Panel Discussion: The Contributions of Open and Distance Learning to
National Development in Namibia
Education continues to be a crucial means to national development and a well-educated
and trained population is found to contribute significantly to the socio-economic
development of any country (Marope 2005). Namibia is currently going through
a dynamic reform, the national development strategy known as Vision 2030. The
millennium development goals have shaped this development strategy. The broad
goals of the reform are the acceleration of economic growth and social development;
decreasing of the spread of HIV/AIDS, reduction of poverty and social inequalities;
and curbing of unemployment, particularly youth unemployment. The Government
has made a decision that these goals are to be pursued within a broader framework
of transforming the economy into Knowledge Economy (KE).
The government has also recognised that the role of education and training,
knowledge and innovation is very important in bringing about a knowledge-based
economy. Furthermore, educational institutions have realized that knowledge
can improve the quality of life and that they have a role to play in this improvement.
In addition, institutions have also realized that in order to enable many people
in society to benefit from education and improve their quality of life open
and distance methods are important. This is because open and distance learning
is a powerful tool for achieving educational and training needs and a potent
instrument in creating a learning society capable of bringing about scientific,
technological, social and economic development.
Sean McGovern (1999, p. 123) noted that there are 9 concepts associated with
development, which are:
- “Education as the social institution through which people are prepared
for society and work;
- Equality of opportunity for individuals and nations to compete for economic
- Participation of people in programmes to help advance the development process;
- Planning as the decision making process to encourage social change and
- Production as the efficient processing of commodities to increase economic
- Science as the objective creation of knowledge for greater production and
- Standard of leaving as the amount of goods and services which represent
a country's level of development;
- State as the institution which supersedes cultural differences and organized
to protect citizens and promote progress; and
- The application of technology to establish efficient production which increases
In the context of Namibia's development strategy and the above concepts this
paper provides an account of the country's achievements in supporting open and
distance learning (ODL), the contributions that ODL has made in meeting the
developmental challenges of the country and the potential of ODL to realizing
the country's Vision 2030.
OPEN AND DISTANCE LEARNING ACTIVITIES IN NAMIBIA
Open and distance learning is found to make valuable contributions to the socio-economic
development of those countries that utilize the mode (Perraton 2000). For a
developing country of its size Namibia is endowed with publicly funded ODL institutions.
Currently there are four, the Centre for External Studies (CES) at the University
of Namibia (UNAM), the Centre for Open and Lifelong Learning (COLL) at the Polytechnic
of Namibia (PON), the Namibian College of Open Learning (NAMCOL) and the National
Institute for Educational Development (NIED).
In addition, the Namibian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) has a statutory obligation
to provide educational broadcasting services to the Namibian public. Section
2 of its Act state that the objectives of NBC includes informing the public,
contributing to the education of the nation, disseminating information about
socio-economic issues and promoting the use of English as the country's official
language. The Corporation therefore, plays an important role in advancing the
agenda of ODL and continuing education activities in the country. In recent
years, NBC has worked with the Ministry of Education and NAMCOL to produce a
series of weekly radio programmes to assist secondary school learners in a range
of subjects including English as a Second Language. The Corporation has also
worked with the Centre for External Studies' Continuing Education Department
in producing a series of radio broadcasts for “UNAM on the Air”
The open and distance learning institutions in the country
The Namibian College of Open Learning (NAMCOL) was established by an Act of
Parliament in 1997 with the intention of taking quality education to the doorsteps
of the people of Namibia. The primary goal of NAMCOL is to contribute towards
the social and economic development of the country by providing opportunities
to out-of-school youth and adults to acquire general education and upgrade their
professional and vocational skills. As such NAMCOL offers both secondary and
tertiary level courses. With the examination system used in the country it is
difficult to show how many students successfully completed their secondary education
through NAMCOL. However, in 2006 there are 28,106 learners enrolled with NAMCOL
and since its establishment NAMCOL has offered professional qualifications and
graduated 149 with Certificate in Education for Development, 49 with Higher
Diploma in Adult Basic Education and Training and 15 with Commonwealth Diploma
in Youth in Development work.
