Ministry of Education Conference 27 June – 1 July, 2011

Collective Delivery of the Education Promise: Improving the Education and Training System for Quality Learning Outcomes and Quality of Life.

Bad news… the words creativity, dance, drama, and art did not feature once in the final recommendations emanating from last week’s national education conference; the word ‘music‘ featured once –

 “The location of cuca shops and shebeens selling alcohol and playing loud *music* in close proximity to schools provide temptations for misbehaviour by both teachers and learners.” 

Sorry ngo. May I suggest that you visit Sir Ken Robinson’s 2006 TED presentation for therapy ;-)? Otherwise I’ve heard that Ritalin is a very good substitute for twitchy feet and fingers in the classroom!

I think I’ll soon be activating my personal blog awards programme for best quotations again – there were some beauties at the conference.   

The best one for me was on FaceBook by 


Static?  It’s a bloody fossil!  We are still waiting to get the official recommendations from the conference.  Damn!  It would save so much time if the Ministry chased up Omalaeti tech to deliver their website!

I keep getting a 

“403 Forbidden

You don’t have permission to access / on this server.”

message whenever  I try to visit  http://www.moe.gov.na
Anyhow, according to the conference website, the current education and training system has the following weaknesses:

  • poor learning outcomes at all levels;
  • poor management and accountability;
  • inequitable resource allocations;
  • inequitable access to quality education provision;
  • inefficiency; persisting decline of morals, values and discipline in educational institutions; and  
  • little articulation between educational programmes at different levels of the schooling system including higher education and training system.

The education and training system is perceived as having little relevance to the economy; providing little capacity for knowledge creation and innovation, and therefore not effectively meeting the challenges of 21st century or supporting the attainment of national development goals and aspirations of the Vision 2030.



The objectives of the conference were:

  • provide an in-depth analysis of the current state of the Namibian education and training system at all levels (pre-primary, primary, secondary, vocational, higher education);
  • identify deficiencies in the current education and training system;
  • seek consensus on major and large areas in need of improvement in order to deliver quality education and training at all levels;
  • develop resolutions from the conference proceedings which form the basis for developing a road map towards comprehensive reforms of the Namibian education and training system

The expected outputs of the conference

  • An in-depth analysis of the current state of the Namibian education and training system conducted;
  • Deficiencies in the current education and training system identified;
  • Consensus reached on major and large areas needing improvement.
  • Roles and responsibilities of major stakeholders identified and clarified.
  • Policy options that need to be developed or changed identified.
  • Resolutions developed to provide the road map for a comprehensive education and training reforms in Namibia.

Impressions



Prime Minister Nahas Angula attacked the failure of Namibia’s education system at the opening of the conference.  Prefacing his attack with the statement that the timing of the conference was “both appropriate and opportune”, Angula criticised Minister of Education, Abraham Iyambo and his team for failing to provide conference delegates with an assessment of similar policy and curriculum review exercises such as a Presidential Commission on Education, Culture and Training in 1999 and the Education and Training Sector Improvement Programme (ETSIP) in 2006.  The statistics presented were grim. The reality playing itself out in remote villages and urban townships is even more dispiriting.  

According to several presentations:

  • The highest dropouts from Namibian schools are in grades five (5), eight (8) and 10; 4,000 a year in grade five; another 4,000+ every year in grade eight and on average 15,000 a year in grade 10 for the past 10 years.
  • The grade 10 failures last year mirrored the national unemployment figure of 51,2%
  • Only about 3 000 out of 18 000 to 20 000 sitting for the examinations qualify for higher education.
  • More than 90 per cent of the budget (N$ 8,3 Billion) still goes to salaries for management staff and teachers, operations and administration. 
  • Infrastructure development has not scaled up significantly in past 5 years, with some 40% of schools still without running water, proper sanitation, libraries, adequate classrooms, electricity and telecommunications.  

UNICEF education consultant Peter Ninnes introduced the concept of the ‘Child Friendly School’  in an attempt to broadly define quality schools, based on human rights principles, in Namibia. He showed that the annual rates of increase in provision of school facilities such as electricity and telecommunications have been less than 2%, predicting 100% coverage by 2032 at this rate.

Angula concludes that “the culture of work” in the education sector and “perhaps in the public sector as a whole” has not improved in spite of these large budgets; the biggest failure in Namibia’s education system has been poor leadership and management.  


In the main, the conference was technocratic and only partially reflective, with little room for dialogue given the density of presentations in the programme. There were obvious gaps when the organisers only partially unpacked education responsibilities, outcomes and deficiencies; accountability clearly remains the weakest link in this Ministry.  



