Throughout its seven years, eLearning Africa has travelled the length and breadth of the African continent, from Addis Ababa, Nairobi and Dar es Salaam in the East all the way to Accra, Dakar and Cotonou in the West and Lusaka in the South. This variety of locations affords different perspectives and diverse cultural contexts within which critical conversations on the evolution of eLearning in Africa have emerged. This year, eLearning Africa is being welcomed further south than it has ever been before, in Windhoek, the capital of Namibia.
Namibia is a largely arid and sparsely populated country in south-western Africa, bordering on Angola and Zambia to the north, Botswana to the east, and South Africa to the south. With an estimated population of 2.2 million and a land area of 823 000 square kilometres, its population density (2.63 people per square kilometre) is the second lowest of any sovereign state in the world, and the lowest in Africa. Following a protracted liberation struggle, Namibia became an independent republic on 21 March 1990. Since then, SWAPO, the former liberation movement, has comfortably won all elections, and currently holds 54 of the 72 seats in the National Assembly. Namibia’s Constitution limits the office of President to two four-year terms for any incumbent.
Economy and development
The major trading partners for Namibia are South Africa, the United Kingdom (UK), Angola, Spain, Japan, China and the United States of America. Partly due to historical reasons, the Namibian economy is dominated by South Africa, through which 80% of its trade is conducted. The UK is Namibia’s second largest export destination, receiving approximately 16% of all Namibian exports.
Namibia’s economy relies primarily on mining, fisheries, tourism and agriculture. The mining sector (mainly diamonds, uranium and zinc) is responsible for 50% of foreign exchange earnings. Tourism, and in particular eco-tourism, plays an increasingly important economic role. Namibia’s constitution is unique in that it has enabled the registration of communal wildlife conservancies. This allows communities to manage and benefit wildlife on communal land whilst also entering into joint ventures with private tourism companies to found and sustain their own tourism market. As of June 2012, there were 72 registered communal conservancies in Namibia, covering over 155 thousand square kilometres. Namibia’s protected areas, including conservancies, national parks, community forests and tourism concessions, now cover approximately 42% of the country. There are good prospects for economic diversification in fields like tourism, fisheries and manufacturing, but none has the potential on its own to reduce unemployment significantly. The Government is encouraging foreign investment in order to develop a diverse economy that alleviates both unemployment and chronic rural poverty.
The 2011 Human Development Report ranks Namibia as a Medium Development Country, with a per capita GDP of US$6 410. This masks the fact that income distribution is highly skewed, with many communities, particularly in remote rural areas, still living in poverty, and almost half of the population living on under US$1.25 per day. Against this background, education is deemed to be the key to bringing about a more equitable distribution of wealth, and to realising the goals of Vision 2030, Namibia’s guiding policy framework for development. In the 2012/2013 budget, the education sector received N$9.4 billion (approximately 1.1 billion US$), the highest single allocation, constituting 23.6% of the total expenditure of N$ 35.4 billion.
Internet access in Namibia
In general, Namibia has good telephone, mobile and Internet coverage. Since 1996, Namibia has had access to the Internet, and digital connectivity now extends to all but the remotest areas. Mobile phone subscriptions amount to 70 phones per 100 persons, which in combination with fixed-lines amount to a total teledensity of 80%. A fiber-optic cable connects Namibia (international country code +264) to South Africa, and since 2012 it also connects to Botswana and other neighbouring countries. The South African Far East (SAFE) is connected to Namibia via a submarine cable through South Africa; satellite earth stations and 4 Intelsat (2008).
Several Internet service providers currently offer broadband connectivity; in 2011, the fibre optic West African Cable System (WACS) landed on the west coast of Namibia, and with a national fibre optic backbone in place, there is immense potential for a nationwide surge in Internet usage, and consequently in eLearning activities. However, the relatively high cost of Internet connectivity in Namibia continues to constrain progress in this regard with hope for better rates in the near future.
Among the goals outlined in Namibia’s Vision 2030 is the development of a knowledge-based society, which is built upon the information and communication technology (ICT) revolution underway throughout the world, the key target being the ICT sector becoming “the most important economic sector in Namibia” by 2030.
