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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."

Changing teachers' attitudes

Teachers at workshop

Having fun while learning: Namibian teachers at one of my workshops


As seen on a primary school staffroom wall, February 2009:

Intelligence rating

Bringing Inclusive Education to Namibia is a challenging task! However, not every principal or teacher has the views illustrated above, and if you cast your mind back a few decades in the UK system, we are in no position to criticise. But it is shocking to come across a real example of this type of attitude, seen when the principal brought an 11-year-old girl with Down's Syndrome and her mother to my office for assessment.

Pointing at her, the principal said: "That child has no brains. There is something wrong with her head."

The girl had been at a school for children with hearing impairments for a year and had learned to sign but had to leave because no hearing difficulties were apparent. Now she was not speaking and apparently not understanding what was said to her. She was running out of class and "upsetting" the teachers.

"Well," I said to her in English,"that is very clever, because when you run out of class you don't have to do the work."

She looked me in the eye, smiled and put her thumbs up!

The term the "learner" (as opposed to "pupil" or "student") was chosen very deliberately in Namibia, and Patti Swarts, Under-Secretary, Formal Education, believes that, "Helping teachers adopt learner-centred approaches to education is transforming education in Namibia." It can and it will, but there is a long way to go.

I am in the process of writing and running separate workshops for education managers, principals and teachers. As part of the preparation, I ask prospective participants to complete questionnaires on their knowledge of Inclusive Education and successes or otherwise in their schools. Here are some of their replies:

"I believe that Inclusive Education...

  • stops learners being unattended to,
  • is for the special needs child,
  • ensures schools are open to all children,
  • needs well trained supportive teachers,
  • hampers the progress of learners in the mainstream,
  • not for our schools, they were not built for it,
  • is equal opportunities,
  • changes ways of teaching
  • is about changing attitudes,
  • bridges the gap between gifted and not gifted learners."

"An example of where Inclusive Education has been successful/not successful in my school is...

  • all learners are integrated,
  • they are unable to read, write or learn,
  • our teachers don't have the skills,
  • other learners become bored,
  • we assess and evaluate,
  • they cannot improve,
  • we consult his parents to know about his background,
  • we forget learners with disabilities, there is no time,
  • it lowers the pass rate,
  • they totally refuse to learn."

The answers are enlightening and partially illustrate why Namibia, like the majority of African countries, is at serious risk of not achieving Education for All by 2015 (EFA Global Monitoring Report, 2003/04). Despite commitment to international treaties and declarations by most of its countries, all education indicators are below world and developing country averages. Improving what children are learning in school remains an enormous challenge. "Results from SACMEQ II (The Southern and Eastern Africa Consortium for Monitoring Educational Quality) indicate that fewer than 25% of grade 6 children reached the 'desirable' level of reading literacy in Botswana, Kenya, South Africa and Swaziland, and fewer than 10% in Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Uganda and Zambia." (EFA Global Monitoring Report, 2009).

TeachersHowever, the people on the ground have other difficulties besides attitudinal ones. The following quotation from the Open File on Inclusive Education, UNESCO 2001, still holds good now and is another reason why Namibia is struggling to achieve inclusion in its schools: "For good reasons much of the attention in the development of inclusive education to date has been focused on the school and, particularly, the classroom. However, many of the barriers which remain lie outside the school. They are at the level of national policy, of the structures of national systems of schooling and teacher training, of relationships between the education system and the communities it serves, of the management of budgets and resources." Difficulties that even developed countries are all too familiar with and which need addressing before Inclusive education can become a reality rather than a myth.

The participants in the pictures of my workshops are having fun whilst learning, even though education is taken very seriously in Namibia. It is seen as a ticket out of poverty and discrimination. But just as important is their hard-fought-for democracy. Elections are taken very seriously...

Election alert

Green, red and blue, an unremarkable combination of colours for a blouse, but whenever I wear it I receive compliments. Little did I know that I am actually showing my allegiance to the ruling SWAPO party. I am just grateful that none of my colleagues appears to be a member of the opposition RDP!

It is election year, and although the meteorological temperature is going down, the political one is steadily rising. Every weekend there are bakkis full of young activists on their way to or from a meeting. The elections will probably be in November but they are not sure yet, as registration is a long process due to poor communication and long distances. SWAPO has ruled since independence and has had little opposition for the past 18 years.

However, as time passes and the children of independence grow into adults, the political map is changing. But most of the people at the helm of SWAPO are from the North and, unfortunately, the same can be said for the opposition party.

I was relatively unconcerned about this until the phone call...

"This is Paul."

"? Er, hello Paul."

"I am phoning from VSO UK."


"I don't wish to alarm you. It is just procedure. We need to go through evacuation practices with possible scenarios."

"I see." At this point I was calm, as we had been warned that this would happen during our placement.

"There is a great deal of political unrest in the North due to the upcoming elections. There has been violence in the streets of Oshakati and Ongwediva, which has spread to Ondangwa. The police are not able to contain it and have called in the army."

(Stunned silence from me).

"Can I ask you, do you have a place of safety?"

"Er, I have a flat."

"Do you have transport?"

"Yes, a car."

"Could you provide help to others in evacuating the area?"

"Yes, of course."

"Could I check your next of kin details please, in case they are needed."

"Right..." By now, I am looking for Candid Camera, but Paul is deadly serious.

"The army have declared martial law. There is a curfew in place. How far are you away from your place of work?"

"About 10 minutes' driving."

"Could you accommodate other VSO volunteers who would not have time to return to their homes because of the curfew?"

"Of course." (whilst madly thinking, how many people can you cram into a two-bedroom flat the size of my living/dining area at home?)

"Your means of evacuation from Namibia would be communicated to you at the time. Please don't be concerned."

Oh, ha ha!

"This is the end of the evacuation exercise. Do you have any questions?"

"Well, Paul, thank you. Can I ask you why the 2009 elections were used as an evacuation practice?"

"We have people whose job it is to assess the risks in each country."


So now I know to get a ticket out of here before the elections...

(SEBDA News, issue 19, summer/autumn 2009)