"My love for children keeps me going"
Interview with Ms Josephine Mutenda, the Regional Director the Ministry of Education, Arts and Culture- for the Otjozondjupa Region. A believer and example of the motto that education is personal growth.
You are the Regional Director the Ministry of Education, Arts and Culture- for the Otjozondjupa Region. What does that entail?
It entails a lot; in short it is overseeing all the education activities in the whole region, which means Formal Education, 84 schools (primary, combined or secondary schools), Lifelong learning, Arts and Culture and all the support services to mention but a few. The Village Schools in the Nyae Nyae Conservancy are also under my supervision.
It is a challenging job, but you should have passion in what you are doing. I love my job, specially seeing learners in the classroom make progress. My love for the children is what keeps me going. They say: “You teach a child, you touch the future”; I really believe in that.
You were born in Kabbe, in the far north-east part of Namibia. Can you tell a little bit about your background?
As a child I had to walk 10-15 km to school, sometimes on an empty stomach, as sometimes we didn’t have enough food. My first school was a thatched school built by parents. Sometimes we were taught under a tree. Then after school we went to the field to work. We grew corn and mahangu.
My parents were very passionate about education. They knew it was important to send their children to school and they would sell cattle if that was necessary to pay school fees. I’m one of eleven children and we all went to school and we all have jobs now.
We also grew up with a religious background, we were taught the Christian moral and that made us to who we are today.
What did you like best in school?
To be honest I liked school very much. In my time we only did subjects that enabled us to become either a teacher or a nurse. Mathematics and Physics were rare subjects and were not taught in my time. I think I would have liked to do Science subjects.
I would have loved to be an engineer, but that was not possible in that time. Biblical Studies was obligated though, I didn’t like that much. When the school I went to started to offer Accounting and Business Economics, I opted to do that. At that time teaching was about memorizing facts, sometimes without understanding and critical thinking was not encouraged.
So how did you go from Kabbe to become a Regional Director?
From Kabbe, I went to a very good secondary school in Katima, which was run by missionaries. After secondary school I did a two year teachers certificate in order to become a teacher.
So, in 1984 I started as a teacher, and I never stopped learning. First, I did a distance study with a University in South Africa for Higher Education Diploma (HED). In 1992 I was promoted as a Head of Department responsible for commerce subjects. In 1997 I went to study fulltime in South Africa at University of the Western Cape to do a honours degree in Education of which I obtained.
After that – in 1999- I was appointed as a Senior Lecturer at Caprivi College of Education by then.
In 2004 I became an advisory teacher to primary school teachers in Otjozondjupa Region. So, I was guiding and supporting primary teachers on the methodology and through classroom intervention by visiting and observing lessons.
Then in 2005 I started studying with Rhodes University to do a Master’s Degree in Education through NIED, while doing my job as advisory teacher. It was tough, but with support from family and friends and especially my children I managed. In 2008 I graduated and obtained my Master Degree in General Education Theory and Practice (GETP). I still feel that I’m not done learning and one day – maybe after retirement- I will go and get my doctorate, learning never ends.
In my career, I have been in the classroom at all levels and that helps me with my job today. At the Regional Office I started as a Senior Education Officer then a Chief Education Officer, and then I became a Deputy Director and now am a Director.
Namibian policy states that all primary school learners in Grades 1-3 should be taught in their mother languages. Why is teaching in mother tongue important?
I did research on this and feel this is really important. If you are taught in your mother tongue every child can become a good learner. At home you talk, you dream and you think in your mother tongue. Then if you come to school and you need to speak English that will limit you; you won’t know how to express yourself. But if you can speak in mother tongue you can bring your knowledge that you learned at home and enhance that knowledge in another language like English.
In research where parallel languages are measured mother tongue always comes out much better. Don’t forget English is often the third or even fourth language for our children. So, at least the start of your education should be in your own language. Children often come with a lot of vocabulary in their mother tongue and if we build on that in schools then learning is much easier for the learners.
Now you became a Board member for the Ju/’hoansi Development Fund, to be part of the development of five Village Schools in the Nyae Nyae Conservancy. Why is this project important?
I’m happy to be part of the Village Schools project in the Nyae Nyae Conservancy. Education is your personal growth; it gives you the top possibility to become what you want in life. And education is the greatest equalizer. It’s hard work but it pays off in the end.
Indigenous knowledge is also important; we need to develop all the languages in order for learners to be taught in their own languages.
My biggest wish for education is to get the marginalized learners on board. They need to be taught by their own teachers in their own languages. I hope in the future we can get them to university and develop their own languages.