First Taste of Teaching Abroad

On Friday morning, September 9th, we left Okahandja and journeyed three and a half hours north to the city of Tsumeb. Tsumeb is known as the gateway to the North in Namibia. The north of Namibia is home to most of the Namibian population. It is more densely populated than the arid south and gets much more rain, making fresh produce easier to come by. The north is also home to many of the different ethnic groups in Namibia, all of which gather here in the metropolitan hub of Tsumeb.

Mountains surrounding Tsumeb, a town known for its long history of mining operations

Enjoying spring in Namibia. It is fascinating to see things blooming without a lick of water

Enjoying spring in Namibia. It is fascinating to see things blooming without a lick of water

Community-Based Training

Tsumeb was our home for three weeks while we went into Namibian schools to observe, co-teach, and teach! The first week included getting oriented to the schools, observing at least 3 classes a day, meeting our co-teacher, and beginning to plan lessons with our co-teacher. The second week, we co- taught the lessons that we had prepared and got observed by Peace Corps and a support teacher. Then, on the third week, we taught all on our own while also being observed. For many of us, this was our first time formally teaching a class.

Many of us non-teachers were quite nervous to only have this “crash course” in teaching before being sent out to mold the minds of Namibian learners. Which brings me to the point of this post, education in Namibia.

Teaching in Namibia

While there were a few classes with excellent teachers, most of what we saw was teaching to the test, memorization, and regurgitation. Which is, unfortunately, the direction that we see many US schools heading in. We entered into some of the poorer schools in Namibia, and it was evident that these schools lacked teacher training and the resources needed to provide a quality education to the children.

The library at my school was infested with termites and all of the books had to be thrown out. This didn't stop the learners from going through and taking whatever they could

The library at my school was infested with termites and all of the books had to be thrown out. This didn’t stop the learners from going through and taking whatever they could

So why are some Namibian schools struggling so much?

This is a complex problem with many answers, but here are the basics of what I know right now. While I am explaining this, keep in mind that apartheid only ended 26 years ago and the impacts are still very evident in the entire country (to be continued in a later post).

There is an extreme shortage of teachers in Namibia. Many teachers are under or unqualified to teach the subjects that they are forced to teach. When a learner graduates from grade 12, many are recruited to become new teachers which means that many of the teachers here do not have a college degree. Also, in order to pass a class, a learner must have a 40% or higher and you can only be held back once for each grade. In order to be promoted to the next grade, the learner must obtain a 40% in two key subjects, English and Math. So it is fairly simple to get pushed through the system all the way to 12th grade with little or no understanding of the material, as long as you can regurgitate enough information to get 40’s on the tests, but mostly just English and Math.

Which brings me back to our time in Tsumeb. Although many of us are new to teaching, we understand the subjects that we are teaching. We have studied math and science for four years in college and we bring a depth of knowledge that many just do not have here (a privilidge that I do not take for granted). This alone will be a major advantage in the classroom, and it is one of the main reasons that Namibia invited Peace Corps to come to their country 26 years ago.

With all that being said, there were also some excellent students.

Learner receiving an award for academic achievement during the Opawa Junior Secondary School Prize Giving Ceremony

Learner receiving an award for academic achievement during the Opawa Junior Secondary School Prize Giving Ceremony. This learner was repeating grade 10 and got the award for “most improved”

The top learners for grades 8, 9, and 10. Girl power!

The top learners for grades 8, 9, and 10. Girl power!

During our three weeks of community based training, we mostly focused on classroom management, positive reinforcement, and learning how to make lessons that are fun, interactive, inclusive, and get the kids excited about coming to school. Many of the kids sit through 6+ hours a day of rigid memorization. So, as education volunteers, if we can break up that monotony even a little bit and get kids really thinking, we will have succeeded here in Namibia.

After one of my lessons last week, a learner came up to me and told me how much fun he had in class that day. He said he loved the lesson and he wished that I could stay there and be his teacher all the time. Although we still have a lot more to learn about being good teachers and we will make mistakes, we are impacting these kids in more ways than one, and I couldn’t be more excited to take on this new challenge and responsibility.

Here’s to knowledge and learning,
Tina aka Ms. Pico

6 Comments
  1. From the pictures, females were the best in the three grades and the most improved. Do boys not value learning as much as girls (I ask because that is how it was in Armenia).

    Also, what are you teaching right now?

    Keep up the good work Ms. Pico. You should definitely upload a video of Eric and you teaching!!

    • That is a tough question to answer. I think it has more to do with role models that are available. Many households are devoid of a male role model because the fathers are either just not around or they work in the mines (in Tsumeb at least) so they are away all week. Not having a male to look up to could make the male learners less motivated, but that is really just a guess or generalization. Maybe I can tell you more after I work for a few months and can develop better relationships with the learners. I was teaching 8th grade Life Science (basically biology), but now we are back in Okahandja for training so we won’t be teaching again until January when the school year starts. I do have some GoPro footage that I want to compile. It’s on my list of things to do!

    • That’s what they’re called in Namibia. I asked why and they just told me that there is a long explanation somewhere in the education policy. Haven’t read it yet but hopefully I’ll finally have time in Phase 2.

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