higher-need students countrywide, either because the formula first, does not differentiate funding based on student needs at all, or second, the differences are not meaningful enough. Five, the current funding system is rigid and inflexible. It leaves centre managers with limited choices to decide how to organise resources in ways that meet the diverse educational needs of their students. Six, the current funding formula is outdated or too simplistic. Why would one choose to continue implementing an obsolete funding system more than three decades after Namibia’s political independence?
Finally, it is time that education authorities and policy makers responsible for vocational education funding ask themselves two questions. First, what lessons have you learnt in this opinion piece that will help you address the current skewed funding system? Second, what actions do you intend to take to directly reverse the existing inequities in the vocational education funding system? Remember that the actions you choose to address the root causes of the current funding inequities must benefit students from poor socio-economic backgrounds and students with disabilities.