Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Week Four: Racial Relations in Education-- An Urban Homestay Experience

By Andrea Sutliff and Haley Henneberry

This week, the Center for Global Education and Experience students embarked on a long anticipated journey—urban homestays. Nervousness and excitement flowed through the house as we packed our bags and set off to live with various Windhoek families for five days. We all had very different experiences throughout the week, from evening hikes, to Bible study groups, but in the end we were able to come together and reflect on the sometimes-difficult conversations we engaged in during our homestays. There was one common theme that stood out in our two homestays, race and racial relations in education.

In the United States, race is a conversation that is both taboo and often ignored. People avoid the topic at all costs, calling themselves “color-blind” or insisting that racism no longer exists. In Namibia, however, racial tensions are openly discussed because they are nearly as strong today as they were twenty years ago during apartheid.

Haley’s Experience
My host mother, Silas Kukuri, discussed current racial divides still present in the Namibian school system. Silas explained that she is the only black staff member of one of Windhoek’s top private schools, a school that was formally reserved for white students who were able to pay for an expensive primary education. Silas said that although apartheid officially ended, the school remains overwhelmingly white due to its high fees. Many black and colored students are unable to pay the fees and are therefore kept out of one of the top primary schools in Windhoek. It is clear that even with the abolishment of apartheid, many of its legacies live on through exclusionary practices based on wealth and education. After spending time discussing the issues surrounding race and education in Windhoek, I cannot help but think of its connection to my own involvement with the United States education system. As a classroom assistant in Worcester Public Schools, I witness time and time again as my students from minority groups are placed in the “bad school”, as they call it, because of which neighborhood they live in. On paper, racial divides are illegal and have ceased in both the US and Namibia, but in reality they are prevalent and affecting students on a global scale. Learning about racial tensions in Namibian schools made me realize how two different education systems in two different continents can experience the same discrimination all because of race and wealth.
Haley with her host family dressed in a traditional Herero dress. 

Andrea’s Experience
During my homestay, I also realized that racial divides play another role in Namibian education as well. My host mother, Gisela Kukuri, is a schoolteacher in a predominantly black district. Many of our CGE classes focus on the role apartheid played in segregating communities based on race. These divisions still linger today, as Gisela explained. Many of the areas designated as black regions have become overpopulated, which greatly affects schooling. Schools today face extreme over-enrollment and are forced to turn away hundreds of students looking for a basic education. Schools are doing their best to provide for all students, filling classrooms with fifty students in attempts to enroll as many children as possible. In an almost disheartened tone, Gisela told me that the children being turned away from schools will never have the opportunity the pursue their education in comparison to many of their privileged peers. After spending nearly a week with Gisela, I began to share the sadness surrounding the issue of uneducated youth. I whole-heartedly believe that youth are the future of any nation, but knowing that so many children are being pushed from schools not only robs these children of their dreams but also robs Namibia of a brighter future. Formal education provides opportunities and knowledge that can otherwise be unattainable for populations that have faced and are still facing extreme discrimination. As the old saying goes, knowledge is power, and without education little to no power will ever be attained, and the cycle of discrimination, unemployment, and poverty will continue.
Andrea and her host mother, Gisela. 

Andrea and her two host siblings.

The urban homestay experience gave each of us a chance to examine our own role in race dialogues. We learned about the way in which race is negatively impacting many Namibian students, an issue that the United States struggles to manage as well. Often times it was difficult to engage in conversations about Namibia’s white oppressors with our host families, and made us very conscious of our own race and monetary privilege. We were forced to open our eyes to the juxtaposition between our own comfy upbringings compared to the endless struggle that so many children and their families face in post-apartheid Namibia. Even with our differing homestay ventures, we both came to one solid conclusion: education is a fundamental human right and race should never hinder a child’s access to schools.

This blog is the work of our students. To learn more about Center for Global Education programming, visit us at www.augsburg.edu/global


Sunita Gandhi said...

Great transformation!!!
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