Yesterday, one of the past volunteers, Rachel, came to speak to us to share ideas on teaching math. I’d have to say that so far it was the most useful training session for me and it really made me realize that I have a lot of work ahead of me. In preparing for the trip and through a lot of orientation, it has been easy to forget that I am here to work… and from what I hear, and what is expected of me, I think it will be the most challenging work I have ever done.
While most people expect English to be the area of Namibian education that is currently struggling the most, I was surprised to hear that math and science are equally as weak. The reason for this comes from the history of the country. Until 1990, Namibia was under the apartheid government of South Africa which left the legacy of an education system that was divided and dehumanizing. Recognizing that knowledge was power, the system was set up to limit the education of blacks while empowering the whites through full access to education. While whites learned the core subjects such as math, science and language, the Blacks learned handiwork and domestic skills. In addition, the belief that blacks weren’t capable of learning math or science further contributed to the apartheid-era education system. This system ensured that there would be a steady supply of servants and farm labourers for the white minority. So, it wasn’t until 1990, under the new education system, that all students were treated equally and were required to take all core subjects up to grade ten. However, the teachers that trained before independence did not have any experience with math or science – as they did not learn these subjects. As a result, many learners over the past 20 years have been educated by teachers that are not qualified to teach that subject, which has resulted in incredibly large failure rates on national exams. So, this is why international volunteers are needed immediately!
While I have always been fascinated by the history of South Africa and the apartheid regime, being here and seeing the ripple effects that still exist, make me want to learn more. While I imagine this can still be a sensitive subject, I hope to be able to gather some first hand experiences from some of the older members of my new community who lived during this period.