Plugging gaps in the education sector
The Namibian education system has been going through changes in the past few years with the Ministry of Education driving a curriculum change and also the introduction of Advanced level and more vocationally centred subjects at high school. The country has also seen the introduction of universal primary education last year while plans for a universal secondary education are on the cards. Prime Focus this month engages the Minister of Education Dr David Namwandi to have an eagle’s eye view on the achievements and challenges of the Ministry in the past five years.
PF: What has been the major highlights for the Ministry of Education?
DN:On the 21st of February 2013 his Excellency the President of this republic appointed two people, the minister and the deputy minister of the ministry of education after the passing on of my predecessor, the late Dr Abraham Iyambo. So the President appointed me as the Minister to succeed the late Honourable Dr Iyambo and my deputy, Honourable Silvia Makgone.
If you are very good in your mathematics you will realise that we have been in this office for one year and 10 months; a relatively short period of time for one to accomplish something monumental. When you read and you listen to some people when they are talking, you hear some saying Namwandi did not do anything. You see, our aim to run and lead this ministry was not to come and change things for the sake of changing.
If we feel and we see that there are good policies in place then we leave them as they are. Our duty in such cases is simply to implement. We want to thank those who came in before us that is the first minister of Education the current Minister of Defense, Nahas Angula, Nangolo Mbumba the current secretary general of the Swapo Party, the Honourable John Mutorwa the current minister of Agriculture, Water and Forestry. We should all be conscious and appreciative of how hard they worked because being a pioneer is not easy, particularly for the first minister. They formulated strategies, they enacted acts and policies and we are not here to reinvent the wheel per se.
When we took over after my late comrade we vowed to ensure that the education system in this country should be vibrant and relevant. It is on that principle that my deputy and I have continued to lead.
What have we achieved since the 21st of February 2013?
1. In June 2011 we conducted a National Education on Education during which we analysed some of the education challenges that we have as a nation. Almost all the stake holders were invited and given the opportunity to air their views. Throughout the conference many recommendations were formulated and documented.
My late minister and I submitted these recommendations to cabinet and they were all eventually endorsed by cabinet. Since the Cabinet endorsement, we have been implementing the conference recommendations. For example my late Minister and I introduced Universal Primary Education just before his untimely passing. I have ensured that during my tenure, the implementation was completed and that Universal Primary Education is, in fact, operational.
That is just one example at which we can look back with both pride and humility. In this instance we have indeed implemented what we set ourselves to achieve. With the introduction of free primary education we have seen a 3% increase in enrolment That statistic only tells you that the many children, particularly those from disadvantaged societies, were excluded from main stream education due to scarcity of resources.
During our Tenure Silvia and I have introduced the Inclusive Education Policy; a policy which was not there before. We are moving with the world and we cannot afford to remain static. The Inclusive Education Policy was implemented with the endorsement from the Cabinet of the Republic of Namibia. This is a progressive policy whereby we are not going to have special schools per se but what we are going to do is to train teachers to enable them to teach people with different abilities within the same class or school..
During the National Conference on Education it was seriously felt that if we want to move forward as a nation, it is imperative that we review our current curriculum and it is during the tenure of Namwandi and Silvia that this review was effected and the new curriculum was endorsed and approved by the cabinet of the Republic of Namibia.
Perhaps this is a good time for the doubting Thomas’s who believe that Sylvia and I are simply sitting in our offices not doing very much, to consider the amount of work that went into the full implementation of Universal Primary Education, the Inclusive Education Policy and the overhaul of our curriculum.
I would like to shed some light on what we meant by the review of our curriculum. We have decided as a nation to benchmark ourselves with the best in the world: we consulted Finland (which has the best education in the world), we consulted the British education system, China, Germany (they have what I think is the best dual education system in the world) and, of course, Zimbabwe, and we came up with the best system of Education which does not leave anyone behind.
Those who are academically inclined are accommodated and those who are not academically inclined but are technically inclined are also accommodated.
