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2018 Abstracts

“The Greatest Equalizer”: Education and its Impacts in Otutati, Namibia

Katherine Safsten, Brigham Young University

Through ethnographic research on how the schools are changing the lives of the Himba tribe in northern Namibia, I argue that primary and high school education does not always provide an even playing field for the students to move on to a desired carreer, whether or not it involves a university education. Throughout my research, I found that multiple factors come into play in a child’s education, and in Otutati, Namibia, these are not addressed; thus, the likelihood of academic failure increases for each child. These factors include parental involvement, school infrastructure, classroom methods the use of English in school (although the Himba speak Otjiherero), and the physical location of the schools. Perhaps the biggest factor comes from the value Himba give to education. In Otutati, many parents have the expectation that children go to school for the purpose of bringing money home in order to take care of them; however, some parents fear that their children will not return home to help them and begin to view education as criticism of their traditions that threatens to take their children away from Otutati. While in Namibia, I conducted interviews with students, parents, teachers, and community members, learning about the motivations for schooling and what sort of value is given education. I spent 20 hours observing classrooms in both the primary and secondary schools. The conflict between the values imposed by “western-style” education and Himba values goes beyond the schoolhouse. I found it to be a pervasive source of suspicion and inequity. For example, if a Himba graduate earns a money, thus maintaining career, many outside his or her family become jealous. As I interviewed many young people, I learned that not only is it difficult to graduate, but also that many older students fear to obtain too much of an education for fear of jealousy and cursing from other community members. The lack of value for education has created a community environment in which children find it difficult to succeed. Their school system has not accommodated to create a feasible learning environment, thus setting children up for failure, especially relative to the urban population of Namibia.