Teacher shortages, learner failures and unemployed teachers are not new concerns in Namibia’s educational discourse. For the past three decades, education authorities have brainwashed parents and learners to believe that Namibia suffers from a teacher shortage syndrome. The ruthless truth tells a different story.
You will recall that at independence in 1990, Namibia’s human capital development benefited from the goodwill of the international community. For decades Namibia has been the destination of hundreds of volunteer teachers from the United States of America, Nigeria, Ghana, Zimbabwe, to mention but a few.
Hundreds of Namibians were funded to study abroad. Colleges of education were established to expand access to teacher education. Numerous community, public and private colleges have since 1990 produced hundreds of qualified teachers.
All these investments cannot be signs of a country short supply of teachers. The teacher shortage narrative has extremely been exaggerated. Abraham Lincoln (1809 - 1865) would have said ‘You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.’ Evidence indicates that Namibia has an oversupply of teachers. Most of them are qualified, but unemployed teachers.
A key question is why are so many qualified teachers unemployed? Conventional wisdom provides seven distinct reasons. A minority of people claim that qualified teachers are hypocrites who do not want to teach in rural schools. Some believe that qualified teachers are self-fish for demanding high salaries.
A good number of citizens believe that unemployed qualified teachers are unwilling to teach because the teaching profession has lost its centuries-old good reputation in society.
A remarkable number of citizens, especially education officials lament that many trained teachers have irrelevant teaching qualifications. Yet others claim that teachers fear undisciplined learners. Many more opinions suggest that the school system is saturated with better-qualified teachers.
Those in power argue that Namibia is not the only country with qualified unemployed teachers. Some cynically retort that “the situation is worse in other countries than it is in Namibia.” Others deny that government is “responsible for employing teachers, including those on government scholarships.”
The factual premise of these claims is wrong and devoid of any truths as they are based on flawed diagnoses.
So, what are the factual reasons? Hard evidence suggests that for the past three decades patronage politics infiltrated the education sector; and here is how it continues to happen. Patronage appointments take place in many ways. In Namibia, the practice takes place when a political party, after winning an election, gives government jobs to its loyal supporters, friends, and relatives to reward them for working towards victory.
Political party leaders call the practice loyal cadre deployment.
Many people, especially the beneficiaries of the system admire the practice, which they have dubbed ‘It is our turn to eat.’ The practice, though runs on the principle of party loyalty, is driven by greedy, nepotism and cronyism leading to the plunder of public resources.
The African and Namibian liberation struggles fought against these social evils, including racial discrimination.
The Constitution of Namibia prohibits the discrimination of any person on the grounds of sex, race, colour, ethnic origin, religion, creed or social or economic status. On the contrary, public opinion is widespread that the machinery of patronage has infiltrated the education sector.
Just as politicians reserve key ‘jobs for comrades’, senior education officers likewise can influence teacher appointments based on patronage. Indeed, an ‘apple does not fall far from the apple tree.’
Ordinary citizens know that the patronage policy is both unethical and discriminatory.
Whether the policy promotes party ideology or personal interests, the practice has immensely contributed to teacher unemployment resulting from the following three policy blunders.
Irregular appointment of temporary teachers
The appointment of temporary teachers is rife across the public school system in Namibia.
Since most school boards are completely unprofessional, they appoint temporary teachers based on nepotism.
Evidence further suggests that interviews for most temporary appointments are not transparent. Once the appointment is endorsed, the ‘strong-man’ on the school board will continue to exert influence over subsequent appointments of their ‘own person.’ This appointment practice punishes qualified teachers for their qualifications or belonging to a wrong social group.
Within the patronage political system, many qualified teachers are appointed out of their fields of expertise. Currently, many qualified teachers are assigned to teach subjects and school phase levels for which they are not qualified. Many more qualified teachers are teaching History although they are qualified as Entrepreneurship teachers. Similarly, some teachers are teaching at junior secondary although they were trained as lower primary teachers.
This scenario leaves many schools with oversaturated teachers, who are stressed and unproductive.
Appointment of unqualified teachers
Coupled with the notion of temporary teachers, unqualified teachers are prioritised at the expense of qualified teachers in Namibia. It does not mean that unqualified teachers cannot teach.
Teaching is not only about what to teach? It involves the question of how to teach? Thus, the big question, however, is why do we train teachers? Annually, Namibia spends millions of taxpayers’ money to train teachers. Upon graduation qualified teachers are subjected to the blinkered approach of patronage, which dumps them onto the dirty streets of various townships of Namibia.
Today, many of them live a life of hardships who in their mid-twenties most look like they are in their fifties.
They are nobodies reduced to a bundle of dumb animal-like human beings. They live a never-ending painful life, living on the leftovers of their less educated and unqualified compatriots.
Undoubtedly, the real threat to teacher joblessness lies in the ideology of patronage appointments, which places individuals in positions and subjects they have little expertise in.
Why are we not allowing professionals rather than politicians to handle classroom teaching and learning policy matters? The truth cannot be quarantined. Unfortunately, the past three decades have witnessed a pandemic of incompetence in the public sector.
Namibia needs a merit-based appointment system to achieve a knowledge economy.