The Namibian education and training terrain comprises hundreds of public primary and secondary schools, several private secondary schools, more than seventy private and public Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) centres, numerous other public and private learning centres; two public universities and one private university.
The quality assurance education landscape, on the other hand, consists of the Namibia Qualifications Authority (NQA), Namibia Training Authority (NTA) and the National Council for Higher Education (NCHE). The laws governing these public and private institutions and their accompanying frameworks were written to ensure that students across the school system acquire knowledge, skills and attitudes to drive Namibia’s knowledge economy.
Recent challenges about the ineffective curriculum implementation have raised numerous questions: what are Namibia’s national priorities? How are various education policy instruments aligned, coordinated and interpreted to meet the country’s priorities?
The concept of ‘people first’ is a key priority in Namibia’s value system. The education sector has adopted six principles of equality, equity, access, democracy, efficiency and effectiveness to focus the accomplishment of the national priority. But the Covid-19 pandemic crisis and the recent unclear transition arrangements for the new curriculum have exposed the weaknesses in Namibia’s education system. For instance, any education barometer one uses will show that the academic performance of Namibian students is unimpressive. As a result, one wonders whether Namibia, itself operating in a highly competitive global economy, is producing graduates that are ready to compete in the international market? This question deserves policy makers’ urgent attention. The new curriculum by itself will never bring about the so-called knowledge economy that Namibia so badly desires. Why? Because both in theory and practice, Namibia runs a fragmented education policy system.
In theory, each education sector (TVET, special education, basic education, higher education, distance and open learning, private education, funding and quality assurance) has its policy framework. In practice, political office bearers, their executives, middle managers and implementers of the different education departments operate in isolation. Sadly, the gatekeepers of the different education policies never converge to discuss issues of common interest. Additionally, senior employees of different education sectors treat each other with suspicion and contempt. It is an open secret that higher education specialists despise TVET enthusiasts. Similarly, evidence shows that basic education practitioners undermine TVET educators and denigrate open and distance learners. The private education sector believes the public school system is inferior. Unfortunately, everyone believes wrongfully that special education is not worth funding. These opinions contradict the ethos of each education policy, but largely influence how policies are implemented and funded. Undoubtedly, this policy atmosphere is horrendous for a Namibia that aspires to be industrialised in less than ten years.
What then is the solution? Namibia needs a single, coordinated education and training policy that will harmonise education inputs, practices and outcomes throughout the education and training system. Developing such a policy framework will require that Namibia establish a national skills development plan based on a backwards planning approach. The plan should be inclusive of all education divisions, both in theory, scope and practice. Developing a national skills plan will improve Namibia’s education in many ways.
First, a single plan will guide the education and training system on how to articulate qualifications obtained from various phases of the education system. It is unsettling to note that the issue of articulation is still a matter of concern in Namibia, three decades after independence. Evidence shows that different curricular offered by various education sectors do not permit articulation across the sectors. In some cases, articulation between succeeding levels is less clearly defined. TVET qualifications, for example, lack articulation opportunities in Namibian institutions of higher learning. Second, a single well-coordinated policy will easily and rationally facilitate the credit transfer between courses obtained across institutions. Credit transfer across institutions of learning minimises the repetition of course offerings and improves learner progression.
Third, a unified skills policy plan will ensure that the soft skills of learners and professionals are timeously addressed so that they remain current across the education system. Fourth, a possibility exists that operating a single education and training policy will increase the level of responsiveness to the labour market, including improving the placement of graduates into employment. Fifth, it is envisaged that a single policy will create opportunities for work-integrated learning and minimise possible difficulties of student placements to various industries. Lastly, the education department believes that the new curriculum will facilitate opportunities for diverse career and learning pathways. It is, however, uncertain how such pathways will be facilitated without a policy framework that explains the mechanisms about how such pathways will be created.
Namibia needs a single, coordinated education and training policy to direct and monitor the country’s national skills plan.