• May 29th, 2020

Becoming a knowledge-based, industrialised country

Dr Hage Geingob

The black power activist and Muslim minister, Malcolm  X  once  said:  “Education  is  the  passport  to  the  future,  for  tomorrow  belongs  to those who prepare for it today”. Indeed without  quality  education,  including  strong  Research  and  Development  and  Innovation,  sustainable  development  is  not  possible.  

That is why Namibia  has  since  independence  consistently allocated the lion’s share of its national budget  to  education.
According  to  UNICEF, Namibia  in  2016/17 had  the  highest  public education  expenditure  to  total  government spending ratio among 115 countries, and the seventh  highest  education  expenditure  as  a ratio   of   GDP.   

In   the   current   budget   of 2018/19, 28.6 percent of the total budget has been allocated towards education.
[I] wish to share our views on the following four sub-themes, namely: Investing in Education, Science and  Technology  in  Africa;  Early Childhood   Education   and   Development; Teacher Development; and Harmonisation and Quality Assurance of Higher Education.

With  regard  to  the  first  sub-theme,  we  are happy  to  announce  that  in  an  effort  to  improve  access  and  ensure  inclusivity,  Namibia introduced  free  universal  primary  and  secondary  education  in  2013  and  2016,  respectively. This policy action is also in line with the relevant provisions of our Constitution to pro- vide free education to every Namibian child.

Namibia   envisions   becoming   a   knowledge-based, industrialised country, as contained in its  long-term  development  aspiration  (Vision 2030).  In  particular,  the  acquisition  of  relevant skills through quality technical vocation- al  education  and  training  remains  a  priority. 

In this regard, under the Harambee Prosperity Plan,  we  have  committed  to  implementing  a Comprehensive  Technical  Vocational  Education Transformation and Expansion Strategy, to  respond  to  our  economic  needs  through enhanced skills development focusing on con- temporary  trades.  

As  a  result,  our  enrolment rates   at   vocational   and   technical   centres across the country have increased significantly,  which  will  in  turn  facilitate  job  creation and spur entrepreneurship.

The   key   aspiration   of   Agenda   2063   is   for Africa to be a prosperous continent based on inclusive   growth   and   sustainable   development.   We   have   also   recognised,   that   to achieve this aspiration requires well-educated citizens and a skills revolution underpinned by science,  technology  and  innovation  competencies.  The  Sustainable  Development  Goals we  have  committed  to,  also  underscore  the need to ensure inclusive and equitable education, as well as sustained investment into research,  science,  technology  and  innovation. 

Therefore, our starting point is that ultimately, there should be equitable access to education at all levels. No child should miss school due to poverty or any form of discrimination.

Access to education without addressing quality will only take us that far. Quality outcomes are determined  through  a  robust  foundation. That is why in Namibia we recognise the importance   of   laying   a   proper   foundation through Early Childhood Development. 

In this regard,  we  are  progressing  towards  40  per- cent  coverage  of  Early  Childhood  Development by 2021. The University of Namibia now has  a  bachelor degree  programme  in  Early Childhood   Education.   
Admittedly,   more   resources need to be channelled into this crucial area  to  enable  impactful  research  that  will lead to evidence-based policy making and decision support. 

Related to quality is the need to significantly invest  in  the  production  of  high-quality  human   capital   capable   of   transforming   our economies. The role of higher education institutions   (HEIs)   in   deriving   a   competitive knowledge  based  economy  is  often  depicted in  global  models  such  as  quadruple  helix  of innovation  (university,  industry,  government and civil society). 

This way we can advance a multi-faced  multi-sectorial  approach  to  science,   technology   and   innovation   (STI)   for humanity.

We  must,  therefore,  commit  to  invest  in  the continuous development of our science education, research and training systems in order to leverage the benefits of the 4th  industrial revolution.  It  will  also  be  important  to  invest  in talent   management   and   retention   schemes through  prioritising  postgraduate  education and research infrastructure, including laboratories,  innovation  hubs  and  incubation  centres.  With  the  advent  of  the  4th   Industrial Revolution  that  is  among  others,  characterised  by  mechanisation,  artificial  intelligence, robotics   and   competition   between   humans and machines, the only way to stay ahead of the curve and protect jobs will be to continuously up-skilling and re-skilling of our human resources.