The National Institute for Educational Development (NIED) was established in
1991 to spearhead the curriculum reform of the formal education system through:
- Curriculum and materials development
- Pre-service and in-service training of teachers
- General educational research
With the introduction of the Basic Education Teacher's Diploma (BETD) as the
standard qualification for instructors in Grade 1-10, the four existing Colleges
of Education were assigned responsibility of offering the BETD pre-service,
of which NIED takes responsibility of the curriculum development. In addition,
an in-service BETD using ODL methods was established to enable unqualified teachers
to complete their studies while continuing with their teaching duties. Since
its establishment NIED enabled 2,879 unqualified teachers to qualify for their
The Polytechnic of Namibia was established in 1995 by an Act of Parliament.
According to Section 4 of its Act, it is mandated to provide “post-secondary
career-education”, though no specific reference is made to distance education.
Nevertheless, in 1997 a decision was taken to establish a separate distance
education centre, the Centre for Open and Lifelong Learning (COLL), in order
to facilitate the delivery of ODL programmes.
The following qualifications are currently offered through COLL:
- National Certificate/National Diploma in Business Administration
- National Certificate/National Diploma in Police Science
- National Certificate/National Diploma in Public Management
- National Certificate/National Diploma in Accounting and Finance
- National Certificate/National Diploma in Marketing
- National Diploma in Human Resources Management
- B. Tech in Nature Conservation
- B. Tech in Agricultural Management
With the mixed mode system used by the Polytechnic of Namibia, which does not
distinguish distance students from part time or full time students, it is difficult
to show how many students successfully completed their qualifications through
the distance mode.
The University of Namibia (UNAM) was established by an Act of Parliament in
1992 to serve as a centre of higher learning and research. According to Section
4 of the Act, the University aims “to provide extension services”
and “further training and continuing education”. These clauses provide
a statutory basis for the development and management of open and distance learning
activities at UNAM. The Centre for External Studies (CES) was therefore set
up to develop flexible and open learning methods that cater for the educational
needs of people who, for a variety of reasons, cannot come full-time to any
of the University campuses to further their studies.
Currently CES offers the following programmes:
- The Basic Education Teachers Diploma
- The Diploma in Education: African Languages
- The Diploma in Adult Education and Community Development
- The Bachelor of Nursing Science
- The Bachelor of Education
- The Bachelor of Business Administration
- The Diploma in Education (specializing in Mathematics, Biology or Physical
- The Specialised Diploma in Educational Management and Leadership
- The Speicialised Diploma in Education: Home Economics and Fashion and Fabric
- The Postgraduate Diploma in Education (PGDE)
- The Certificate in HIV/Aids Counselling
- The Certificate in Midlevel Management
Since its establishment CES has graduated 3,034 teachers, 199 nurses, 59 adult
educators, 21 HIV/AIDS counsellors and 181 public administrators and middle
managers. In addition to ODL programmes CES, through its Department of Continuing
Education, offers non-formal education programmes on issues of national interest.
As can be seen from above the four institutions have injected significant number
of graduates into the Namibian society. To educate such a large number of professionals
through conventional education would have required massive investment in building
classrooms and recruiting adequate face-to-face lecturers (Perraton 2000). It
also means that people would have to leave their jobs, even from rural schools
and hospitals where there are no qualified people to replace them.
Namibia is small in terms of its population as such Government opted for the
policy of collaboration and sharing of resources in order to strengthen ODL
activities at publicly funded institutions. Through the Ministry of Education,
the Government set up the Namibian Open Learning Network Trust, NOLNET in 2000
with the purpose of coordinating ODL activities in the country and ensuring
that quality control mechanisms are in place. The Ministry and the heads of
NAMCOL, the Polytechnic of Namibia and the University of Namibia signed a memorandum
of understanding (MOU) for the coordination of open and distance learning. The
MOU provides for the signatories to establish a network of open learning centres
throughout the country, where facilities are shared and services offered on
a collaborative basis. To a large extent the mandate of NOLNET includes:
- Assisting in defining appropriate policies for the promotion and implementation
of ODL activities;
- Promoting cooperation between ODL institutions and their equitable sharing
of resources for mutual benefit;
- Developing quality control mechanisms and structures for standard setting
- Advising ministries and other funding bodies to ensure equitable and effective
allocation of resources to ODL activities;
- Assisting in the promotion of good image of ODL in Namibia; and
- Providing advocacy for ODL activities at all levels.