Hopefully through the full implementation of this curriculum we may now see the light at the end of the tunnel by 2022. Meaning to say I believe personally that only 25 percent of our learners or students who enter our formal education system are academically inclined. The remaining 75percent are more technically inclined. This does not mean that 75 percent are stupid or dull, it simply means that they apply their intelligence in a different way to those who are academically inclined. One only needs to look at the millions of people who have prospered through honest means and without a university qualification to acknowledge that we all function differently
For example in Namibia we have Frans Indongo, the richest man in the country, whose skill is not in obtaining PhDs but he is employing PhD holders. Therefore we felt it is important for us to mould our nation and make sure nobody is left behind. With the review of our curriculum we also decided to ensure that the new curriculum is in fact implemented, and does not remain a good idea on paper, neatly filed on a shelf.
Now I am pleased to announce that come 2015 the new curriculum will be implemented starting with the Junior Primary phase and to me that is a great achievement! Teachers are already being trained to make sure that they can cope as they work with the current curriculum and the new curriculum in these early phases.
The required infrastructure for the new curriculum is in place and though we are not claiming to have everything, we are conscious that every long journey starts with one step and so we are implementing our curriculum in 2015.
Now being a son of the soil and a person who knows very well that our children’s parents do not have means to send their children to school, we felt it is crucial for us to introduce something else that is free. We therefore felt it is important to do away with the School Development Fund at secondary level. During our tenure, Sylvia and I also introduced Universal Secondary Education, with the aim being to fully implement the policy in 2015/2016. However, because of logistics the implementation may only be possible early 2016. It has, however, already been approved by cabinet, and to us that is a great achievement.
Congo Brazzaville has been has been host to many Namibians who were displaced during the liberation struggle and we felt it is important for us to say thank you. The government of Namibia through the Ministry of Education decided to work hand in hand with the Government of the Republic of Congo. We have put our heads and resources together and have established an institution called Ludima Institute for Technical and Vocational Training. The institution existed to train Namibians during the dark hours of the struggle for our independence. We decided to revive this institution on a 50/50 basis and train 50/50 Congolese and Namibians. Now the construction of that institution has been completed.
As time goes on, we understand that this institution will accommodate no less than 800 students and not only students from Namibia and Congo but also from other African countries. We believe in Pan Africanism and that is what the SADC protocol on training is trying to inform us. So I think we ought to be proud of that.
So the fact that you do not see us climbing on the hill tops to tell people what we are doing does not necessarily mean are not doing anything. We are busy; we work. I personally believe talk is cheap - it is easy to talk but to implement is very difficult – which is why some of us are doers.
When we took over this animal called NSFAF, the Namibia Students Financial Assistant Fund, it was located here in this Ministry. But when I went through the NSFAF Act we felt that we were not doing justice to the NSFAF or to its beneficiaries, therefore we felt that it was important for it to be independent and have its own board, independent from the influence of the Ministry of Education. I did that with my Deputy and my team which I call “Team Education”. We submitted our proposal to cabinet and the proposal was endorsed. Today as we are speaking the NASFAF is no longer housed within the Ministry; it is now an independent body with its own secretariat.
I am not saying there are no weaknesses but comparing the weaknesses of NSFAF today and its weaknesses of yesterday we feel we have achieved more than what NSFAF achieved in the past. Additionally, we also reviewed or amended the act of NSFAF through Cabinet and Parliament now NSFAF has its own secretariat and is performing perfectly.
During our tenure in office we also worked very hard to ensure that we increased the enrolment of medical students not only at the University of Namibia but worldwide. I think more than 200 students are outside the country now studying in Russia, Ukraine, Algeria, Cuba, India and of course Germany and other countries. I do feel that we have made a concerted and impactful effort on behalf of the Namibian child.
