Author: Silke Felton, S.; Haihambo-Muetudhana, C.
In its efforts to achieve universal primary education, Namibia had not set itself targets for gender equity, as enrolment patterns did not reveal serious differences for girls and boys in primary grades. In 2001, 50.7% of all learners were girls. On secondary level, females accounted for 52.9%. However, as with the case of other indicators measuring access and quality of education, the national figures for gender hide regional variations. One region notable for below-average participation of girls is Kavango, where the gender gap increases progressively from primary school to junior secondary and secondary level. In 1992, only one in four learners in the two final grades of secondary school was female. By 2001, this proportion had increased significantly to more than a third. The Ministry of Basic Education, Sport and Culture's (MBESC) Strategic Plan for 2001-2006 regards gender as a cross-cutting issue, incorporated into the different national priority areas. It makes explicit reference to two regions with low female participation of girls in secondary education.
Purpose / Objective
This study sets out to provide an in-depth assessment of the school and community level of the factors that push girls out of the education system. Areas to be explored were, on one hand, the constraints faced through the education system itself, and factors inhibiting girls' retention caused by societal conditions and attitudes, on the other hand.
The objectives of the field assessment were to:
- identify and assess capacity gaps and other constraints in the formal education system leading to low retention of girls
- describe the extent to which external/community factors cause girls to underachieve or drop out of school (such as parental and community attitudes to education, teenage relationships and pregnancy, sexual harassment, poverty, lack of economic prospects/job opportunities/role models, alcohol abuse, domestic work load)
- assess the actual and potential roles of resource persons, educators, community and traditional leaders, churches, non-governmental organizations, HIV/AIDS awareness programmes to motivate girls to complete their education
- make recommendations for appropriate interventions to strengthen the education system and community mechanisms to support female achievement in primary and secondary education
Research methods were based on qualitative social research methods, such as semi-structured, open-ended interviews and focus group discussions. In each locality, interviews were held: principals, teachers, girls who had dropped out of school, community leaders, focus group discussion with female learners, and a focus group discussion with parents.
In addition, a purpose-made checklist recorded, for each sample, school baseline data pertaining to the number of learners and teachers, grades offered, infrastructure, absenteeism, and school development funds. Interviews were further conducted with key informants from MBESC and representatives of other stakeholder organizations located in Rundu. An additional focus group discussion was held with female students at the Rundu College of Education, a teacher-training institution.
Key Findings and Conclusions
The present field research has confirmed that more attention needs to be paid to girls' education. It is, however, evident that there is no single solution that will instantly alleviate the situation, because a range of factors lead to the discontinuation of education by girls. The most obvious aspect is teenage pregnancy and sexual relationships. This problem has its underlying causes in a number of reasons, namely the lack of perspectives and role models, as well as a non-stimulating learning environment. It should, however, be noted that girls cannot always be regarded, and do not regard themselves, as mere victims pressured into sexual relationships.
The research has drawn attention to the following facts:
- The quality of education, the efficiency of school management and the commitment of teachers vary greatly between schools, and is a cause for concern.
- There is a serious generation gap between adolescents and their parents or guardians, rendering constructive dialogue difficult.
- There are no longer any customary expectations on the side of communities and parents to marry early, or to be less educated than boys.
- Parents are not aware of the practical implications of the constitutional guarantee to free basic education, i.e. do not know or are unable to demand fee exemption.
- Girls tend to be less active in class than boys, and teachers lack the skills to enhance female participation during lessons.
- The poor management of hostels render them unsafe for girls, and not conducive to child-wellbeing.
- Relationships with sponsors are a serious concern, as they make girls vulnerable to HIV infection and pregnancy.
- Despite regulations guarding against sexual relationships between teachers and learners, such liaisons are disturbingly frequent.
- All groups of informants claim to be aware of HIV/AIDS, yet behavioural changes towards safer sex have not taken place.
- The risk of contracting HIV seems further away in the minds of many learners, as well as parents and teachers, than the danger of falling pregnant.
- MBESC's teenage pregnancy policy is not implemented consistently.
The recommendations below are grouped according to issues they are trying to address. This list is by no means comprehensive. On the other hand, the recommendations need to be prioritised by stakeholders, and translated into a concrete action plan. Ideally, such action plan will be coordinated by a designated unit or individual officer at the Rundu Regional Directorate MBESC.
Establish a system whereby teachers report on the performance of male and female learners, and are supported in this through practical advice by subject advisers
Provide in-service training on gender-sensitive motivation techniques
Conduct remedial classes for slow learners
Establish separate male/female streams in subjects in which girls' performance is low
Guidance/counselling/life skills/HIV/AIDS awareness:
Ensure that the subject of life skills is taught
Strengthen and expand coverage of peer education programmes
Designate female teachers at each school and support them as focal persons for gender issues for learners
Invite health and social workers to make presentations to girls and boys
Give organizations that deal with HIV/AIDS a platform in schools (for example, interaction between learners and HIV-positive people)
Community involvement in education:
Conduct information campaign on the rights to free basic education (and fee exemption procedures)
Strengthen school boards
Improve monitoring and reporting system in schools and at the Regional Directorate
Inform all principals about the correct interpretation and implementation of MBESC's teenage pregnancy policy
Discuss the teenage pregnancy policy, including the sections on code of conduct for learners and teachers, with learners
Awareness campaign by teachers' unions
Rigorous enforcement of regulations by school management (i.e. reporting incidences, disciplinary action and suspension)
Involve local theatre groups for dramatizations in public venues (bars, etc.)
Negotiate with Namibian Defence Force commanders on code of conduct regarding relationships of soldiers with learners
Strengthen and monitor hostel supervision system
Involve school boards and learner representative councils in hostel management
Institute leisure activities for learners at weekends
Women's organizations and church leaders to develop participatory activities with a pilot group of female learners
PDF files require Acrobat Reader.
Education - Girls
Ministry of Basic Education, Sport and Culture