The four public institutions and the Ministry of Education are actively involved
in the activities of NOLNET through the Board of Trustees and the Management
Committee to ensure the successful implementation of ODL programmes in the country.
Through NOLNET the ODL institutions have so far managed to strengthen their
collaboration and current activities includes:
- Collaborating in the training of staff to provide services and support
to the distance students of all signatory institutions;
- Ensuring access for the students of all signatory institutions to the facilities
and services of each institution according to an agreed framework of principles;
- Coordinating publications and information provision about the activities,
courses and services of all signatory institutions; and
- Cooperating in providing advice and/or counselling to prospective students.
Such a collaboration and sharing of resources between institutions is aimed
at developing quality and cost-effective ODL programmes and support systems.
It also enables ODL institutions to work together towards a common goal and
prevent unnecessary competitions. Last year a national conference on open and
distance learning was organized under the auspices of NOLNET. The conference
was attended by more than 70 delegates and produced a Declaration, which is
currently being used to persuade Government into developing an ODL policy and
providing adequate funding to ODL activities.
THE CONTRIBUTIONS OF ODL TO NAMIBIA'S DEVELOPMENT
The contributions that open and distance learning has made to Namibia's socio-economic
development since achieving independence in 1990 is commendable. Since then
the four public institutions have been offering programmes utilizing open and
distance learning methods. By offering ODL programmes the educational institutions
have recognized the critical role that open and distance learning can play in
national development. Thus, ODL programmes in Namibia are located within the
developmental context and have been designed and developed to address the developmental
needs of the country.
The contributions that individual graduates are making to society today
The country's ODL sector made contributions in terms of the number of graduates
that the four institutions have produced and injected into society over the
past 15 years. These graduates are assisting the country in realizing its developmental
goals. It is worth mentioning that most people who have utilized distance education
to gain qualifications have done so while they were in full time employment.
That means, they have been studying and at the same time contributing to the
socio-economic improvement of the country through paying income taxes, paying
for their kids' education and by being important members of society participating
in developmental activities in their communities. Furthermore, since there is
no bursary or study loan scheme that supports distance students, all of the
graduates have financed their own education.
Open and distance learning has also influenced the social landscape of the
country. The graduates, as professional people in their own right are employed
and adding value to both the social order of their communities and developmental
projects that are taking place in those communities. Since they have gained
knowledge and skills and they are at different level of understanding they assist
in designing strategies that address challenges that face their communities.
The ODL system has also provided solutions to a bigger national problem that
no other system in the country could have handled. The formal education system
in Namibia is designed in such a way that if a grade 10 learner does not meet
the predetermined qualifying points that learner is not allowed to continue
with grade 11 or even to repeat grade 10. Every year thousands of these learners
find themselves in the streets with no prospects of further education or finding
a job. So, the Namibian College of Open Learning is the solution to the problem.
Most of these learners register with NAMCOL, and many times they succeed in
gaining enough points for grade 11 and are able to go back to the conventional
system. Furthermore, learners who fail grade 12 upgrade their points through
NAMCOL to be able to enter vocational training or tertiary education. Without
open and distance learning to cater for these learners the country would have
a large number of young people in the streets, without completing basic education
and without possessing any marketable skills.
Open and distance learning has also contributed to developing best practices
in teaching and learning situations. Those of us in dual mode institutions came
to realize that full time lecturers and professors who have worked with us in
developing study materials and tutorial techniques that are appropriate for
distance learners, they tend to adopt these teaching methods and techniques
and use them for their full time teaching. We found that even the critics of
distance education do utilize the open and distance methodologies in their teaching
activities. I agree with Margo Menconi (2003, p. 105) when he said, “learning
happens both within the group and externally to the group”. Thus, as we
learn and transform our work people outside the system are also learning and
adopting new ways of facilitating learning.