What is currently the Namibia Commision for Research and Technology (NCRST) began its life as a department within the Ministry of Education. We restructured this and through the implementation of the NCRST act we now have a commission that is up and running independently. By the way the CEO of NCRST is a young vibrant PhD Holder Dr Eino Mvula and I am proud to be associated with that commission, The Government together with other progressive Governments around the World particularly South Africa we felt it is important for us to host the Cherenkov Telescope Array. Which is a world-wide initiative to place two arrays of gamma ray telescopes, one array in the northern hemisphere and the other in the southern hemisphere. Namibia already hosts the world’s largest Cherenkov telescope array, known as the High Energy Stereoscopic System (H.E.S.S.). A site in Chile and the H.E.S.S. site in Namibia finished second in the bid to host the southern hemisphere CTA.
You may be aware that the Government decided to compel all schools in Namibia to purchase uniforms within Namibia and never to import. This is a submission which was endorsed by cabinet and within one year, all the uniforms (and I think I am correct in saying that although initially aimed at school uniforms, now it also includes the military and the medical and so forth) should be manufactured to a high standard and quality in Namibia. What you may not be aware of is that this change was initiated by a submission from this office. We did that because we knew that by doing so we would create employment for our own people because we have talented people who are capable of tailoring these uniforms. The short time from submission to implementation should tell you that we do not just talk; we implement, we act.
I am sure that you are aware that in the past the University of Namibia and the Polytechnic of Namibia received funding from Government in the form of a subsidy. However a scientific formula to calculate how much each institution should receive and why was never used. In 2015 we are implementing what we call the Funding Framework which will apply scientific methods to the way in which funding is allocated to the two public higher education institutions. We thank MCA Namibia for working hand in hand with us on the Funding Framework which will be administered by the National Council for Higher Education (NCHE) headed by Mr Mocks Shivute. Going forward we will not simply decide how much to allocate, but by following the framework we allocate funds fairly and transparently and remove the impression of favouritism and unfairness etc. An achievement, in my opinion, in the interest of equity and justice
In 2013/2014 academic year or financial year we received not less than N$13billion, making us the Ministry that received the biggest share of our National budget. Ironically, only around 6 percent of the total funds allocated to us goes to development projects, in other words, nothing else but the construction of classrooms of schools and so forth. As a tradition we have added more classrooms and more schools for the preparation of the intake of the following year. We are not claiming that there will not be a traditional classroom but we are saying with the limited budget that is allocated to development we have managed to construct additional classrooms and additional schools country wide. So now you can see that 94 percent goes to the operational costs, you can now compare what the Ministry of Defence or Home Affairs gets, and check what is the percentage of their development budget.
You can now therefore conclude whether what we receive as the Ministry of Education is sufficient enough to make sure that all the students or all the learners are accommodated. We feel the burden is too big for government alone to carry, that is why we are saying we will remain forever indebted to private institutions and to multinational organizations and non-governmental institutions and individuals who are heeding to our call and assisting us in this great work. I always say education is a shared responsibility Government alone cannot make it.
You might have heard that we have a shortage of teachers in the country, qualified teachers especially in the following areas English, Physics and Chemistry and Mathematics. With the introduction of the new curriculum we now have, for the first time, Physics and Chemistry as subjects. With this introduction we need teachers in those fields but we have to look elsewhere while we train our own teachers. We have our brothers and sisters around us in SADC and further afield who are willing to cooperate with us on the provision of teachers in these subjects because the Ministry of Education of Namibia cannot produce those teachers overnight. This is a method of strengthening and development that is happening all over the world. In all honesty, the systems that are doing very well are systems that borrow from other systems, and systems that have made sure that they improvise where there are gaps in their own systems. I see this ability to learn and be agile as the only way for us to succeed and this is the idea that remained enacted during our tenure in office.
In 2012 if I’m not mistaken, after His Excellency President Hifikepunye Pohamba visited //Karas, he gave a directive that David Namwandi and Abraham Iyambo should build a school in Oranjemund because the only school there was a private school and in most cases private schools are expensive. That school was opened this year; I have implemented what exactly the President requested us to do.
