6/13/12

Students of Namibia

WorldTeach volunteer Bryan Belous is in the middle of his year long service experience in Namibia. Apart from teaching, Bryan has had the opportunity to travel throughout Africa and observe a stunning variety of cultures. Above all, Bryan expresses a passion for teaching. He dedicates himself completely to his students. As Bryan expands upon in his blog post, "it seems that there is an understanding [in Namibia], even among young kids, that education is important and that it needs to be taken seriously". See what else Bryan has to say about his teaching experience below!



You could consider the following post as part one of a multi-part docudrama (in the written word), outlining my experience teaching at Omatjete PS. Until now I’ve mostly focused on “life” outside of school – you know, washing clothes, meeting people, traveling, etc. But now I think it is finally time to expand on my existence as a teacher here in Omatjete, Namibia. So where does one begin…

I think an appropriate place to being would be with my learners. After all, without them this whole teaching thing would be pointless. Before I get into it I want to make one thing clear: whatever I say is only part of the truth. I only see and know snippets of the real-life stories that hide behind the smiling faces of the kids in my classes. I can only tell you what I think I know and nothing more. So please, take everything you read with a grain of salt. What I say may approach the truth, but the reality of every situation is beyond what I am able to observe. I hope you will understand (as I have been learning to) that every person is more than meets the eye! Each of us is made up of experiences and we can only speak of that which has happened to us. But that said, I will try to give a fair treatment of the learners at my school.

So who are they? Our school is made up of approximately 350 learners from Pre-Primary to Grade 7. I suppose that encompasses ages 4 to 14 or 15. There might even be the odd 16 year old. I teach only the Upper Primary, or Grades 5-7. About 135 of the school’s learners live at the school in the hostel (check back soon for blog about hostel). 

Nearly all of my learners are Herero. The Herero people have such an interesting history as they were one of the people groups nearly wiped out by the German soldiers in what many people refer to as a genocide. There is actually a documentary called Namibia – Genocide and the Second Reich. If you are savvy with a computer you should see if you can find it online. It really is fascinating. Anyways, most of the learners are Herero and speak Otjiherero as their mother tongue. English would be a second (or third or fourth) language for most of them.

As far as the types of homes the learners come from, I would wager that most of them come from a farming family. This area of Namibia is known for its farming, especially of animals. Most kids have relatives that still live on a farm somewhere. And most of the homesteads are in this area.

I would say that on average the kids come from quite poor homes. Of course there are exceptions, but Namibia has one of the largest discrepancies between rich and poor in the world and an unemployment rate of about 50%. So for most of the learners, material possessions have never been part of their experience. They would typically have one or two changes of clothes, one pair of shoes for school (maybe) and maybe a pair of sandals. Some kids have pencils and pens and whatnot, but many don’t. They might scrounge up a pen from somewhere or else they just borrow from others all the time. So, you can imagine the kind of impact that has on their learning. Sometimes I will notice learners not participating in class and I realize it’s because they don’t have a pencil, but they are too shy to say anything about it. Socioeconomics is a huge indicator of success in education, whether in Namibia or Canada. The learners that don’t have to struggle to stay alive or afloat or whatever typically end up doing better in school. Once again, there are exceptions, but that is the general case.

As is the case in any classroom, there are a variety of personalities and character traits among the learners. There are the shy quiet types, the loud obnoxious ones, and the teachers’ pets. There are the ones that want to answer every question and the ones that put their head in their hands if you so much as look at them! But in general I can say that I really love my learners. That doesn’t mean I don’t get mad or yell from time to time, but hey I’m a teacher. Some days my patience is thin!

The learners are at a variety of levels when it comes to learning. More often than not it seems that the learners are not at grade level in the different subjects (math and English in particular). There are no Special Education classes here and there are no Educational Assistants. So if a learner has any kind of learning or behavioural problem it is completely up to the classroom teacher to work with that learner. Of course this is difficult when you have classes of 30+ learners and no resources to work with (and only 40 minute classes). Yes, there are definitely a lot of challenges when it comes to dealing with diversity in the classroom.

Many of the learners are older than usual for the grade. In Namibia if you fail a grade you repeat it, and if you fail it again you are automatically transferred to the next grade. So there are some learners in Grades 5-7 who have never actually passed a class, but have always been transferred. It’s obvious that this leads to all sorts of issues for teachers and for the learner when it comes to education. But, this is an education system that is still figuring itself out. Independence was only 22 years ago and every year there are changes to the system. Unfortunately, it’s usually the learners who bear the brunt of these (sometimes confusing) changes. But, these are growing pains that education systems in the west went through many many years ago. It just seems unfair in this day and age that kids fall through the cracks when I know that in much of the world there are safeguards in place to prevent these types of things from happening. But I digress.

Yes, the learners come in all shapes and sizes  (okay, most of them are skinny…at least compared to learners back home) with different personalities and backgrounds, but one thing is true – they all seem to enjoy coming to school. Whether they are smiling during class or not, it seems that there is an understanding, even among young kids, that education is important and that it needs to be taken seriously. Of course there are huge challenges to face and many mountains to climb, and many of the learners will fail grades (the passing grade, by the way, is 30%), but the learners face these obstacles with perseverance and hope and I only wish they were given the kinds of opportunities I had as a child.

So, that is a brief intro to little people I work with everyday. Hopefully it was somewhat informative. If not, I apologize for wasting your time!

Stay tuned for more posts about school life.

Peace.

If reading about Bryan's experience has intrigued you, consider applying to WorldTeach's Namibia program! Find more information at www.worldteach.org. Contact us at recruiting@worldteach.org
or give us a call at 617-495-5527

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