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Barbara Follows

Barbara Follows, M.Ed

"My philosophy is that every child is unique and, whatever their differences, every single child matters."

The last word about Namibia (January 2010)

Readers may remember that I said "goodbye" in my last letter from Namibia in August 2009. This is true. I left my post in the far north at the end of September and travelled south to explore the delights of Southern Namibia and South Africa before returning to the UK in October. But that last month as Inclusive Education Adviser for Oshikoto Region provided a fair summary of my work there and so I thought I would share it with you...

Teacher conference

After the training of school principals and teachers during my year in office, I believed that it would be a good idea to have "surgeries" in each region where experiences could be shared. I was envisaging meetings something like the ones that UK MPs have in their constituencies, where problems are discussed, difficulties aired and solutions, hopefully, reached. However, this concept was not understood, and large numbers of principals and teachers turned up expecting more training. What to do?

"How did you use the training you've already received?" I enquired hopefully.

But two-way exchanges of ideas were not happening, and I was faced with an impasse. Looking at the waiting sea of faces, I was filled with dismay that these educators had reverted to the traditional African pupil-teacher role, where learners do not take an active part in the learning process. Well, I had a whole day to fill so, carefully hiding my frustration, I began to engage them in team work. Gradually, as the activities were enjoyed, the concept of support was physically illustrated and the learning and sharing began. Of course, they had also worked together during the previous training days, but this method of working needs much reinforcement, as teaching staff are not used to sharing or asking for help - even within their own school.

Now that everyone was relaxed, it was time to share. Below are just a few of the replies to my leading question. Some proved to be discouraging, and there was no mention of differentiation or learning styles but the answers, I believe, illustrate that some important steps in understanding are being made. My comments are in italics.

Q. "What has changed in your school as a result of the training you received in Inclusive Education?"

"There are too many learners to do Inclusive Education."

Ah well, back to the drawing board!

"We had no feedback on the training from principal/teacher."

Ditto comment above...

"Teachers do not have time to attend to these learners."

Time to get the shotgun out because of my woefully inadequate training!

"We attempted to identify learners with learning difficulties, so that all learners can access the curriculum but screening is difficult."

Some problems are universal.

"So the Cluster Centres plan to organise group testing."

Wow, a result!

"We should not just look at the academic side to help our learners."

Now I'm getting really excited.

"Our principal involves parents more and finds out about the family background."

Yes!

"I have seen my wrongdoing. I realise that my approach was not good of telling some learners that they are not going to pass their May exams."

This principal is now aware of the idea of the self-fulfilling prophecy.

"I learned do not give up, throw in the towel. We wanted to send a learner to special school but then we were advised and found out that we could help the learner."

Can I give you a hug now?

"I found out that one of our learners was berated, even beaten, at the start of every lesson for being dirty and not having clean clothes. The teachers were not sharing what they were doing and the child said nothing until I spoke to him in a friendly manner. I told the staff and spoke to the family. The result was that the child was then treated with understanding at the school, and the local community is trying to help the family with looking after themselves."

All the participants clapped this answer. It rang a chord with most of them.

"We did nothing to follow up the training. We have abnormal children who are still not performing."

This admission was thankfully met with laughter from most of the other participants as they realised we had a hard-to-teach learner in our midst!

"I told my teachers that they could be the cause of the learners' problems. Now my teachers do not shout or beat the learners. Now we listen to our learners."

That brought tears to my eyes.

 

Educationalists in Namibia are gradually realising that Inclusive Education is not solely concerned with physical disability but addresses the education of all the children, at their individual level, whilst raising the standards of teaching and the learning outcomes. However, the condition of schools is very poor and teachers need to be extremely committed to work in such harsh surroundings. The way that children are treated in class is very punitive and quite savage, verbally and sometimes physically.

There are some significant issues affecting the improvement of education in this country of southern Africa, with poor or absent telecommunication being the key one. The telephones, internet, faxes, television and video aids and, yes, even the good old snail mail that we take for granted in sharing ideas and experiences between our Western schools is just not there.

Other issues are more political: as with most countries, and just as in the UK, there appear to be people in top posts who do not seem to know what it is like at the chalkface. But things are improving, and I will now finally say goodbye from Namibia with my favourite lightbulb moment from one of the teachers:

"Oh I see, you can have fun and learn at the same time!"

(Published in SEBDA News, issue 21, spring 2010)