Ever since Namibia's independence in 1990, education reform has been a top priority. Education spending consistently represents the largest percentage of the budget; yet, many obstacles to quality education remain. The reform process is consciously a gradual one. Teacher education and equitable distribution of qualified teachers are two areas that constantly receive attention. The presence and expansion of the role of WorldTeach volunteers in Namibia speak to these facts. WorldTeach volunteers are typically placed in areas, mainly rural areas, where there is a severe shortage of willing and qualified teachers for the number of learners needing to be served. Also, whereas WorldTeach began as providers of English language teachers, WorldTeach Volunteers can now be found teaching across the broad curriculum, and in special placements such as mine.
According to a United Nations report, "the situation at Namibian independence was that 36% of the nation's 13,000 teachers had no professional training." 10 years later, the government reported improvement, with just about 15% of the nation's teachers lacking formal teacher training. One glaring problem, however, is the distribution of the qualified teachers around the country. In 2001, the Kavango Region in the north, for example, reported that over 30% of their teaching staff were unqualified. I can't immediately locate the current statistics, but I will update this post when I do.
Moreover, the teaching of Science and Mathematics has also presented challenges since Independence. This has been due mainly to the neglect by the previous regime which excluded the majority of Black Namibians from the teaching (and learning) of these subjects. The teaching of English is an area of concern because English only became an official language at Independence. Many teachers are not comfortable with the English language in general conversation, let alone as the primary medium of instruction, which is the policy for grades 5-12 (Home languages may be used as the primary language of instruction in grades 1-3; grade 4 should be used as a transitional year for the language of instruction; home languages, with few exceptions, are still taught as subjects after grade 4).
One tool designed to help bring current teachers to standard is the Basic Education Teacher Diploma (BETD) In-Service Education for Teachers (INSET) program. Begun in 1994, BETD INSET is a comprehensive, four-year professional development initiative for unqualified and underqualified teachers in Namibia's primary and secondary schools.
BETD INSET is primarily delivered through distance learning; however, there are a number of contact sessions each year, held at the Teachers' Resource Centres (TRCs) nearest their schools. The Computer-Based Learning (PLATO) Centres with which I work both in Khorixas and Keetmanshoop are located at the TRCs; so, I have had some exposure to the BETD contact sessions. In a few weeks, I will conduct a workshop for BETD participants at the Keetmanshoop PLATO Centre. This week, however, I was able to witness the formal culmination of their work, their graduation.
The BETD INSET graduation was a very nice and regal affair, which went on without any noticeable hitch or problem. I was the DJ, so the music was especially enjoyable - Hugh Masekela, the Mahotella Queens, LadySmith Black Mambazo, Bob Marley, Bill Withers, Byron Lee and the Dragonaires, Classical symphonic orchestras (not sure from where), and Michael Jackson (by huge request), to name a few. Someone even asked for my card and whether or not I did weddings; iPods do magic! Missing were the invited governors, mayors, and politicians, but their absence did not cast any shadow over the excitement and pride felt by graduates, family members, BETD tutors, and staff. Governors' Awards were still delivered and presented to outstanding BETD participants, on their behalf.
Of couse, I enjoyed the free food. Eating is important, I'm told. I also enjoyed seeing individuals with which I have worked receiving their diplomas. A few of the teachers have children currently registered at the PLATO Centre, and a few of the teachers have attended my teacher training workshops in the PLATO Centre. Gaining everyone's respect and inspiration was the oldest graduate, in his 60s. More on his story later....
As I have shared from day one and will continue to share until education reform is reality, I do sincerely hope that WorldTeach will eventually outgrow its purpose in Namibia. This will mean that teacher shortages have been eliminated; English education is sound; all schools are staffed with fully qualified teachers; quality teaching practices have become the norm; and all subjects will be supported by eager, willing, and highly competent educators from their home country. As Otis Redding prophetizes, "Change Gonna Come."