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 8 months ago