You should know that even though we do not climb on treetops to show our success, we have been working quietly and we don’t work to be appreciated; some of us have come to work to add value and if our time comes, we move on and others continue where we have stopped. That’s the first answer to your question.
PF:Give us an overview of the education sector from your own perspective in the past one and a half years that you have been there are you satisfied?
DN: Satisfaction very difficult for me to pronounce, I’m not satisfied but I’m fine. Fine because I know with this team we will be able to make a difference one day. You know education is not a quick fix . The moment you quick-fix, you are always certain that you will not make it.
Gradually, one step at a time, we will get there but we are not satisfied. That is why we have reviewed our education system, not because our brothers and sisters who came before us did not do the right thing, it is because nothing remains stationary everything is transient.
Therefore we feel that Namibia cannot afford to be at the bottom of the ladder for the rest of its life so we need to review, to relook and to perfect our system. Even if you review after five or ten years this review might be reviewed again.
Yes the education system has improved steadily and continues to improve over time so therefore education is not an event but a process. For example the current review of our curriculum and I believe that as a Ministry we are on the right track if we are to emerge victorious.
PF: Do you think now that Universal Education will be spilling over to secondary education, that education is now education affordable for all?
PF:The reason as to why we have decided to make education completely free is because we know education has never been affordable. Now you see affordability is relative what you can afford, I may not afford; there are people who cannot even afford to raise five dollars per day! Therefore we believe with the removal of the school development fund every Namibian child will have an opportunity to attend school until grade 12.
And there will not be any excuse for anybody whatsoever to say “I cannot send my child to school”. The only thing that they may perhaps be required to invest in for their child (because education is a shared responsibility) is uniforms and hostels perhaps which are also subsidized, but otherwise everything else is catered for by the Government. With this I believe education will be affordable.
PF: What have been the major challenges that you have faced so far that are really harbouring educational development?
DN:There are three main challenges: the budget, teachers and infrastructure. We are thankful to the Minister of Finance and Government as we are getting the biggest share of our national budget however the biggest portion of what we receive goes to salaries and other related costs. What is left is very little to improve our infrastructure. We do not want to see a Namibian child being taught under a tree. In economics they say our wishes and aspirations are unlimited but resources are limited. It is on this basis that we felt that we will have to live within our means but it does not necessarily mean we are comfortable with that. This makes budget the biggest challenge we have.
Teachers - as I have just said we do not have enough qualified teachers to see us through particularly for the new curriculum and particularly at the level of 0 to 5 years. We want quality teachers at that level. That’s my dream because I believe that if the foundation is not strong, then you can forget about the quality of that structure; it will collapse. We want to build a strong foundation for the future so that they can be at the level of other children in the world.
So infrastructure will only be improved if the budget is also improved but ironically it will be very difficult for one to know how we can improve. That’s why we said international organizations, individuals, corporate organizations – “let us come together and help a Namibian child”.
PF: There has been a plan that was promoted under your tenure that you will introduce A level. Are we certain now when we are starting it?
DN:We have no doubt in our minds; it’s a foregone conclusion. The A level will be implemented but as I said this has to be done on piecemeal basis. First we introduce junior secondary, junior primary school, senior primary school senior secondary school. The full implementation of our curriculum will be in 2022 that is in eight years’ time.
So it is not something that it’s going to happen now by 2022/2023 we then say thank God we have accomplished what we set ourselves to. So it’s not a dream because things have been approved by the cabinet.
PF: Do you think our curriculum now meets world standards?
DN:You see the best thing ever for any human being is not to be a pioneer; when you are a pioneer you go through a tough time. Namibia is not a pioneer in education, we at least lean on others to strengthen our capacity I said we have benchmarked ourselves against the best in the world. We have seen what they are doing in their countries we do not just copycat but we took the best and only the best.
I think with that best we have taken from different systems we will match comfortably with the rest of the world’s best standards in terms of quality standards. I know for sure if the formal education is of quality we will not have a problem at tertiary level.
PF: why has the country failed to push up our literacy?
