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Opinion - The culture of wholesale borrowing in the education system

2021-03-05  Staff Reporter

Opinion - The culture of wholesale borrowing in the education system
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Prof. Makala Lilemba

Wholesale borrowing is a term used in comparative education to denote the tendency of some countries adopting or indeed transplanting the whole foreign education system and apply it into their curriculum. 

This process normally takes place between a more developed education system, which is usually perceived as more superior and advanced and one with a lesser or developing system on the other hand. It is clear from the onset that the latter is at a disadvantage than the former education system as it will be at the receiving end. There is nothing wrong with a country to borrow educational expertise from another country, as no nation is self-sufficient in all fields. 

However, the tendency to complete wholesale borrowing destroys the educational norms and values of the indigenous society. During the colonial period, it was common for the European countries to simply impose their foreign education systems without considering the factors surrounding the culture and geography of the indigenous system. 

Out of racist arrogance, the colonisers even failed to consult the African sages who were versed with educational folklore and indigenous knowledge. These Europeans were influenced among others by Levy-Bruhl (1857-1939) a French philosopher, sociologist and ethnographer who believed that Africans were not capable of learning let alone being critical in their education. 

Due to these stereotypes, bias and prejudice, Africans were portrayed as submissive objects, which attracted white anthropologists who came to study the so-called ‘primitive race.’ On the other hand, Hochschild (1998) records other Europeans who maintained that Africans were regarded as mere beetles or objects to be looked at under a microscope and examined for unusual features. 

Unfortunately, even after many years of independence, these stereotypes are still in existence and the continent continues to survive and depend heavily on wholesale borrowing and transplanting from the so-called developed countries. Namibia has not been spared from this wholesale borrowing syndrome. 

For example, the famous Namibia’s Vison 2030 was plucked from Malaysia and planted into the Namibian minds almost raw as it was, except for few changes, without considering the realities of Namibia on the ground. Who can dream of equating Namibia in terms of development with any developed country by the year 2030, which is nine years away from now? 

Many children in rural areas have no access to television, clean water, still share textbooks and many other learning aids taken for granted in the developed countries. Many teachers remain computer-illiterate despite the everyday song for them to acquire such skills. The inequalities and backwardness in some places are hallmarks of the Namibian education system! 

The Loudima Swapo school in the Congo Brazzaville with its curriculum for post-independent Namibia was a transplant and could not find fertile ground back home. Namibia has recently borrowed Kenyatta’s political slogan of “Harambee,” as if there are no equivalent words in our languages which mean, “Let Us Pull Together At Once.” 

Kiswahili with its educational irrelevance is to follow suit as one of the official languages of Namibia and may be elevated to the status of the medium of instruction in schools. At the teachers’ training level, the new Ministry of Education in 1990 phased out JSTC and replaced it with two teacher’s training certificates, which only saw one graduation. Our new liberators were then toy-toyed with Basic Education Teachers’ Diploma (BETD), a transplant from the Nordic countries, which was hailed as the new saviour of teachers’ training ills. 

It did not take long before it was discovered that the training programme indeed lacked content, as the emphasis was more on methodology. Another flaw was the lack of continuity and connectivity to degree programmes. It meant that after completing the three-year programme, one had to start all over again at the university for another four years. 

This incensed the policy-makers and finally merged the educational colleges with the University of Namibia, leading to the dearth of colleges in the country. We have also wholesalely borrowed the former apartheid Bantustan system, which is still being used during the recruitment of teachers. 

The idea of making a local language pre-requisite for a teacher to be listed for an interview and ultimately get the post is purely Bantustan and Bantu education mentality. For argument sake, an applicant from Zambezi cannot be well conversant in Koekoegoewab if he or she never lived in Southern Namibia to pass an interview, which in those regions and vice versa.

Borrowing in any form is indispensable, but Namibia should resort to selective borrowing to maintain some of the traits of her educational norms and values. Wholesale borrowing is expensive as it means embarking upon a new education system by completely replacing the old one. This means teachers and learners starting from all over again and in the process may encounter insurmountable obstacles in comprehending the new system. 

In addition, the original education system completely phases out and the new generation may fail to comprehend their educational-historical past. It is against this background that the phase of concern for cultural context was motivated by the need to move from the encyclopedic, descriptive and sometimes uncritical approach of the early phase to a more analytical approach. The trend towards analytical studies of interrelationships between education and society became more generally recognised. This led to the growth of a concern to understand factors that help to shape systems of education. 

The problem for educational comparativists was no longer one of selective education borrowing alone, but of predicting the likely success of educational transplants thorough knowledge of cultural contexts in both the donor and the recipient countries. 

Namibia should equally adopt the scientific approach in its education system by identifying the educational problem and then seek a relevant method to address that problem instead of transplanting the whole foreign education system. The following steps can be used: identification of the problem, analysis of the problem, proposed problem solutions, specification of context and comparison and conclusions. Borrowing slogans and philosophies, which are not linked to the historical-cultural-socio-economic backgrounds of the people, may render little success in our education system.

2021-03-05  Staff Reporter

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