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close this bookThe Courier N 127 May - June 1991- Dossier 'New' ACP Export Products - Country Reports Cape Verde - Namibia (EC Courier, 1991, 104 p.)
close this folderCountry reports
close this folderNamibia: Meeting challenge of nationhood
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentConsolidating democracy
View the documentAn interview with Prime Minister Geingob: partnership with business to create wealth
View the documentAn interview with Vice-President Marin: the political and constitutional success of Namibia is now a model for change in Africa
View the documentAn interview with Dr Ben Amathila, Minister for Trade and Industry: added value equals greater prosperity
View the documentAgriculture and fisheries - managing the transition
View the documentMining - the economic foundation
View the documentWealth in the desert
View the documentEducation in Namibia - bridging the divide by Dr Ian G. MACFARLANE
View the documentProfile
View the documentNamibia and the European Community
View the documentPlanning for development - a man with a mission

Education in Namibia - bridging the divide by Dr Ian G. MACFARLANE

There are those who would argue that a good education system lies at the heart of every successful economy, and that the great oak prosperity will never grow unless the acorn of knowledge has been properly nurtured. The importance of education has certainly been understood in Namibia - barely a year after independence, major reforms are being implemented as the Government looks for ways of extending educational opportunities, previously only available to a small minority, to all of its people. In this article, Dr Macfarlane describes what education used to he like in Namibia and what is being done to adapt the system, in the demoratic, post-apartheid era.

The education system inherited by the new Namibian Government was characterised by administrative divisions and major inequalities. Before independence, education was divided according to ethnic group, with racially segregated schools. For the most part, the administrative divisions coincided with fairly neat geographical boundaries but this was not always the case. Where families from different ethnic groups lived in close proximity, for example in the Windhoek suburb of Katutura, schooling was the responsibility of yet another authority, referred to as ‘National Education’. This encompassed a collection of schools which did not fit tidily into any of the other categories such as those supported by individual churches or by the Council of Churches of Namibia (CCN) as well as those in the black city suburbs In all, these were eleven educational authorities, with the quality of service provided varying greatly from one ethnic group to another.

Where it was not actually forbidden, interaction between the different authorities was at least actively discouraged. A subject adviser within one administration would not expect to have any professional interaction, either with his counterparts or with teachers in other authorities. Subject specialists were assigned to a particular education authority and were typically based in Windhoek. Thus, for example, in order to support any given subject in the three schools in Luderitz, a small coastal town 800 km from the capital, three subject advisers would make the round trip in in separate cars, each to visit only one school!

Funding for education prior to independence was also a very uneven process. With income tax revenue largely being channelled back to the ethnics from which it was raised, major inequalities were inevitable. The education authority for whites was able, not surprisingly, to provide education facilities which compared favourably with those of developed countries. A good example of this was the Windhoek College of Education, the teacher training college built for whites. This is designed on a grand scale and, in addition to spacious accommodation, has outstanding sports facilities including an Olympic-size swimming pool and a stadium. When one considers that before independence, there was never more than 10% occupancy of this college, reputedly because of a lack of qualified students, and when this is compared with the dearth of equivalent facilities for other education authorities’ the real scale of the inequality becomes apparent.

Eleven become one

Following independence, the new Government has moved swiftly to implement its education policies, beginning with the organisational structure. The Ministry of Education, Culture, Youth and Sport has been created to replace the divisive system of separate authorities. Clearly, this represents a major upheaval, but the reorganisation is proceeding swiftly and with remarkably few hiccoughs.

For several months, the new Ministry consisted of the Minister, his Deputy and only a few officials and secretaries. This was a period of intriguing paradox - the Ministry was grossly understaffed but at the same time, the total education establishment was several times larger than required, by virtue of there being separate education authorities. The spirit of reconciliation enshrined in the Constitution ensures that no-one should lose his job simply because of the process of independence. In keeping with this policy, those previously employed in the authorities have steadily been incorporated into the new Ministry. The Government’s commitment to reconciliation, which has ensured job security, has been a major pillar in the changeover to independence. It has helped considerably to defuse what might otherwise have been a very tense period.

New policies for a new country

Prior to independence, a lot of thought was given to future education policy, both by Namibians in exile and by forward-looking educationalists in the country. Several international conferences and seminars, which have taken place over the last few years, have helped to prepare the ground.

The Government has selected English as the national language, and therefore as the medium of instruction in Government schools (except for the early years of primary), despite some concern about lack of fluency amongst both teachers and pupils. Interestingly, such concerns seem to come more from well-meaning outside observers rather than from those directly affected by the change. Although Afrikaans and German are more widely spoken, neither has appealed to the majority of the population as a national language. English is heavily supported as being the most suitable choice, except within very obvious interest groups.

