To state the obvious, education has changed drastically in the past three decades. That change has been due to two interrelated factors. First, the main change came about when we introduced a new ideology to answer two questions: ‘what is the purpose of education? What is the purpose of schooling?’ Second, to turn these questions into practice, the political system dismantled the Cape Education curriculum, which many critics accused of promoting submissive and unproductive citizens. This move witnessed the introduction of the International General Certificate of Education (IGCSE) curriculum to improve grades 11 and 12 exam results.
Years later, the new political dispensation introduced the so-called National Curriculum for Basic Education with the sole purpose of localising and aligning the curriculum to Namibia’s development priorities. The extreme view concludes that none of the above-mentioned lofty curricular goals were sustained. Instead, evidence shows that the Namibian education system constantly failed to sustain a 50% national average pass rate for grades 10 and 12 exams during the past three decades. On the other hand, critics argue that a ‘Namibian curriculum’ remains a ‘pipe dream’. After all, some critics believe that the so-called Namibian curriculum still returns the ‘original sin’ of the Apartheid National Christian ideology.
Recently, an ambitious new revised curriculum was inaugurated. Supporters of this curriculum believe that it raises the ‘education bar’ at a much higher level of performance and provides learners with multiple career paths post-high school. Opponents contend the ‘the jury is still out there debating the verdict’. The key question, however, is will the newly revised curriculum deliver on its central promise of preparing world-class, well-rounded competent learners? There are two possible official responses to this question.
First, policymakers and senior education officials believe that the ‘new’ curriculum will, without doubt, accomplish its stated aims and objectives. Second, policymakers and senior education officials decry the fact the ‘new curriculum’ will fail mainly because of financial limitations. While the first response is honesty and probable, the second official government narrative is simplistic and suspicious.
It is untrue to suggest that budgetary constraints will stifle the successful implementation of Namibia’s revised curriculum. Senior government officials speak so highly of the revised curriculum in terms of its high standards. One cannot imagine how the current government will disown the ‘darling curriculum’ of the country.
But more importantly, for the past three decades, Namibia has spent around 26 per cent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on education; a figure that compares well to other SADC countries. On scrutiny, although the high spending on education has not led to improved learning outcomes, it is unrealistic and highly unlikely that financial constraints will choke the successful implementation of the new curriculum. To blame future curriculum implementation failures on inadequate financial resources suggests that the government is deliberately planning to fail or failing to plan, at all.
Surely, money is important, but it is not everything. It is not the main reason previous curricular collapsed. And it is not money that will inhibit the successful implementation of the revised curriculum. Let us scratch the surface about the single most important reason that will complicate the successful implementation of the newly revised curriculum.
Leadership disregard for teachers
The education sector in Namibia specialises in two unprofessional leadership behaviours: power-coercive strategies. Simply put, in the past senior education officials’ attempts to implement curricular changes adopted the use of the power of central government directives. Scare tactics and the bullying of teachers have been reported commonly in the education sector nationwide. Today, complaints countrywide abound that during meetings with senior education officials, teachers endure blame and intimidation of unimaginable proportions. Available evidence suggests that for many years, teachers have been (and continue) to be under military-like surveillance from their ‘Big Brothers and Sisters’ in the capital city. Critics suggest that senior education officers and policymakers continue to use reconnaissance methods to threaten teachers with expulsion on allegations of under-performance and freedom of speech. Unfortunately, the threats have not improved learning outcomes. The 2020 secondary phase exam results attest to this reality. Such unbecoming leadership behaviour has serious implications on how teachers will implement the new curriculum.
Evidence from development psychology shows that, first, no amount of intimidation will force teachers to perform or implement a curriculum innovation beyond their limits and understanding. Teachers cannot teach what they do not know or that which does not appeal to their conscious. Also, teachers cannot perform or can they be expected to implement a curriculum change under fear and intimidation! Fourth, teachers do not easily succumb to political conformity, obedience and intolerance.
How then have teachers been reacting to officially sanctioned political intolerance, insults and intimidation? First, teachers have not responded to political venom with venom. In other words, teachers have never openly challenged any form of political harassment. However, teachers have treated intolerant senior education officials with a sense of cynicism. During official meetings, teachers have cynically smiled at and sung praises of an abusive policymaker. However, when they return to their classrooms, the same teachers would continue doing the same things for which they were rebuked yesterday. While ordinary people might regard such an action irrational, teachers themselves justify their actions. Teachers hate hostility, especially if it comes from outside forces. On the other hand, organisational studies have found that when an outside powerful force imposes a curriculum change on teachers, some of them will deliberately and actively sabotage the efforts of the others who appear to comply with the change.
These teacher experiences may be less obvious but are common to Namibia. For decades, we have experienced poor learner academic results despite senior education officials yearly and consistently accusing teachers of lack of commitment and laziness to the cause of teaching. That said, it is, therefore, important to note that the nation’s teachers must be at the centre of implementing the new curriculum. Unfortunately, no amount of hostility towards teachers will force them to successfully implement the newly revised curriculum. Leadership should rather use devices that can change teachers’ attitudes, their values and create genuine interrelationships that are needed to implement the curriculum change. Also, leadership should provide teachers with new skills that will empower them to interpret the curriculum according to the dictates of Namibia’s development agenda.
Note that the mere provision of resources and in-service support for teachers will be counterproductive to successful curriculum implementation. Thus, the education department should rather promote an ideological change if we expect teachers to willingly adapt their methods to meet the demands of the new curriculum. Indeed, the absence of appropriate resources will inhibit the curriculum implementation. But treating teachers as passive recipients of the curriculum, who should implement it according to the rules of someone in Windhoek, is a starter pack for disaster.