As a teacher for more than eight years, I have come to a realization that Namibian discussions about education need to be changed. There have to be more conversations about the responsibilities of learners in ensuring their own learning.
Any discussion about the problems in Namibian education – will likely include some of the following usual contributors: a lack of resources, underpaid and overworked teachers, out-dated and rudimentary instructions, and in-discipline amongst learners. As a teacher, I can inform you that all of the above and more, have negatively affected our education system. Learners’ lack of discipline is jeopardizing the future of many Namibian children, yet it is inadequately addressed – at least not as it should be.
The main drive to in-discipline is the learners’ lack of apathy – In classrooms all over the country, the teacher cares more about their learners’ performance, learning and future more than they do. Teachers are expected to combat apathy by continually finding new and innovative ways to reach learners to ensure optimum engagement and skill acquisition, we must teach to the individual learning styles, interests and abilities of each of our learners. We are told that if learners cannot learn the way we teach, we must teach the way they learn –that is times infinity. Sadly, all these eventually wear some wonderful teachers up. They leave a profession they are good at and once felt called for. However, the loss of good teachers is not even the worst effect of the be-all-things-to-all-people mentality. The real danger is that this way of thinking has shifted the responsibility of learning, and of caring about learning, from the learners to the teachers. As a result we have a cohort of learners who think that if a lesson is not interesting, engaging, fun and/or inspiring, then it simply is not worth paying attention to. They are not compelled to be concerned about it. It’s a teacher’s job to make all learning electrifying. This is a terrifying frame of mind because it has created a generation of end user learners.
Many learners do not see education as an opportunity. They see it as a product, and if they do not like the seller, and with how it is arranged, they are not willing to buy it. It is very vital that our children have to learn to be self-motivated, and say: “This is tough, but it is my responsibility anyway, and I will do my best for the sake of my future.”
So how do we teach learners to be self-motivated? Teachers and parents need practical strategies for encouraging learners to take responsibility for their own learning. On a basic level we need to help learners develop habits and discipline that will lead to academic success. The best way to developing new habit is to start small, and improve step-by-step – especially when good habits need to replace bad ones. When the job is done, not only will they have a good discipline, but they will have learned that perseverance bears fruits.
This is the same approach that can be taken toward learners who struggle with apathy. Talk to them about specific strategies, let them sit up front, take notes, ask questions, be organized, do all the work, find a study partner. It might be difficult for a struggling learner to take on that kind of responsibility, but it does not hurt to try. And when students experience hard-won success, they will be empowered by that success and likely apply that newly learned work ethic in their other pursuits.
Success yields success, and success is a tremendous motivator. Not only does success motivates, but it can also inspire, and here is where we move from utter willpower to enthusiasm – the true goal of education. No matter how innovative the teaching, it is unlikely that a learner will grow to love a class if he is just getting by. The fact is that it is rare that even the most brilliant teacher would motivate an apathetic learner to embrace a lifetime of learning. As one respected inspector of education once said “you can teach and teach until your saliva go to the learners’ uniform, no results.”
On a really good day, we can sparkle a child’s interest in the lesson. But in the long term, the desire to learn and improve has to come from the child.
Unless we give our learners the basic gear they need to accept that responsibilities are the flip side of their rights, otherwise we really have not taught them anything at all.
*Nikolaus Katombera is a Mathematics teacher at Eheke Secondary School in Oshana Region.