In terms of the two mainstream ICT in Education events – one plenary on “ICT development and utilization”, and one breakaway on “harnessing the use of ICTs for improving the quality of teaching and learning”, I was expecting far more practical progress reporting than excuses on the Tech!Na plan, given the reporting framework of ETSIP, since 2006.



There were plenty of excuses, but progress reports? None

Michael Tjivikua and Maurice Nkusi of the Polytechnic of Namibia lucidly presented Namibia’s challenges to integrating ICTs in education, and made several good recommendations, including the need to strengthen the monitoring and evaluation of the MoE’s ICT integration programme, and revive the ICT Steering Committee of the Ministry of Education to once again engage local expertise.  



During that plenary’s panel session, Mr Kuria (XNet – back briefly from academic pursuits in South Africa??) had nothing substantive to report on their internet access commitments to the education sector since 2004.   He harped on about the Xnet Development Alliance Trust being established as a internet access provider for schools in 2004 (by SchoolNet and Telecom Namibia), and had apparently expanded its Edunet operation to “include all educational institutions in 2007”.  Apparently, beyond connectivity, services such as e-learning, email provisioning, website hosting, etc. are now possible through the Xnet ISP.  The Xnet website has nothing to report since it remains under construction since inception (and is mostly broken!), and their Edunet website remains unchanged since early 2009.  
[The fact that XNet has recently been identified as Namibia’s national education and research network (NREN) by Africa’s UbuntuNet Alliance is particularly troubling given these circumstances. UbuntuNet Alliance is a regional association of NRENs in Africa, established in 2005 by five established and emerging NRENs in Eastern and Southern Africa. The driving vision was that of securing high speed and affordable Internet connectivity for the African research and education community in Gb/s rather than in Kb/s, and develop the interconnectivity between these NRENs and research and education networks worldwide.]


Ms Kumbi Short, special advisor on ICT to the Minister of Education, highlighted several challenges during the breakaway — a lack of confidence and competence of teaching staff, issues with how to introduce ICT for assessment and as an examinable subject, a lack of provision of Internet connectivity, an understaffed NETSS centre unable to provide effective technical support and access for learners and teachers to infrastructure and resources, amongst others — all the while Tech!Na, funded through ETSIP, was a solid plan for a phased integration of ICT into the Ministry of Education.  According to Short, one challenge experienced in schools was the closure of specialised ICT training rooms when it turned out that teachers did not know how to operate the software or server effectively.  She also complained that nothing has been done on the awareness and promotion of ICT integration.  


The man in charge of ICT at the MoE, Deputy Director Mr Johan van Wyk,  remained mostly noncommittal during this session, except for some confusion about who was responsible for online content, but the media later reported him saying that it will cost Namibia N$1 billion to equip the 1,700 schools across the country with computers.  I could say a lot of things about these number, but I can’t, presently, since we have no public reports to refer to!



While we can now, theoretically, examine various ETSIP reviews since 2006 via its international stakeholder consortium, the Tech!Na progress reports remain unreported in the public domain, in spite of having had some N$ 345 million earmarked for roll-out since 2006.  The Tech!Na website has not seen any change since 2007, nor has the ETSIP site dealing with ICT matters and Tech!Na.  The NETSS website has remained under construction since 2006. This is a shame really, since that little group of anonymous technicians have been instrumental in delivering and installing computers at (apparently) diverse schools, colleges and teacher resource centres, country-wide, from 2006 to the present!   



I would advise the Minister of Education to allow an external audit of Tech!Na, from source to finish, in the face of mounting criticism of this programme’s expenses and unreported deliverables! I was pleased that Dr Patti Swartz’s had an opportunity to comment on the lack of progress – as the local GeSCI lead, she was instrumental in so many of the original Tech!Na formulations (come to think of it, we never got to see a public version of her last GeSCI report on Tech!Na either!).  In this way the minister can save face whatever the outcome, providing these are made public. Sooner than later.



I do think the conference was hampered by having a poor contemporary public reporting mechanism  – neither the conference website nor the Ministry’s official website (still broken!) have managed to post the presentations, outputs, recommendations and resolutions emanating from this important national  event.  In this day and age that’s inexcusable!  Glaringly, the most interesting commentary (documented for all see!) was on the FaceBook conference community page, where some 600 FB users were able to make personal comments on the proceedings.



We can safely assume that the Internet has become “a basic human right”, and a necessity for economic growth.  This message has mostly sunk home at the conference.