We   recognise   the   important   role   that   Research and Development and Innovation play in meeting  our  industrialisation  needs.  Most  of our   countries,   including   Namibia,   lack   the necessary  funding  and  capacity  in  this  area. However, little resources should not mean we cannot  innovate.  

The  University  of  Namibia, for  example,  with  funding  of  less  than  USD10000,  has  successfully  adapted  the  fresh water  tilapia  into  100 percent  seawater.  We are now intensifying animal   reproductive biotechnology by supporting the livestock industry  through  sexed-sperm  technology.  

In addition,  by  harnessing  the  value  of  indige- nous   knowledge   and   leveraging   advanced R&D, we have also managed to develop 100 percent plant-based malarial prophylaxis. Given these successes  achieved  with  little  resources,  we have no doubt that greater investments commitments  in  research and development will  benefit  our  continent. 

We  should  therefore  continue  to  increase  re- search funding to our HEIs.
The  desired  outcome  is  to  grow  Namibia’s gross  expenditure  on  Research  and  Development  as  a  percentage  of  GDP  from  0.35  per- cent in 2015 to 1 percent in 2022. 

The current average  of  African  spending  on  Research  and Development   stands   at   about   0.5   percent, which is below the 1 percent of GDP pledged at  the  New  Partnership  for  Africa’s  Develop- ment  (Nepad)  Ministerial  Conference  on  Science  and  Technology  held  in  Johannesburg in 2003.  

Namibia  is  cognisant  of  the  fact  that unless  African  countries  build  research,  science and technological capacities, to lead in- novation  and  the  development  of  new  technologies, Africa risks being left behind in the quest  for  inclusive  globalisation  and  sustain- able development.

In order to achieve this, partnership between universities  and  the  private  sector  should  be encouraged  in  order  to  avoid  inventions  languishing in university laboratories. Therefore, I  appeal  for  special  fund  that  would  support collaboration  between  the  private  sector  and HEIs as well as support sharing of best practices  to  achieve  enhanced  regional  integration. 

These types of strategic partnerships will enable us to better leverage opportunities offered by  the  4th    Industrial  Revolution.  We must  accept  this  phenomenon  as  the  new normal,  which  will  drive  permanent  changes to labour markets and industry. 

There are no alternatives  to  ensuring  growth  and  expand- ing  our  industries  but  through  enhanced  Re- search  &  Development  and  continuous  innovation.  It  is  time  for  Africa  to  use  science, technology and innovation to conquer barriers of  nature.  

For  example,  you  all  know  that Namibia  is  an  arid  environment  but  we  have managed  to  grow  rice.  We  must  equip  our people  with  the  requisite  scientific,  technical and  vocational  skills  necessary  to  innovate and create jobs that are relevant to the con- temporary global demands. 

We  therefore,  appeal  to the  private  sector  at national,   regional,   continental   and   international levels, and our strategic partners, to  increase  investments  in  research  and  development for industrialisation, economic growth and sustainable development.

We  have  been  mandated  by  the  Assembly  of the  African  Union  to  champion  the  cause  for increased investments into Education, Science and  Technology  in  Africa.  The  onus  is  there- fore,   on   us   to   execute   our   mandate   with vigour   and   dedication,   to   ensure   that   our youthful  African  populations  are  empowered through the enhanced, strategic use of education,  research,  science,  technology  and  innovation. It cannot be business as usual hereon. 
We  must  ensure  the  goals  and  targets  that have been mapped out and committed to, are implemented on time.

This Summit is a pivotal step in bringing about a  paradigm  shift  in  education,  science,  technology  and  innovation  in  Africa  that  would yield  tangible  results  for  inclusive  economic growth  and  the  sustainable  development  of Africa and its people.

* Dr Hage Geingob is President Namibia. This is abridged version of remarks he delivered at the first extra-ordinary summit of the Committee of Ten Heads of State and Government Champions of Education, Science and Technology in Africa, held in Lilongwe, Malawi on Saturday.

New Era Reporter
2018-11-05 09:24:11 | 1 years ago

Be the first to post a comment...