Online education exposes inequalities

According to education minister Anna Nghipondoka, only 13 000 out of 804 000 pupils will be able to access the ministry's e-learning platforms.

27 April 2020 | Education

JEMIMA BEUKES

WINDHOEK



The global Covid-19 pandemic has given a painful yet realistic reminder of gross inequalities when it comes to Namibia's education sector.

While it is almost business as usual for many pupils from plush and comfortable suburbs, as e-learning continues, beyond this there are the informal settlements and rural areas, where things like smartphones and data are a pipe dream, and where it is a simple scramble to eat.

For example, in Havana hundreds of poor kids from disadvantaged backgrounds, even during so-called 'normality', have to make do with a makeshift tent school.

This is a place where imagination or thoughts of learning online in such times is unimaginable.

With President Hage Geingob declaring a state of emergency and lockdown late last month and schools closing as a result, the education sector has turned to online learning.

However, glaring inequalities have hampered the take-off of this initiative.



Challenges

“We are looking at making use of visual and online education, as well as how to teach children offline. We are faced with challenges - there are those with access and those without access to internet and computers,” the executive director of the education ministry, Sanet Steenkamp, said.

According to education minister Anna Nghipondoka, only 13 000 out of 804 000 pupils will be able to access the ministry's e-learning platforms.

This is despite repeated promises by the education ministry that no Namibian child will be left behind.

One of the hordes of pupils left behind is Kauna Muharimbutu's 10-year-old daughter, who normally attends school in a tent on the outskirts of Havana.

Muharimbutu sent her child to her remote home village in the north just before the lockdown came into effect.

Without any form of technology, except for an old-fashioned radio, her daughter will receive no schooling.

“The village is very far. They have no cellphones there and we have never even used WhatsApp,” she said. Her neighbour, Pawe Tjirunga, also sent her children, who are in grades 8 and Grade 10, to their village in the Kunene Region.



No electricity, no cellphones

In Havana, Abraham Ndapuka lives with his children, including his 12-year-old daughter who is in Grade 6, in a one-roomed shack with no electricity or cell phone.

“I am really worried for my child's future. It would mean she will fail and we do not have money to let her repeat,” he said.

Ten houses down, Mbahimue Kavari has no access to electricity or a cellphone to assist his school-going children.

“We only heard on the radio about online school, but no teacher came to visit us to explain how it will be done. We are just at home without food and the children are running around in the streets to get something to eat,” he said.



WhatsApp a headache

In the Oshana Region, online learning through WhatsApp has created a massive headache.

Teachers who spoke to Namibian Sun complained that although they have smartphones, these are for private use as they were not provided by the ministry.

Some claim that parents abuse the platform by calling them in the middle of the night to discuss school matters. “To me, working from home means I must study the scheme of work and do my lesson plans. There is no way I will do work-related activities with the cellphone I bought for myself and recharge [with] airtime myself,” a teacher said.



Holes in the plan

A document issued by the ministry last Wednesday shows that of 1 600 schools, 614 do not have access to telecommunication systems, 346 have no electricity, 250 are without sanitation and 211 do not have access to potable water.

The document states that access to ICT infrastructure and the capacity of teachers and learners to access e-learning is limited to predominantly urban schools, while the cost implications to provide equitable access to all learners is high.

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