The pandemic has slammed Namibia’s already weak educational system. The victims of this are the students. Many learners have lost time in their climb towards degrees or advancement from one grade to another. But, no one can credibly blame the failures of Namibia’s ability to uplift its learners, on the pandemic. The massive problems and alarmingly bad test results existed long before that.

During apartheid, Bantu education systematically, purposefully and deliberately buried minds and creativity. Oppression can never work if people expose lies, embrace new ideas and lose all fear of anyone calling themselves superior.

But, after independence, those minds had to be exhumed. The government’s educational system has made some headway in doing this, but not enough. The overall outputs in terms of critically thinking, enlightened learners, are disappointing.

Before COVID – kids learned under trees and under tents and did not have enough books for each student. They were refused registration or test scores because of a lack of payment. Too many come to school hungry. Those in classrooms learn by memorization and are not taught to think. They are in schools and homes with no electricity. Their parents and family members lack the capacity to assist in their studies. They live in communities that value farm/housework over homework.

COVID readjustment period – kids will learn under trees and in tents and will not have enough books for each student. They will be refused registration or test scores because of lack of payment. Too many will come to school hungry. Those in classrooms learn by memorization and will not be taught to think. They remain in schools and homes with no electricity. Their parents and family members still lack capacity to assist in their studies. They stay in communities that value farm/house work over homework.

No change.

Some pandemic related benefits to students due to the cancellation of face-to-face learning could be no bullying at school. By staying at home there is less peer pressure to have under-age sex. Students at home do not have to endure predatory teachers impregnating them. Teachers violating the law with corporal punishment is not a threat. Overcrowded hostels with non-working showers and toilets is not an issue when school is not in session.

Cancelled classes mean no dictatorial school officials violating students’ rights by shaving their heads. And, the students are not forced to suffer through ‘meals’ of only pap as workers in the school kitchens steal the meat and vegetables.

The negatives outlined above are unpleasant to read, but they are real in the Namibian educational experience. These kinds of things have been going on before any of us ever heard of COVID.

There was a massive national educational conference back in 2012 under the late minister of education Dr Abraham Iyambo. The recommendations from that event were outstanding. If they can be unburied and re-considered, those issues are still hampering education now. That event happened long before the pandemic closed down schools.

The pandemic took an existing underperforming situation in education and made it worse. We must not fool ourselves or let others fool us; the unrelenting challenges in education were in the works before COVID.

The hardworking teachers shoulder most of the blame, when it is not always their fault. They have office photocopiers that do not work, broken desks and chairs. There aren’t enough text books and stationary. They also suffer when there are broken toilets and dilapidated classrooms. There is insufficient teacher housing in rural areas. There are few working vehicles available for educational trips or to transact school business. Parents throw the education of their children onto the schools and do nothing to support education at home.

This status quo situation has nothing to do with the pandemic.

COVID can, however, be blamed for a few changes. The issue of online learning is now taken seriously. It will have to evolve in the years to come. Currently, it is not yet a viable classroom alternative for a significant number of students. The future will mandate certain levels of online education in specific categories. This emerged from the wreckage of the pandemic and can be claimed as such.

Educational advancement could be impossible for many students in 2020. Officials must not run away from managing this reality and making the changes necessary by blaming COVID for all ills. They know that systemic roadblocks in education have been around a long time.