Education and Social Justice

One of the sessions during the second day of the On Whose Terms? conference was devoted to the topic “Education and Social Justice”. Jennifer Hays and Velina Ninkova, both from the University of Tromsø, presented their works at the session. The presentations were about the indigenous San people from southern Africa. The community is also known by the name “Bushmen”, who currently live primarily in Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Angola, and speak several different languages. In total, the group consists of approximately 100,000 people. In the countries where the San people live they are the most marginalized segment of the population and have the lowest participation rates in national economic, political and education systems.

Jennifer Hays’ presentation, titled “Conversations About Education: Research, Development and the Village Schools in Namibia”, reported about a 2-day international conference on San Education that took place in Tsumkwe, Namibia, in June 2014. The conference was called “Ancient Wisdom, Modern Perspectives: Parent and Community Involvement in Education and Learning”. It was sponsored by the Namibia Association of Norway (NAMAS), and different educational problems and solutions were discussed there. Particular attention was paid to a project “Village Schools” in the Nyae Nyae community. In 1992, after an extensive consultation process, research and collaboration of anthropologists, linguists, NGOs and the government, the Village School Project was started in the community. The project is supported by the Ministry of Education of Namibia and NAMAS. It emphasizes the community involvement in education processes and insists on education in Ju/’hoansi, a mother tongue in the community. The project provides elementary education close to home in local village schools, with the intention that in grade 4 the students continue their education at the government schools in Tsumkwe town.

The aim of the conference was to discuss the issues of San education in a setting that allowed the participation of the local community. The representatives of the Namibian government, NAMAS representatives, academics, NGO representatives and community representatives participated in the conference. Due to the variety of the participants, different topics were discussed there. The representatives of the government emphasized the importance of going to school and the responsibility of the parents for their children’s education; the NGOs focused on practical aspects and discussed the future of the Village Schools Project; the academics commented on the value of traditional knowledge, the importance of community involvement and indigenous rights; community representatives discussed the issues having to do with food, alcohol and daily relations with the teachers. All representatives emphasized the importance of education.

Velina Ninkova presented her paper, titled, “Measuring the Unmeasurable: Development Research Among the San”. She described the situation of education in the researched community focusing on the situation after independence in Namibia. The country became independent in 1990, after which nation building began. Education became free for everybody.

Due to the funding, time and effort, the school recruitment of the San children has improved. Now many San children receive at least several years of education, more children attend primary school every year, and some have even made a full 12 year cycle of education.

At the same time, many problems still remain unsolved. For example, boarding schools are far away from the villages and it makes it difficult for the San youth to get there. On their way to school, children often encounter psychological, physical or sexual abuse. There is a serious language problem, classes are multiethnic, and material at school is culturally intensive and sometimes inappropriate. The dropout rate is high. Even those San youth that complete their education struggle to find employment. Children stay in the poverty circles of their parents making their already bleak possibilities and positions even worse. The researcher shared her field experience in the community and told how children and teenagers are trying to make their lives in this world. Some of the stories were successful, others were not. Yet, there is still a lot to do, learn, discuss and improve.

By Iryna Tryndyuk, student at the Master’s degree program in indigenous studies, UiT The Arctic University of Tromsø.