Overview of TECH/NA!, the ICT in Education Initiative
To keep up with the rapid changing nature of ICT in education policy, an ICT Steering Committee for Education was constituted to provide a current and comprehensive strategic document. This process culminated in the development of a new ICT Policy for the Education Sector in 2005 called TECH/NA!.
This ICT in Education policy and Tech/Na! implementation plan is informed by already existing national frameworks and blueprints which recognise the unlimited possibilities that ICT hold in promoting sustainable national development and are therefore in line with Vision 2030, the Public Service Informative Technology Policy, the National ICT Policy, all the former National Development Plans (NDP) 1, 2, 3 and the current NDP 4, the Strategic Plan and Education Reform Plan, the Education Training Sector Improvement Programme (ETSIP) 2005-2020 and the Information for Self-Reliance and Development – a policy framework for libraries and allied information agencies in Namibia.
The Tech/Na! Plan was approved by the Cabinet and launched on 13th September 2006, by the former Right Honourable Prime Minister, Nahas Angula. This plan contains a detailed set of targets and has been developed for each component of the ICT in Education sub-programme and the Implementation Schedule. These include a phased approach to the deployment of ICTs to educational institutions throughout the country, the timing of the development of curriculum and content, elearning implementation, the training provided to teachers and learners in ICT skills and the development of a sustainable Education Support Centre to provide maintenance and technical support. The development of the education and training sector with the ultimate aim to Integrate ICTs throughout the education sector is considered of primary importance.
Namibia, in particular the Ministry of Education, has found that a holistic approach to the executed programmes and activities is critical to ensure the delivery of quality education, requiring a multi-sector coordination and the larger ICT community. The Tech/Na! Program is that optimal, holistic programme that will provide 21st century opportunities for Namibian learners, based on Namibia’s Educational Objectives. This comprehensive approach includes e-Curricula and digital content, localised digital content, local and revised curricula embedding ICT, ICT infrastructure based on 21st century platforms, and the training and increased utilisation of ICT skills development and certification and ICT integration as well as professional development programmes.
Education Management is an important ingredient to improve administration and management and to reduce the burden on teachers and school principals. Namibia has taken a brave step forward and is making history as the first country to adopt, adapt and implement an educational management information solution on a national scale using leading technology and functionality. Through the Tech/Na! Initiative and the ETSIP programme, Namibian schools are now provided with a free, integrated multi-user software system that meets all administrative, curricular and financial requirements. Each educational institution with Internet access and training, could update live information on the Internet, accessed and managed by the circuit, cluster, regional and national departments.
The Ministry collaborates with the industry, other government ministries, smart partners, content leaders, over 300 schools which have electricity and other educational institutions, which were deployed with PCs and Internet connectivity. The Ministry supports and provides technology, programs, and resources that support effective learning environments. Shared tools, technologies, content, and expertise are solicited from partners to promote development of localised content. Additionally, the Ministry invests in research which enables new technology and service delivery models. eLearning will be made available to further enhance the learning process from a distance, given all basic skills have been covered through face to face learning and the right infrastructure.
Internet access in schools
The Xnet Development Alliance Trust (Xnet) was established as a result of discussions between a local non-government organisation (NGO), the Ministry of Education and Telecom Namibia, a principal telecommunications service provider operating within the country. These discussions led to the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in March of 2003 and subsequently the Trust was registered in January of 2004.
The objective of the Trust is to harness and co-ordinate resources, goodwill and support from all relevant stakeholders for the provision of affordable and reliable Internet access to various social sectors. Although the education sector has been identified as the first area of focus, other segments such as health, agriculture and the entrepreneurial sector are expected to follow shortly.
The EduNet initiative is a public/private partnership between the Xnet Development Alliance Trust (Xnet), Telecom Namibia and the Ministry of Education. Its core function is to provide affordable, reliable and equitable connectivity and access to information for all educational institutions. Though aimed at all educational institutions this initiative is especially targeted towards those in the most neglected parts of the country i.e. those areas considered to be commercially unfeasible.