The curriculum most widely used in Namibia prior to independence was that of the Republic of South Africa Cape Education Authority. This syllabus is rather academically oriented, with much emphasis on subject content and knowledge of facts, and proportionately less emphasis on demonstrating a proper understanding of the underlying concepts. It has been popular among the better-off sections of Namibian society, providing a qualification which is recognised by universities and further education colleges in South Africa. In less prosperous parts of the country, where fewer resources combine with greater language problems, it has not proved successful in providing a meaningful or useful education for the majority of pupils.

Subjects such as mathematics and science have been all but abandoned in large areas of the country. This has helped to perpetuate a vicious circle in which inadequate teaching leads to inadequate preparation of school leavers for further studies which in turn leads to poorly qualified teachers. The uneven nature of education in pre-independence Namibia is illustrated by the fact that in 1988, when only 4% of the 29 000 pupils in their final secondary year studied maths, more than half of these were white, despite the fact that white people make up only 8% of the overall population. The figures for science were broadly comparable.

With the new Namibian Government committed to the concept of equality, it was natural that the education system should be targeted for change. The education authorities have now given way to a single ministry which will be the central planning authority for six new regional centres of educational administration.

Next on the agenda was the new curriculum. The recently created International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) was selected to replace the Cape syllabus which was considered to be unsuitable for the new Namibia.

In October 1990, the Education Minister, Nahas Angula, announced that a new set of syllabuses would be introduced for pupils entering the first year of Junior Secondary in January 1991. This approach was designed to avoid disruption for pupils already embarked on the Cape curriculum while at the same time, satisfying the need for immediate action.

However, the time available between the Minister’s decision and the introduction of the first year curriculum was extremely limited. Thanks to work undertaken by the Namibian community in exile, the foundation of a new curriculum had already been laid but the Ministry still had a major task to produce a scheme which was more pupil centred and practically oriented, which would fit into the IGCSE scheme which senior pupils will eventually follow and which was more suited to the needs of the wider Namibian community.

Subject teams were charged with writing up the new syllabuses during November and December and the exercise was conducted with impressive skill. There must be few countries capable of handling such a major task so quickly. On the other hand, the degree to which the new syllabuses meet the brief set by the Minister varies from subject to subject, and some retain much of the character of the Cape syllabus. Given the timescale involved, this is hardly unexpected, nor is it necessarily too serious a matter. As the Permanent Secretary for Education, Mr Ankama has pointed out, syllabus development is a never-ending process which must constantly take account of recent developments, experiences and other relevant inputs.

Higher education

The Windhoek Academy, founded in 1980, is Namibia’s main institution of higher learning. It forms an umbrella over three constituent colleges - the University of Namibia, the Technicon (Technical College) and the Centre for out of School Training (COST). In addition, there are four teacher training colleges in the country. In the past, the Academy was viewed by most observers very much as part of the previous political system. There was, for example, a marked resistance in the early days to any suggestion for changing the medium of instruction from Afrikaans to English despite the increasing desire of black Namibians to be educated in the latter language. The institution caters mainly for black Namibians, with white school leavers looking mostly towards South Africa for higher education.

More recently, the Academy has made various efforts to improve its image and it has presented itself as dynamic, forward-looking and committed to playing its part in the new Namibia. These efforts have been treated with suspicion by some people, but most observers are willing to accept that the efforts are genuine.

The United Nations Institute for Namibia (UNIN), which was based in Zambia until independence, was thought by some to be the natural foundation on which the nation should build a national university. UNIN, however, was recently disbanded and is now removed from contention as the foundation for the new university.

A senior civil servant recently explained the situation in terms of having to build on ‘what is already there’, and pointed out that ‘whet is already there is the Academy’. Despite this, the future of higher education in the country is still very much under discussion and in the meantime, the Academy has been instructed to continue with current work while being expressly forbidden to undertake new programmes. A Commission on Higher Education which includes prominent Namibians as well as eminent experts from other countries, is presently examining the issue and it is expected to present its findings in mid-1991.

Education needs

The changes proposed in the education system are immense and they will need considerable resources, both financial and human. If any impact is to be made on the vicious circle mentioned previously, it will be necessary to break into it at several different points, and this will require several coordinated projects. The following issues need, in particular, to be tackled:

- Pre-service teacher training programmes must be revised to ensure they will produce adequate numbers of well qualified teachers

- Mathematics and science, both of which have been badly neglected in all sectors of society other than in the white community, must be strengthened

- With a teaching force which is largely under-qualified for the work assigned to it, there is a great need for in-service training

- The national University should develop bridging courses to under-subscribed programmes which have importance for development (particularly mathematics and science). The aim would be to catch young scholars with aptitude who may not have the formal qualifications to gain entry to higher level courses

- There is a tremendous need for English language training

- Above all, Namibia needs to identify clearly its own problems and develop its own solutions in the education field. Help and assistance from outside should be seen only in this context.

In these days of mass communication, Namibia has a wonderful chance to consider the successes and failures of others in developing a system which meets its own needs. Whilst there are many problems and barriers to be overcome, it is also seen to be a time of great opportunity, and it is this which has brought a mood of excitement to education in Africa’s youngest state.