Namibia: Kavango girls show maths and science are female
54 girls, 6 teachers, 5 days, 3 subjects and lots of brain power – this was the first vacation school for the Kavango Girls Education Project
. The project was set up in response to a field study into the difficulties faced by girls in the Kavango Region. Education statistics show the Kavango has the lowest percentage of female learners in all mainstream secondary school phases in Namibia - falling to 38.8% in senior secondary school (EMIS 2001). The Kavango Girls Education Project
is supported by UNICEF and covers a wide range of activities from community sensitisation to improving the hostel environment.
The Forum for African Women Educationalists in Namibia
(FAWENA) has a proven track record in supporting initiatives to help girls in Windhoek with revision in Mathematics and Science, and was keen to extend this programme to the regions. The main purpose of the recent vacation school in Kavango Region was to provide focussed revision in Mathematics, Physical Science and English for grade 12 girls. The plan was to put the girls into groups depending on their level of entry exam, and for them to work together with qualified teachers two hours on each subject each day. They would be given a pack of Maths and Physical Science Exam Papers, a Maths set, and writing implements. All they needed to bring was enthusiasm and brain power.
As there were only 74 girls in the whole region taking the Science subjects in Grade 12, all were invited. The time was fixed for Monday 2nd to Friday 6th September. The Maths and Physical Science teachers were in Namibia as volunteers with VSO, while the English teachers were from Rundu Senior Secondary School and St Boniface. The venue was Maria Mwengere Senior Secondary School, about 15 km outside of Rundu.
Information letters were sent out, lessons prepared, caterers chosen, and stationary bought. Then it was just a question of waiting. Registration was due to start on Monday from 11 am, but some girls already arrived on Sunday afternoon. Transport proved to be difficult. A government combi set off on Monday to collect the girls, and was not seen again! We resorted to driving around Rundu looking for girls carrying bedding and bags, and asking them if they were going to the Vacation School. Some girls headed for the Youth Centre instead of the school. Eventually we had 54 girls signed up, and on Tuesday morning we had a slightly delayed opening ceremony. Traditional leader Angelina Matumbo Ribebe and Mr Kantema, Director of Rundu Educational Directorate
, gave words of encouragement, and we started officially with lessons.
Everyone we spoke to saw the need for the Project, and was enthusiastic about its success. However, it was not enough to give academic support while ignoring the social context that makes many young women vulnerable to teenage pregnancy, domestic violence and HIV/AIDS. In addition to the classes, there were sessions on these issues. A member of Lironga Eparu, an organization for people living with HIV and AIDS, gave a moving talk, and Women’s Solidarity did sessions on relationships and domestic violence.
The evaluation forms were very positive, with many rating the standard of teaching and the materials as excellent. The greatest number of negative comments was for the venue, mainly due to mosquitoes, a lack of cleanliness and problems with the water supply. Areas for improvement included the length of the lessons – two hours is a long time to concentrate on one subject; the need to cover - biology because it is compulsory in the Science Field; and the inclusion of the science subjects at the higher level (HIGCSE). Many comments mentioned the need to make this an annual event so that others girls could benefit.
The spirit of the school can be summarised by the comments from one girl. She said that she was pleased to find that she had a bed, and there was lots of food. She had anticipated that she would be sleeping on the floor and have nothing to eat. In spite of that, she came. With such determination and willingness to succeed in school, we owe the young women of the Kavango the opportunity to make the most of their abilities.
FAWE The Forum for African Women Educationalists is an NGO working with girls and women for development. It was established in 1992, and has its headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya. FAWENA is the Namibian Chapter of FAWE, and was established in 1998. Programmes focus on HIV/AIDS, teenage pregnancies, career mentoring, and support for girls from marginalized communities. The Chairperson is the Honourable Deputy Minister of Education, Clara Bohitilie.
For more information contact Ottilie Lamberth, 061-2933342.
VSO Voluntary Service Overseas is an international organisation, set up in 1958 to work alongside people in developing countries. VSO has been working in Namibia since 1991. Volunteer development workers work in a variety of positions, in Health, Education, Disability and Sustainable Livelihoods. The volunteers come from Kenya, the Philippines, Netherlands, the UK and Canada. There are presently over 75 VSO Development workers in Namibia.
For more information contact VSO at 061-237513.
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