The speech that bred fracas in the August House

October, 12 – The week that passed was highlighted by Nico Smit’s nozzle aimed at Minister of Education, Arts and Culture Katrina Hanse-Himarwa. We reported that she was having none of it , and at a point and time she said: ” You are the most dishonest person I have ever seen…”  But what exactly had Member of Parliament Nico Smit said? Read his his speech below…good reading:

Hon Speaker, Hon Members, as I read through this Education Bill I got the feeling that I haven’t for some time read something so autocratic, so undemocratic and so draconian, it’s unreal.
Hon Speaker, as you will be aware of, this Bill has drawn strong and valid criticism from various sections of civil society. This is very encouraging, as education is in fact an issue for civil society as civil society is not some alien organisation but legitimate representatives of those people that we have all been elected to serve while the government’s only task is to regulate education in such a way that it can take place smoothly and effectively.

“I could have taken this Bill clause by clause and picked it to pieces, but experience has unfortunately shown that this is simply a waste of this House’s and my own time as the ruling party never pays the slightest attention to opinions, that differ from their own.” – Smit

In fact, I have not seen any positive feedback on this Bill thus far.
I have always believed that the education of our children belongs to the parents of those children and that these parents and their representatives should have the maximum input in how they want this education to happen. This function seems to have been entirely usurped by the Minister of Education and one can only suspect that this is for a political motive of directing education to ensure that loyalty to the ruling party is maintained by manipulating and indoctrinating our impressionable young people and teachers as well.

M(r) Speaker, it is significant that the criticism raised by the Trade Union Congress of Namibia – TUCNA, echoes my fears of the not-so-hidden agenda of this government regarding this Bill. In an interview with the Namibian, the TUCNA leader Mahongora Kavihuha said that despite the Minister’s claims that the proposed Bill was widely consulted on, most of the input, concerns and proposals made during the consultative process were not reflected in the Bill.

This strengthens my feeling that it is easy for this government to pretend to listen to the people and the experts, not just in this case but in many others I could mention, to create the illusion of caring about the people, and then to ignore whatever is suggested that does not further its own agenda.
This Bill has intruded on areas in education that do not need “fixing”, and I cannot help but suspect that it has been written the way it has to tighten the ruling party’s grip on the teaching sector as well as the civil sector that has children in our schools. This exclusion of the inputs received during consultations with stakeholders means that the ministry wants to impose a predetermined outcome on the public and that outcome can only be to ensure that teachers are forced to teach what the government wants them to teach to ensure that learners are moulded into loyal and undiscerning voters by the time they reach the age of 18.

I must agree with TUCNA: that an education bill should not concentrate on disciplinary measures while paying scant attention to burning issues such as effective teacher training and measures to bring real improvement to the quality of education our children are receiving.

Hon Speaker, I think this Bill has insulted teachers throughout the country by creating the impression that they are not to be trusted with any of the issues for which they have been appointed. They are to be advised by school boards on how to run their schools, where these school boards are to be made up of amongst others, learners as young as grade 7 and people who are not in any way concerned with educational matters. They need not even have children in school to tell the principal what he or she may or may not do.

Teachers and principals are being threatened with draconian punishments for trying to maintain a semblance of administrative discipline in their schools by withholding report cards for any reason whatsoever. Yet the government shamelessly fails to provide the required approximately N$5000 per child that is required to effectively provide the so-called free education it promised people in order to buy their votes. At present schools are left floundering in a mire of debt as they try to provide for all their pupils’ needs on the meagre N$250 per child actually provided by this government.

Hon Speaker, it must be clear to everyone with a child at school and most of us whose children are no longer at school that teaching staff must be allowed to find ways and means to supplement the inadequate amount provided by the government to keep their schools afloat and should not be threatened with incarceration or huge fines for trying to do this. Surely these attempts by school staff to provide for their pupils’ needs is a truer reflection of catering for pupils’ rights than the autocratic and unfeeling clauses set out in this Bill.

Something in this Bill or rather NOT in this Bill is any protection of the rights of teachers! According to Hon Minister Hanse-Himarwa the Bill has put the learners at its centre but surely this is just another ploy to create sympathy for the draconian and undemocratic contents it contains? How can the children be more important than the adults who give their lives to teach them? I believe the rights of pupils, teachers and parents are equally important and deserve equal protection in any Education Bill.
Hon Speaker, Hon Members I could have taken this Bill clause by clause and picked it to pieces, but experience has unfortunately shown that this is simply a waste of this House’s and my own time as the ruling party never pays the slightest attention to opinions, that differ from their own. Thus I will end with a call for this Bill to be referred to a Parliamentary Committee to listen to the concerns of civil society and other experts so that it can be amended to be more in line with what most Namibians want for their children. – Honorable Nico Smit