The plight of Namibia’s children in rural schools

Home Focus The plight of Namibia’s children in rural schools

Goran Hyden is right when he says, “Turing the despair and pessimism that affects large sectors of the African people into hope and optimism will require from the planners of African development to re-inspect the premises upon which they have based their planning to date. No one escapes this challenge: there are no short cuts to progress.”

I have, before independence, gone around our country as envoy of the Council of Churches in Namibia delivering services to our under-served communities and while I at the time decried this unfortunate situation, I held the South African Apartheid regime accountable for this deliberate act and theoretically took solace in the knowledge that Apartheid was destined to evaporate from Namibia and our government would come to redress all these problems. 

These days I visit some of the same schools in different capacities and find that reality has belied my presumed logic. I find schools in Epukiro and Aminuis where there is a total breakdown in infrastructure and parents and teachers have resorted to their own efforts, because government cannot do much more than owning these schools.

One weekend I visited two schools in Okatjoruu and Coblenz, both in the Otjozondjupa Region, their conditions left me tearful. Okatjoruu school was built in 1960 and never went through nominal renovation of any kind. Water taps have rusted to a stand-still and ablution blocks were virtually blocked. The principal walked us around the school which was kept neat to the extent humanly possible. 

But the structure was in a terrible state of disrepair. We stopped at the girl’s hostel to inspect the hygienic content. There was a little wall about quarter of a meter in front of the girl’s ablution block that was permanently filled with escaping water mixed with toilet content that escaped through burst pipes along the building. 

The little girls had developed a coping mechanism. Each time they visited this area they carried a little bottle of clean water and after taking a shower they would after walking through this pool of contaminated water, stand on a little platform outside the area and re-cleanse their feet with water from the bottle. This was a sad site indeed.

Coblenz school was not in any better situation. All structures were in a state of disrepair and facilities were beaten. Windows were broken and the place looked like a deserted army camp just retaken in use with no facelift. The converse to all these is the fact that teachers and learners alike have developed a thick skin and to them it was aluta continua.

I have written about education in the past and on numerous occasions I have expressed that I remain a proponent for a large education budget, albeit guided by performance indicators. We have in the past made mistakes in the process of education planning and renewal and one of these was to disengage preprimary education from the national education sector and to dub it a challenge to communities, thus relegating foundation education to chance. 

To this effect, those who could afford to take their children to privately-owned pre-school settings daily smiled all the way to these facilities, while our large impoverished communities bore the brunt of this unfortunate policy decision as their little ones were perpetually locked in our semi-standard backyard pre-school programs. 

Close to thirty years later, the largest education budget has proved to be a convenient demonstration project as we continue to sing the old Negro Spiritual: “We shall overcome!” 

It so happened that President Pohamba, in the evening of his reign, did reintegrate pre-primary education in the arena of the national education sector as well as the physical integration and harmonization of the curriculum. 

The President was then quoted as having said that a strong pre-primary and primary education is critical to the success of the country’s education system. What a true statement – if only we had sustained this wisdom some twenty years before this re-integration, we could not have sustained so much damage in our education system.

The children of this nation are the true victims in the unfortunate impasse of our education system and more so since they do not have a say. Witness for instance what happened in Kaoko at a school called Orotjihozu. Parents were not happy with the recruitment process of the school principal. They vainly tried to engage the school committees and the education department and when all efforts came to naught, they withdrew their children from the school, at which point the education administrators and governor’s office folded their chairs and left. 

This development left the children stranded, with no voice of their own. And this and many others such acts of decision making leave children as private lives in public places, stranded in limbo.