DN: I do not want to blame our predecessors; you must appreciate what they have done, but Namibia has a history. There was a system here specifically designed for a black child, the most hated system, called Bantu education. And it was only in 1990 that this hated system was abolished by the then Minister of Education Nahas Angula. With that, integration of all racial groups, in one part, has not been easy. In one way or the other you may neglect quality but, as time goes on, we need as a nation to consolidate the gains of our revolution. The revolution that brought about abolishment of what was for white or black or what was for coloureds. We felt that this is now the time to consolidate, to relook into our quality. Possibly in the past there were a few things that we had to do to solidify and to strengthen our education system. I do feel it’s not too late and at least the literacy rate is up to 89%.Compared to some other countries I think we are doing well. But we are still concerned about how our products are performing worldwide even though, on average, we are not that bad, we feel still much has be done and nobody should be blamed; we all worked hard.
The former Ministers the current Ministers and the future Ministers, we all work in the best interest of the nation; we only do what we can afford to do with the limited resources
PF: Will Government ever look at incentivising teachers who want to work in the rural areas?
DN: I want to say this, the teaching profession is not an employment project. The teaching profession is a calling. We do not want our teachers to join the teaching force because of incentives, however, incentives are part and parcel of our lives we will do everything in our power to incentivise our young ones. We believe it is good for us to have them because it goes a long way towards guaranteeing the future.
In my opinion we must have a system of selecting teachers and testing them .Teaching is like nursing, it is not just for the sake of teaching and receiving salaries, but for the love of a Namibian child. As long as we have those who associate themselves with education, with this profession, we are not going to encounter a lot of resistance to go and teach deep in the rural areas. However, it would not be fair for us not to downgrade the standard of living for somebody is coming from Windhoek and they are required to go and teach in Okongo where there is no cellphone network and no electricity. This is why we are looking into at least having minimum facilities for our young teachers so that at least we can keep them there because keeping them there will raise the standard of our children.
PF: What is your perception about industries that say our graduates are not performing well, and are not good enough in the industry?
DN:I’m on record, I have been saying it, and I will continue to say it “We must stop it!” The truth here is, if these employers really wanted quality they could work hand in hand with us to achieve quality. We have industrial attachments for graduates from universities whether Namibian universities or regional universities. They come to the very same employers who are refusing to give them industrial attachments or internships. They refuse and they don’t want to do anything for the applicants. It was for this reason that, during our tenure we decided to introduce The Training Levy which is administered by the NTA. This ley will compel all employers to pay only one percent of their wage fee to that fund which will be used to train the employees.
What I’m saying here is that it does not help much for employers to complain, they must do something to help the government to train those students who are coming out of Universities or while they are still in Universities and to tell the Universities the type of skills they want. They must fund that training and only through that action can we then say they mean well. Some of these employers are saying the Namibian products are not up to standard because they want to go and hire people elsewhere, cheap labour and that one should not be allowed. If they meant well they could help to train. You cannot just say “these people who are coming, they are not okay” yet there is nothing you are doing to help that quality to go up, it is not fair.
PF: There has to be an acknowledgement that not all students are academically inclined, so with the new training fund will there be more focus on VTC’s and apprenticeships?
DN:A paradigm shift is certain. We are going to invest more money in Vocational training and we also want to change that perception of our people into believing that you are only educated if you go to University. I always say look at these lights here if they go off you don’t go to a professor to come and put these lights back on. No way! You go to a technician and by the way most of these people they make more money than University professors! We must motivate our people and I tell you one thing if we motivate them we will improve our economy and we will do well in the long run. That’s my belief really. Even the media press we must emphasise on that. Many people, even though they want to pursue the vocational path, they are shy and they tell themselves that “if I go down that path I’ll seem as if I’m a failure”. This is not good but, if you see, it is equally important that we give everybody a chance.
With the introduction of the new curriculum, by the way, we are going to have a special school dedicated to vocational training in each region of the 14 regions. We will start from primary school we will start preparing