It remains to be seen whether the Ministry of Education and Telecom Namibia decision-makers will carry the burden of free and fast internet for all schools in Namibia.   According to Christof Stork (pers. comm.) of Research ICT Africa, and a key advisor to CRAN,  the price of flat-rate, uncapped high-speed internet using ADSL and WIMAX technologies will come down substantially in the next year — notwithstanding the cost of providing internet service-specific solar powered infrastructure solutions to some 600 mostly remote schools in Namibia.   Based on projected price adjustments in the local telecommunications market, such an investment in free and fast internet for all schools by the Ministry would not exceed N$ 3 million per annum in the foreseeable short-term.  This is a relatively small  drop in the MoE’s annual budget of N$ 8,3 billion.  On the other hand, I am well-informed that a revised profit-generating engine at Telecom Namibia could see significant generosity if the MoE was to apply to right kind of pressure.



“Mobile tech has the fastest adoption rate of any technology in the world,” says Miguel Granier, founder of Invested Development.  From almost none a decade ago, there are now half a billion mobile phones in Africa.  In 2007 just one fibre cable only partly connected sub-Saharan Africa to the world, and most of the continent logged on via satellite. In the past two years, however, six more cables have arrived, linking the region to the U.S., Europe and Asia, and by 2013 that number will be 12.  In the past four years Africa’s Internet capacity soared from 340 gigabits to 34,000 gigabits per second while the cost of the Internet to its service providers plunged from US$ 4,000 to US$ 200 per month for a megabit per second and could fall still further, to US$ 100, within a year.  As a result, Internet traffic in Africa is among the fastest growing in the world.  It is imperative that Namibia’s Ministry of Education takes advantage of this phenomenon.



In my analysis of the conference proceedings, the following conference recommendations (as derived from the Friday report-back sessions) are likely to be most pertinent for the ICT sectors of Namibia (not in any order of priority):

  • The digital revolution has made computer education an integral part of the curriculum.  The changes have transformed the global as well as regional economy. The Conference recommended that the use of ICTs be integrated into the education processes.

Clearly a reinforcement of the Tech!Na and ETSIP plans, the conference was able to articulate how the use of ICTs would be integrated into educational processes, by pointing at the incorporation of ICTs in *all* subjects, not just a distinct ICT-literacy subject,  consider technologies and resources already in place,  and open their minds to rapidly evolving technologies to make internet access key to such integration.

  • A range of incentives, financial and otherwise, must be introduced to reward and encourage excellent teacher performance.

It would appear that the earlier promise to deliver free laptops to teachers who complete their ICDL certification is somewhat behind schedule.  Lots of unhappy teachers.  It’s a really matter of better management.

  • Adequate funding should be made available to expand, decentralise and address inequitable access to ICT and library services, especially in the regions.

self-explanatory – only about 53% of Namibia’s schools have library infrastructure – there is no record of  how these ‘libraries’ are being used, and without incentives, are non-librarian trained teaching or admin staff doing the right things with the limited resources? There was some debate around the fact that even essential text books were still in unacceptably low supply in remote schools as a result of poor centralised management and distribution systems.  MCA-N is apparently driving quite aggressive demands on the Ministry for expected outcomes.

  • Ensure high-speed and free internet connections in all schools, with bandwidth improved by 2012 with Telecom as partner  (the same recommendation was made for higher education (free internet bandwidth should be provided to increase ICT usage in the HE sector and adequate funding should be made available to expand, decentralise and address inequitable access to ICT and library services, especially in the regions).

This must be emphasised over and over again.  

  • On-site training of teachers to encourage their incorporation of ICTs in all subjects, not just a separate ICT subject.


Not sure about the ‘on-site’ bit – especially if the technology is not distributed in a manner which allows all teachers to have equitable access – one large classroom filled with obsolete and hard to manage equipment will not serve this purpose at any school with more than 5 teachers.

  • Technologies need to be explored for learners with special needs, as well as those in remote areas to access ICT.

Properly called “assistive technologies”, this “need to explore” may well suggest that there’s likely going to be an update on the Tech!Na strategic plans .

  • Better utilise ICT that are *already* in the hands of teachers and learners, namely the mobile phone

This position originated from Kuria of XNet who I think was looking for excuses for the past 5 years’ worth of non-delivery of internet access solutions to schools in Namibia. With other more appropriate technologies available, but rejected by MoE in a far too rigid rules-of-deployment framework.  We can clearly embrace smart phones, running android applets, as relatively short-term precursors to better form factors for web-browser access to educational resources in the local cloud; however this should not detract from MoE and XNet responsibility to provide teachers with the right tools to empower and motivate them to perform better in the classroom, i.e., fast and free uncapped internet access!

