Windhoek - Some marginalised communities, including the San people of Southern Africa, still do not have access to formal education.
This makes it difficult for them to contribute to the economic development of their communities, countries and the region, says the UN education and culture agency, UNESCO.
According to UNESCO, most of the world’s 370 million marginalised indigenous people - representing approximately five percent of global population – do not have access to education.
This is despite the important role they play through their ecologically sustainable practices to protect a significant part of the world’s biological diversity.
Today there are about 100 000 San people living in Botswana, Namibia, Angola, and South Africa, with small numbers in Zimbabwe and Zambia.
Because of their hunter-gatherer lifestyle, today the San are living in extreme conditions and poverty and are struggling to adapt to a fast-changing world.
For instance, UNESCO says, the San of Namibia are the most marginalised people in the country, as manifested in child labour and discrimination by other communities.
They do not commonly enjoy access to schools and health facilities. Despite efforts to improve their participation in the formal education system over the past 20 years, San students continue to drop out of school at very high rates, according the UN agency.
Namibia recently hosted a special conference on education that brought together stakeholders from several SADC countries.
The conference, themed “Indigenous Education in a Changing World,” was to share experiences and develop a workable plan of action to integrate San people into formal education.
The director of the Namibia San Community, Victoria Harasseb, said the group had the lowest educational attainment of any other ethnic group in Namibia.
She said most have insufficient access to basic services provided by the government, including healthcare and education.
According to the latest available statistics, the enrolment rate for the San in Namibia is 67 percent in Grades 1 to 3; 22 percent for Grades 4 to 7; six percent in Grades 8 to 9 and less than one percent at senior secondary school level.
This extremely high drop-out rate is far above the national average and is especially high among San girls, Haraseb said.
She explained that the high drop-out rate is linked to issues connected to language, poverty, remoteness, stigma, and other social and cultural factors.
Although there have been concerted efforts by the Namibian government and support organisations to increase the number of San children in formal education, much still needs to be done.
UNESCO director in Namibia, Professor Alaphia Wright, said since 2002 the UN body had managed to address some of these key challenges, particularly in early childhood education and development and in vocational training skills.
The interventions include establishment of the Education for Children in Need Fund Programme, an integrated education support programme for San children.
The programme seeks to accelerate the provision of quality early childhood care and education for children from four to six-years-old, as well as ease the transition to secondary school.
“We also provide support to families to create a safe and healthy environment for the development of their children,” he said.
Prof Wright said the programme had significant results, among them the establishment of eight early childhood care and education centres across the country, fully-equipped with training materials.
“We are also providing support to secondary school learners to form a coherent group or committee of village activators who liaise with all government ministries and agencies, regional council, NGOs and local community structures to work within the villages to develop self-sustaining projects,” he said.
UNESCO is also engaged in leadership and skills training for underprivileged youth - with special focus on the San - and on gender issues in partnership with the National Planning Commission and the Ministry of Youth, National Service, Sport and Culture.
The initiative seeks to provide vocational skills development and training in leadership and organisational development as well as business and finance management to help San youth take an active role in national economic development.
Prof Wright said among UNESCO’s priorities at present was development of mother tongue-based multilingual education to attain the Education for All goals.
This includes integration of indigenous knowledge in school curricula and promotion of dialogue with indigenous peoples as stakeholders of the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (2005-2014).