The level of attainment of the kids countrywide in Namibia is horrifying. To give you some idea, in order to progress to the next grade, students must attain a C in math and English and a D in every other subject. This is even scarier when you see the grading scale:

A 80%+

B 65-79%

C 45-64%

D 30-44%

E 0-29%

And kids are constantly being held back. Most of my grade 7 boys are 2-4 years older than the girls in their class because they have repeated several grades. I’ve been led to expect this level of grading, but it was still difficult to mark exams for a class that I thought understood and find that the class average was a 43%.

The low standards are frequently blamed on teachers, and, in my limited experience, this seems to make sense. Teachers are frequently absent, and I have already discussed the lack of importance placed on class time. It is still acceptable for a teacher to write a “summary” of the material on the board and have the class copy it as their learning. Other vols have seen this frequently, and teachers usually even leave the classroom after they write something on the board. Furthermore, many of the teachers have low levels of English themselves and I often help other teachers understand the math, English, or science that they are teaching. To be fair, not all of the teachers are bad. I have seen several enthusiastic and smart teachers, but if the kids are missing the basic stepping stones, it is almost impossible to proceed. I’ve already briefly touched on the difficulties of teaching rounding and approximation when kids can’t add or multiply, much less teaching science in a language that they can’t understand well enough.

The government’s response to this is to lay out exactly what teachers need to do. The preparation for classes must be written daily and there are very explicit marks that teachers must meet. Today I went to a “workshop” for upper primary math teachers to talk about assessment, grading, schemes of work (calendars) and much, much more. Mostly, we had to go over all of the paperwork; paperwork that is the product of trying to force teachers to work. All this really ends up doing, however, is adding more confusion and a lot of extra work to already exhausted teachers. It’s a really interesting struggle between the ministry of education trying to motivate teachers who are…. Well, frequently lazy and undereducated. And the result that we see is just a ton of paperwork.

The workshop itself was just a man who attended a conference explaining to four of us (subject heads from the cluster schools and me) the updates to the math syllabus and continuous assessment forms. I won’t try to explain any of it here except to say that they are unnecessarily complicated and horribly confusing, even to teachers who have been doing this for 30 years. I enjoyed spending some time with colleagues, though, and got a nice lunch, even though it meant missing yet another day of classes (I left work for them to do in my absence, we’ll see how that goes…).

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So, I only need to get 1/3 of the questions right to pass? To be fair, the US standard of "passing" is 2/3 (66%), but to have a class average of 43% is depressing. And I can imagine that you can't even push them harder because they are missing the fundamentals. It was funny because it was Catch 22's like this (the more you want to teach them, the more frustrated they get, the more frustrated they get, the less they learn, the less they learn, the more you have to teach them...) that Teaching Fellowships asked applicants to try to solve in their applications. I mostly said the same dribble that I have been told, which is probably why I didn't get into any of them...But I hope you can find a good middle ground where they are enjoying the learning and finally getting the fundamentals they need.

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