Since the introduction of open and distance learning in Namibia students at
the four public institutions have been increasing which prove that many Namibians
are accessing education. For instance, currently 45% of the University of Namibia
student population is studying at a distance. 99% of CES students are working
and play important roles in their communities. When it comes to addressing developmental
goals therefore these are the people in the forefront of development, many of
them in rural areas where development is most needed.
Moreover, as graduates qualify for the job market they gain employment and
earn a living, thereby improving their livelihoods and that of their communities.
This is especially important for rural areas where subsistence farming is the
main source of income for female-headed households, while `wages in cash' is
the main source of income for male-headed households (Editor: The Namibian Newspaper,
1999). Since 70% of people studying through distance is female, ODL is assisting
in realising the country's equity goals as most female rural professionals will
become wage earners like their male counterparts, who are usually urban based.
Lastly, the contributions of ODL will not be complete without highlighting
how the open and distance mode benefits the individuals who are in remote areas.
Namibia is a vast country (covering over 824, 000km2) with a small population
(1.8 million people) open and distance mode is therefore able to provide knowledge
and skills to all corners of this vast country, `reaching the unreached' thereby
enabling the country to realize education for all goals. People no longer need
to move to educational institutions to seek knowledge and expertise, these are
packaged and brought to them through open and distance learning (Perraton 2000).
ODL contributions to realizing vision 2030
We are told that the knowledge based economy require specialists who can utilize
knowledge in order to bring about development. We are also told that competing
in the global and knowledge-based economy requires skills acquired at tertiary
level (Boshier, 2002). In order to educate people and allow them to think critically
on issues of national importance they need to be provided with skills and opportunities
through a combination of approaches for easy access and active learning. It
has been advocated that knowledge and skills, provided through ODL, would enable
the country to realize Vision 2030 - a national development strategy which has
set Namibia to the road of becoming a developed nation by year 2030.
Namibia has recognised that ODL has the potential to address its educational
and training needs in a cost-effective manner. Furthermore, ODL has the flexibility
to accommodate varying levels of enrolments and the capacity to reach out to
all corners of the country. Additionally, ODL is found to play a key role in
the provision of opportunities for lifelong learning, which is central to the
country's social and economic development agenda (Vision 2030). So, through
ODL the Government has decided to facilitate and make education readily available
to train the human resources needed for the country's knowledge-based economy
The main objective of the Namibian Education Policy promulgated in December
2001 provides for an accessible, equitable, qualitative and democratic national
education service. The realization of such a service has been greatly assisted
by the use of open and distance learning which enabled education to be readily
available to all Namibians regardless of their geographical location and economic
It is further noted that the Namibian workforce is becoming younger and younger.
A significant number of younger people enter the job market right after completing
grade 12. However, in order to move up the corporate ladder they need to obtain
the paper qualifications required. That means taking some sort of courses while
working which can only be accomplished through ODL programmes.
Open and distance learning is thriving in Namibia today because it has been
supported by Government. Both Government and educational institutions realized
that open and distance learning is potent instrument in creating a learning
society capable of bringing about social and economic improvement. Through collaboration
and sharing of resources and expertise there is a change in the mindset of the
population. However, ODL institutions still need to work hard and ensure that
ODL is accorded the recognition and respect similar to that is given to conventional
It should also be mentioned that except for radio and Television, Namibia has
not yet fully integrated technology in the development and delivery of ODL programmes.
Thus, there are no visible contributions from other forms of technology mediated
learning as yet. As such during the 2005 conference ODL practitioners recommitted
themselves to capitalize on the opportunities provided by the Information and
Communication Technologies especially in teaching science and technology courses.
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Marope, Mmantsetsa Toka (2005), Namibia human capital and knowledge development
for economic growth with equity, Africa Region Human Development Working
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McGovern, Sean (1999), Education, modern development and indigenous knowledge:
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Menconi, Margo (2003), “Distance education: In search of a definition”,
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Perraton, Hilary (2000), Open and distance learning in the developing world,
The Editor, (1999), “Did you know?” The Namibian Newspaper,
17 March, p. 5, John Meinert Printing, Windhoek.
The Windhoek Declaration on open and distance learning, produced during the
1st Open and Distance Learning Conference in Namibia, 30th August - 1st September
2005, Windhoek, Namibia.