Education for all was coined at the 1990 World Bank Conference in Jomtien, Thailand, which calls for the promotion of Western-style primary education in Africa, in the process robbing the African child of his or her indigenous knowledge and language, promoting what Brock-Utne calls ‘the recolonization of the African mind (Brock-Utne, 2000). Shortly after Independence, Honourable Nahas Angula, the first Minister of Education and Culture, who later rose to become the Prime Minister and Minister of Defence of Namibia in his book, “Toward Education for All,” spelt out four major goals of education to remedy the discrepancies destined during the colonial period. The goals commonly referred to as the Namibian philosophy of education are access, equity, quality and democracy. After 30 years of independence, it is appropriate to take stock of these goals and assess whether indeed they have achieved their intended purpose.
Access, being the first goal, stipulates that every Namibian should have admission to educational facilities. This goal is elusive as witnessed by the large numbers of street kids and those who simply do not attend school. Enough schools and classrooms were supposed to be built in areas where there were none but unbelievably so are learners still being taught under trees and in some cases in mud and grass-thatched structures especially in the Zambezi Region. Learners are still sharing desks to some extent that some are forced to sit on the floor during lessons. Science subjects have remained a luxury for a few learners despite the promises made by political leaders to make them compulsory. Those who by chance opt to take them end up either without teachers or jobs. Recently Covid-19 unveiled the realities of some schools in Namibia, with no toilets with running water, dilapidated buildings and acute shortage of teachers’ houses to mention just a few cases. In a situation like this, the concept and practicality of access remain as elusive as ever.
With equity, the philosophy of education for all, stresses the importance of reducing inequalities of the past. Children should not be excluded or discouraged from the tracks that lead to better education and jobs. Nevertheless, the reality is that the gap between the rich and poor has increased to such an extent that learners from the latter group cannot afford good education. The irony is that children from rich and well-connected families are sent to South Africa, Europe, Australia and the United States of America for studies fleeing away from the indigenous and poorly funded education system. The former South African Bantu education has suddenly become more superior to the reformed and decolonised Namibian system and abruptly not good enough for the children of honourable Members of Parliaments, which is ironically being crafted by the same lawmakers. Surely, the education system in this country can equally accommodate all children if it is well programmed. This implies that even if some communities want their children educated in particular educational streams, they fail to do so, due to financial constraints. This renders the notion of equity untenable among many communities.
The issue of quality in education advocates a system where we should nurture both quality and quantity in the interest of the majority of Namibians who were disadvantaged during the colonial period. It becomes more difficult to maintain quality education where a class of about 80 learners shares four Geography textbooks. In some schools, the only textbook belongs to the subject teacher. The medium of instruction for many teachers is still a challenge as the linguistic exodus from Afrikaans to English has been tedious and full of mother tongue interferences challenges. In addition, linguistic pronouncements by our brothers and sisters from other countries have worsened and twisted the Queen’s language and confuse the learners even more. However, slowly but sure the tortoise will cross the Lyambezi Lake or rather, “die laaste kooi kom ook in die kraal.”
The fourth goal, which is democracy, seeks to see that this component is implemented in schools.
Although the paradox is that learners at that level are not allowed to vote in major elections, but can be educated in electing class prefects, choosing members of the learners’ representative council and other democratic activities. With the learner-centred approach, where learners are encouraged to participate actively in the classroom is also emphasised but with the situation where there are no libraries in many schools, learners cannot prepare for the lesson beforehand. In-school boards where sensitive issues involving teachers are discussed, learners may not be allowed to freely participate. Still, both learners and teachers are not allowed to come up with their curricula as this is handed over directly from the Ministry of Education. In most cases, there are no consultations about the subjects to be taught and their relevancy to the children. We can console ourselves that basic democratic principles are being inculcated into the minds of the youth.
It can be seen that Namibia needs to do more to realise the intended goals of education for all. With a decade away, chances are very slim that Vision 2030 will be fully realised. Empty and hollow talk including political statements will not usher in the desired educational fruits soonest, but only putting those goals into action will do.