  • Television sets linked to a laptop should be explored as a cost-effective interim measure

Broadcast options for good educational TV production have been explored priorly, but this recommendation has been taken out of context since it was actually suggested that wide-screen TV would (affordably) also serve as an alternative to projectors and smart whiteboards.  With wireless low-power LED projectors costing less than N$ 5,000 nowadays, I think we can suggest better, more affordable, and easier to manage assistive technologies to the MoE.

  • The use of solar energy to support the use of ICT in the classroom in rural areas needs to be seriously looked into.

ICT literacy should be a requirement for certification of teachers and their performance appraisal in future. Teachers need to be kept abreast of new developments in ICT.  Why only now?  There are plenty of well-tested models for such ICT/communication-specific solar power solutions with good M and E records to adopt!  Rumour has it that a Namibian computer reseller in partnership with two South African companies  was “commissioned” to deliver a new solar-powered computer solution for some pilot Kunene region mobile school.  Apparently there’s talk about this computer reseller being the Ministry’s POC – ‘Partner of Choice’ ??? Someone please tell me what this means!

  • ICT literacy should be a requirement for certification of teachers and their performance appraisal in future. Teachers need to be kept abreast of new developments in ICT.  

An absolute essential in this post-modern world. If every teacher and teacher-student in Namibia had access to fast and free internet access, a little bit of electricity, a reasonable projection device combined with constructivist schooling at UNAM, this literacy requirement would be vastly simplified! However, I do remain uncomfortable with the idea that young (and old) adults are forced to attempt multiple-choice questions in a second or third language to acquire ICDL certification – the current measure of ICT literacy competency at the MoE, and the ticket to computer classroom access.

  • Consider a subsidy to teachers to buy their own laptops.

This has been tried before;  it can work, and the Polytechnic of Namibia has a really good M & E framework with which they continue to assess the impact of their present laptop deal for lecturers and students. Someone needs to consult with Dr Tjama Tjivikua on this topic!

  • One target at which we should aim is one laptop per *teacher*, and one computer per *classroom*, perhaps sourced from businesses upgrading their ICTs.


The words ‘laptop’ and ‘computer’ should ideally be replaced by ‘appropriate, assistive technologies‘ and please let us not venture into the PC refurbishment market at this stage, unless it’s directly linked to a Vocational Skills training opportunity for unemployed youth with community- or in-service opportunities at educational centres in remote areas.  Assistive technologies are evolving so fast that the traditional technologies the MoE is still prescribing will be obsolete in less than 18 months.  We must open-mined to new technologies at a fraction of the price of such conventional stereotypes. “Buy new, cheap and frequently” would be my motto.

  • Expand and strengthen resource capacities of Community Learning Development Centres and sensitize Community Leaders to take ownership of these centres.

  • Increase funding for Adult Education and Open and Distance Learning (ODL) and encourage research and capacity building for Lifelong Learning.

  • Finalise and implement the national ODL policy and develop advocacy strategies for ODL.

  • Expand the scope of ODL and maximise the use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) in ODL.

  • Strengthen Library and Archives infrastructure, ICT and human resources capacities.  


We must insist on adequate civil society representation at these ODL, Lifelong learning  policy developments.



There are no technology shortcuts to good education. For primary and secondary schools that are under-performing or limited in resources, efforts to improve education should focus almost exclusively on more and better teachers. Information technology, if used at all, should be targeted for certain, specific uses.  Like providing (open or universal) access to good and intellectually stimulating educational resources to learners and teachers alike.



Open access by way of Information and communication technologies (ICTs) combined with the open intellectual property arrangements of Open Education Resources (OERs) and networked collaboration have the potential to change fundamental business models for the education sector in Namibia. There are several challenges and opportunities to using digital OERs to implement new models of educational provision in Namibia.



The concept of open education encapsulates a simple but powerful idea that the world’s knowledge is a public good and that OERs provide an extraordinary opportunity for everyone to share, use, enhance and reuse knowledge. Internationally, the education sector is now exploring and implementing the potential of OER to provide free learning opportunities for all students worldwide. Namibia has the opportunity to leverage the benefits of open education and digital ICTs in providing free learning opportunities for its learners, especially those currently excluded from the formal sector by economic and social pressures and a lack of adequate infrastructure.



