Namibian teachers forced to seek other jobs

“God looked at my work and he was pleased. But when he looked at my salary, he wept,” says the computer-generated poster in Norbert Booi’s office at A Shipena Secondary School, a government school in Windhoek’s oldest suburb, Katutura.

The poster speaks volumes about what is going through the English teacher’s head as he pages through the classified sections of the Republikein, one of Namibia’s three daily newspapers.

“It demands a miracle to conduct a lesson without basic teaching tools,” he notes, referring to unfavourable working conditions.

But Booi is lucky to be teaching in the capital city. His counterpart, Martin Natangwe, a Zambian expatriate science teacher in the Kavango region along Namibia’s northern border, has not been that fortunate.

The hut he shares with his wife and four-year-old daughter is straight from the Iron Age—a pole-and-mortar affair. The school itself does not have running water or toilets. Textbooks and writing materials are in short supply. There is no laboratory for practical science lessons.

“It is difficult to conduct a lesson. No wonder our pass rate is so poor,” says Natangwe.

Moreover, the Kavango region is flood prone. Teachers brace themselves for the rainy season. Apart from increased absenteeism, some have to conduct classes under trees. Others will have to contend with submerged or collapsing classrooms as pole-and-dung structures cannot withstand the weather.

Natangwe, however, is not going anywhere else because his work contract bars foreigners from changing jobs.

No option

Pasilius Haingura, the secretary general of the National Association of Namibian Teachers’ Unions (Nantu), confirms that many of the country’s 20 000 teachers want to leave the profession.

While noting that Namibian teachers are better off in terms of salaries than other public servants, Haingura says the conditions under which teachers operate leave them with no other option but to seek other jobs. There are few incentives to retain qualified teachers.

“Teachers are not only leaving government services for private schools, but for parastatal and private companies,” he says. “The conditions of service are pathetic.” Teachers receive housing and transport allowances, but these are too inadequate to compensate.

They also have to cope with overcrowded classrooms. “In most government schools, you might find someone having to cater for 50 students, 15 more than the expected world figure, and without resources,” says Haingura.

Nantu says about 2 000 public-sector teachers leave the system every year, but the colleges and the university can only produce 1 200 replacements annually.

The Namibian government admits that all is not well in the education field. Deputy Prime Minister Libertina Amathila recently expressed the government’s concern about qualified teachers leaving the profession in search of greener pastures.

In March the education sector received the largest chunk—about $52-million—of the national budget for 2006/07 of approximately $2-billion. However, the money is still not enough to meet all demands.

In all, 90% of the education budget goes towards salaries, leaving very little for buildings, materials and equipment. There remains a shortage and uneven distribution of qualified teachers. There are too few classrooms to accommodate the growing number of students. Frequently, ill-prepared students are promoted to higher grades.

Namibia has adopted a policy of automatically promoting students each year from grades one to nine, and from grade 10 to 11, as schools mostly do not have room for repeaters.

Low pass rate

This year, the low final examination pass rate sparked calls for the Namibian education sector to be reformed. Of the 13 850 students who completed the grade-12 school-leaving exams in 2005, only 2 840 qualified for admittance to the University of Namibia and the Polytechnic of Namibia.

The university and the polytechnic, which also offers degrees, complained that they were being forced to admit students who cannot speak or write basic English.

Since last year, the government has been considering ways of revitalising the education sector, emphasising the recruitment of qualified science and English teachers.

Through the government’s new Education and Training Sector Improvement Programme (Etsip), it hopes to “produce citizens with a good quality secondary education, citizens who can apply science, use information and who have the skills to be higher earners”, says Education Minister Nangoloh Mbumba.

The initiative emphasises the improvement of teachers’ qualifications and the development of science skills for the labour market.

Nantu’s Haingura is not impressed by the programme. “Our concern is resources to attract teachers to the profession,” he says.

He doubts whether the government will be able to finance Etsip. The government is looking at raising about $322-million over the next five years to fund the plan.

According to Toivo Mvula, press and information officer in the Ministry of Education, “the problem is that our teachers’ colleges do not have the capacity to produce enough teachers”.

He said as part of Etsip, the government is sending teachers to Zimbabwe and Cuba for training in English, mathematics and science.

Five new schools have been constructed in Windhoek and a few others upgraded to alleviate the classroom shortages experienced early this year.—IPS

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