The surge in the number of coronavirus infections has left the ministry of education with no other option but to postpone the reopening of schools for the 2021 academic year. To prevent the spread and transmission of the virus, learners and teachers would have to adhere to physical distancing, sanitising and washing of hands and the correct usage of facemasks.
However, with Namibian schools already overcrowded and with a limited budget of N$600 million for the education sector that did not cater for a second wave of the pandemic, physical distancing, sanitising and washing of hands does not look like a reality in about 193 schools across Namibia.
Covid-19 is, however, a blessing in disguise as it has shown us key areas in our education sector that we need to improve on. The Namibian government has to particularly integrate Information and Communications Technology (ICT) into all schools. A standard should be set in schools that would provide each learner with all the required textbooks.
Covid-19 poses a potential threat to our education sector and now is the time to invest in teachers. Overcrowded classrooms are a common spectacle in Namibian schools that makes physical distancing impractical and the time to build more schools and classrooms has already arrived. When the coronavirus pandemic first introduced itself to Namibia it brought forth the closure of schools in March 2020.
The pandemic showed us the significance of ICT in schools. With all the schools forced to close, only a handful of schools could adapt to e-learning. An ample number of government schools could not resort to e-learning because of two reasons, either the teachers and learners did not possess the digital equipment required to access the platform, or they did not know how to utilise the digital equipment to learn online.
Covid-19 has shown us that we have a long way to go with connecting and integrating ICT in all Namibian schools. A call is set out to not only the Namibian government but also to the private sector to work coherently to ensure they connect and integrate ICT in all Namibian schools.
This can be done by developing the infrastructure at schools that would provide facilities for the incorporation of ICT, training teachers to teach ICT, providing learners with not only devices that they can use at home but also with data connection. We are moving towards an ever-digital world, the incorporation of ICT in schools is a great investment for preparing Namibian learners for the future.
Namibian learners are still waiting for education ministry to fulfil the promise it made in 2014 of one textbook per learner. It is sad to realize that after 30 years of independence voluminous learners do not receive textbooks at schools because of the limited supply and that learners still share textbooks at school.
Amid the lockdown the majority of learners could not access e-learning and rather opted to read, study and try to understand their work from their textbooks in advance, however, numerous learners lacked both e-learning equipment and textbooks and thus their learning process had come to a complete standstill. If learners that could not learn online had textbooks, they would have been granted the opportunity to rather read and study on their own in advance during the lockdown.
The Namibian government should not forget their commitment and should fulfill their promise that would see a one textbook per learner ratio. Teachers are at a greater risk of contracting Covid-19 as they handle learners’ books, scripts and equipment.
The coronavirus could result in an education crisis if teachers are not fully protected against the virus. Namibia is already in short supply of qualified teachers and the health of our teachers should be one of our top priorities.
The Namibian government should ensure that teachers are protected against the virus and should allocate resources and safety information to guarantee this. The teaching profession is not preferred by young Namibians, now would also be the time to encourage more young Namibians to follow the teaching profession to fill the gap of qualified teachers we lack in the education sector and also to avoid a potential education crisis as posed by the pandemic.
The lack of adequate classrooms and infrastructure is a key reason why the reopening of schools was rescheduled. A great number of Namibian classrooms are overcrowded with about 45 learners occupying one classroom in certain government schools.
The limited space at schools makes physical distancing impractical. The Coronavirus pandemic has shown us that we need to build more schools and classrooms that would cater to the demands of a fast-growing Namibian population.
The building of more schools would minimise overcrowding in classes. Schools and classrooms should be built and developed strategically to ensure it aligns with the availability of qualified teachers and students studying education enrolled in university. Schools should also be built in a conscious method to guarantee accessibility especially for learners in rural areas.
Conclusively, Covid-19 is a blessing in disguise and has revealed key areas that need improvement and development in. The Namibian government needs to incorporate ICT in schools, fulfill its commitment of one textbook per learner, protect teachers from the virus and develop the education sector’s infrastructure.
The above-mentioned suggestions will guide us through this pandemic, better prepare our education system for another pandemic that may arise, move us two steps closer towards making our education sector 100% proficient and will better prepare Namibian learners for the future through an efficient and resourceful education sector.