By covering all educational institutions together EduNet is better able to bargain for competitive pricing, taking advantage of the economies of scale created by the number of institutions it represents. Furthermore, by partnering with Telecom Namibia, aside from subsidised pricing advantages, institutions are assured of quality connectivity and service at all times. Provision is also made to embrace project partners with the relevant expertise to partner with EduNet. Their contributions could range from providing services, availing expertise and assistance to providing in-kind contributions or even funding through their social responsibility.
With connectivity made affordable and more institutions expected to gain access to information and more importantly e-content, Namibia is rapidly moving towards realising its goal of becoming a knowledge-based economy. This should also narrow the digital divide, which currently exists, and encourage collaboration between the various institutions.
Until today, more than 300 schools have access to the Internet. Regional study and resource centres provide Internet facilities, but each centre must serve an entire region. The World Economic Forum’s 2012 Global Information Technology Report ranked Namibia 105 out of 142 countries in the Information Communication Technology Development (ICT4D) category. About 700 Namibian schools in rural areas do not yet have electricity. In April 2012, His Excellency President Hifikepunye Lucas Pohamba announced “Free Internet access provision to schools, other educational institutions, clinics and hospitals and free use of Internet access at libraries which are key components for a pro-poor approach to provide all learners and citizens with access to electronic information and e-governance service.” The investment Namibia has made in WACS (West African Cable System) can bring about the promised benefits as it promises lower costs and broader availability of ICT services in all corners of the country. In May 2012, the Minister of Information and Communication Technology, Hon. Joel Kapanda, repeated the promise that the arrival of the WACS cable in Namibia would make it possible for all schools to be given free Internet access.
Namibian Open Learning Network Trust
The Namibian Education Training Sector Improvement Programme (ETSIP), launched in 2006, is the vehicle for driving educational development in Namibia until 2020. It includes the Namibian Open Learning Network Trust (NOLNeT), a joint initiative of the MoE, the University of Namibia, the Namibian College of Open Learning, the Polytechnic of Namibia, and the National Institute for Educational Development. NOLNeT aims to “establish a network of open learning centres throughout the country at which certain facilities will be shared and services offered on a collaborative basis”. NOLNeT trains staff of the collaborating institutions, ensures that the students of these institutions can access the resources of the other institutions, and provides an advice and counselling service for prospective students of the institutions. Through NOLNeT, adults and youths who are not students at formal education institutions are also able to undertake supported, independent learning.
eLearning implementation in Namibia
In 2006, through a partnership between the NOLNet and InWEnt (Capacity Building International, Germany), the Namibia eLearning Centre (NeLC) was launched as an autonomous unit. It offers eLearning training and capacity building nationally and regionally. It was envisaged that it should also act as a digital library that can be remotely accessed, and coordinate the eLearning activities of other Namibian educational institutions.Through a dedicated core team and smart partnerships with international partners, the NeLC has offered basic and advanced technical eLearning courses to over 500 staff in public institutions of numerous African countries.
Out of the growing need to rapidly realise the goals of Vision 2030 and the National Development Plans of Namibia, the Namibia eLearning Centre (NeLC) was founded in 2010.The Namibia eLearning Centre is registered in Namibia as a Section 21 Incorporated Association not for Gain. Founded on this solid basis of legality and transparency, the NeLC now spearheads content development and e-capacity building through blended eLearning and performance support solutions for Namibian public and private education and training institutions on demand.
The NeLC is structured for rapid decision making and adaptability to relevant 21st century trends and needs, and is an officially endorsed member of the ICT in Education Steering Committee tasked with delivering eLearning solutions to the education sector of Namibia. In addition, in a long-term partnership with GIZ, the NeLC provides training in eSkills development and jointly participates in the Namibia Tourism Training Project (More info: http://www.namibia-elc.org/). The Ministry and the Government of Namibia will do everything possible to harness and explore this new “thinking”. Education and many other sectors should avail of this great opportunity and use elearning and networking to stimulate children to learn and to share using technology. eLearning has the potential to enable significant socioeconomic development in Namibia;it is set for significant growth, provided that capacity constraints in critical public and private sector groups, and amongst learners of all age groups, can be addressed.