It would appear from recent discussion with several other e-learning advocates and developers (IIT, NAMCOL, UNAM, UNESCO, Polytechnic, MoE Library Services and others) that there are opportunities for collaborative work to accelerate local access to a richly diverse and high quality educational content ecology  — OERs which deliver locally relevant content to teachers and learners in an interactive, visually stimulating way that is fun and conducive to maximising teaching capacity and learner development.   Increasingly, there are more and more exceptional open-source interactive online resources available to the education sector.  These OERs urgently require aggregation, evaluation, accreditation and distribution mechanisms to have any significant impact on Namibia’s education system.


Although Namibia is one of several countries in southern Africa with reasonably good commercial ICT access infrastructure, there are key limitations in the education sector – lack of infrastructure, electricity, the high cost of internet connectivity, limited (and mostly unsupported) technology penetration in the rural areas, and schools in particular, very few Namibian software and content developers and a lack of skilled ICT trainers and technicians in rural communities.  Many of the development organisations active in these rural areas import such skills from other countries, resulting in limited investment and focus on this core local development opportunity, thus reducing the potential for Namibians to benefit optimally from the opportunities offered by this sector.



How do we maximize the impact of education at rural schools in a digital age, taking care not to leave anyone behind? How can we set up environments where information is free flowing? And, perhaps more boldly, how can we shift ‘business as usual’ so that it is the learners and educators themselves who shape the learning and educating?  



Surprisingly, a recent report by the Open Learning Exchange  (OLE) commissioned by UNESCO overlooked several local and international initiatives engaged in developing OERs for the Namibian education sector, including IIT’s e-Campus Learning Portal, which focuses on basic literacy and numeracy, secondary and vocational bridging education based on the national syllabus for Namibian schools as prescribed by NIED.  WIkiEducator and OER Foundation were also overlooked by this report.  



What is clear from this, the local vocal of delegates as well as FaceBook commentary, is that there’s considerable resistance to the idea of one laptop per child.

Steve Bezuidenhout, one of the MPs on the Parliamentary Standing Committee on ICTs – briefed us on the AU/Negroponte Africa-wide OLPC deal signed in Addis recently.  I explained to him the message that has sunk home globally since that media-hyped launch (at this event Negroponte even had the cheek to ask for sponsors to give him US$ 1.5 million to build a new OLPC headquarters in Addis!).



Nicholas Negroponte announced his decision (in 2010!) to diversify his global OLPC interests by also developing a tablet (called XO3) by April 2011! This has thus far resulted in more media stunts with the latest  simulations of his intellectual constructs – so let’s call it *vaporware* for the moment.



He’s thinking in the right direction, though; the important issue about XO3 is that it will have a fast, low-cost, power-efficient embedded RISC processor – ARM – meaning a *one watt* laptop screen included versus a 6 – 10 Watt OLPC laptop under Intel’s x86 (modern x86 is relatively uncommon in embedded systems like OLPC). We’re talking 400 – 1000% more battery runtime with ARM. On top of that, ARM is faster and better than x86 for *Android*, Sugar and even Chrome OS, representing a sort of combination that OLPC (OTPC?) will likely use for the next generation  –  XO-3.



What I find most disconcerting is Negroponte’s suggestion that the XO-3 will initially be developed for use by *first-world* learners, *not* those in developing countries, at a price of US$75!  So it begs the question as to why is he still continuing to sell his laptop – the now nearly obsolete XO1 – to developing countries at more than double the price – last count was US$188 – is he conveniently trying to get rid of all his old, failing stock?  



My advice to the MoE,  if Namibia’s government actually intends to go ahead with this AU deal, is to insist on getting the new generation of X03 Tablet! Forget near-obsolete OLPC!



To follow soon is a revised total cost of ownership model based on a few new assumptions:

  • MoE undertakes an external audit of Tech!Na 2006 – present.
  • MoE revives the ICT Steering Committee as a mechanism to make Mr J van Wyk’s  activities (under ETSIP)  a more public and transparent process combined with thorough M & E.  
  • MoE revises the Tech!Na strategic plans to allow for more flexible adoption of assistive technolgies.
  • MoE underwrites the cost of delivering fast and free internet to all of Namibia’s ±1,700 schools (which will include appropriate service-specific power solutions for those ±600 schools without electricity)
  • MoE revises its ideological stance on delivering ICTs to ECD and primary schools last.
  • MoE prioritises the delivery of appropriate ICTs to school libraries and TRCs.
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Posted in #namibia, assistive technologies, free internet, Ministry of Education, Nahas Angula, NETSS, Omalaeti, school, schoolnet, Tech!Na, Xnet
One comment on “Ministry of Education Conference 27 June – 1 July, 2011
  1. Rhett Dexter says:

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    Joseph Bruno Montessori School Birmingham AL

    Like

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