Striving for a knowledge based economy

July 12, 2016, 8:43am

 

 

As Government has taken a deliberate move to promote vocational education and also find best ways of making the local graduates appeal to the needs of industry, in a bid to curb runaway unemployment that has been around 28 percent for the past three years, Prime Focus Magazine’s Managing Editor, Tiri Masawi (TM) and Journalist Rosalia David (RD) engages the Deputy Minister of Higher Education Training and Innovation (MHETI) Dr. Becky R.K Ndjoze-Ojo (BNO) to get an insight on the ministry’s roadmap in improving tertiary education. Dr Ndjoze-Ojo also speaks about the plans for the ministry in the future, challenges faced and also how they plan to tackle the issues related to skills deficit in the economy in a manner that will see the country running a knowledge-based economy.

 

TM: Could you please outline the mandate of the Ministry of Higher Education, Training and Innovation when compared to that of the Ministry of Education which was there before its inception?

BNO: May I first all thank you and the Omalaeti Production PTY, Ltd trading as Prime Focus Magazine for thinking that there is something I, as Deputy Minister (DM) of Higher Education Training and Innovation (MHETI), and on behalf of MHETI, have something to contribute to possibly inform the public, to update and thereto, to enrich the education discourse in our beloved country, Namibia. Thank you sincerely.

The Ministry of Higher Education, Training and Innovation (MHETI) came, into existence following the inauguration of Namibia’s third President, Dr. Hage G.  Geingob on the 21st of March 2015. The MHETI derives its legislative mandate from the Supreme law of the Republic of Namibia; The Namibian Constitution, within which is enshrined Article 20 that states that; All persons shall have the right to education. (For further reading see sub article 2,3 and 4)

All the relevant Acts of Parliament such as:

·         Higher Education (HE) Act, 2003 (Act No. 26 of 2003);

·         Vocational and Training Education (VET) Act (Act No. 1 of 2008);

·         Namibia Students Financial Assistance Fund (NSFAF) Act, 2000 No. 291 (Act 26 of 2000);

·         Namibia Qualifications Authority (NQA) Act, 1996 (Act No. 29 of 1996);

·         Research, Science and Technology Act, 2004 (Act No. 23 of 2004), are enabling legislative instruments by which, and within which MHETI’s legislative mandate is enhanced.

MHETI’s underlying mandate is to within this legislative framework outlined above to provide Higher Education; to train in Technical, Vocational Education (TVET), and to Innovate.

Taking into cognisance that knowledge is old, yet recognising that old knowledge could be perceived and tackled in a new way, to create new dimensions of knowledge, it is therefore, possible to argue that MHETI is newly established ministry yet within existing Acts of Parliament, yet distinct from Ministry of Education (MoE) that was there before it.

As someone who has had the privilege to serve as Deputy Minister in both Ministries: MoE (2005- 2010): and now MHETI (2015-to date), and if I am to compare and contrast them, then I shall simply state that MoE was mainly geared towards consolidation, whereas MHETI is mainly aimed at foregrounding Higher Education, Training and Innovation (research and development).

In other words, both MoE and MHETI are similar in that they are both geared towards education provision: and distinct as to their particular focus and intent.
 

TM: Upon your appointment as the Deputy Minister of Higher Education, what are some of the challenges that you identified earlier on, and how has your Ministry worked to address these?

BNO:  First of all may I again use this opportunity to sincerely thank God Almighty for having honoured me with this sacred privilege to serve Him yet again in this capacity, and who has helped me thus far to work as unto God and not unto man.

Secondly, may I thank His Excellency the President, Dr. Hage Geingob, for having thought that there is a something I could contribute to the education landscape and thus, to nationhood of our beloved country Namibia.

When one is appointed as I have been, the greatest challenge is the trust, and that which has been entrusted to me as a consequence of that trust.

 With particular reference to the specific challenges, we as a new team identified, those are not necessarily new.

However, within the newly created discourse of foregrounding Higher Education, Training and Innovation, the challenge is for us to find a correlation between this discourse and the great expectations from the Namibian people.

 We are expected to perceive old knowledge with new vigour, and thereto, to create new knowledge. In fact, the MHETI is tasked with knowledge creation; skills development; equitable funding and access to quality tertiary education.

We are also expected to harness and leverage modern technologies; conducting relevant research leading to innovation and to unleash the human potential and talent that will drive, and accelerate the Namibia’s economic vibrancy,  growth; and competitiveness.

 

New Challenges for Tertiary Education recognise the potential for higher education to contribute to economic, social development and poverty reduction.

Distributing, monitoring and accounting for education financial resources in a manner that favours those who are poor and have been disadvantaged, thereby realising equity is another challenge.

Additional challenges include, inaccessibility of vocational education and training facilities to regions without such facilities; unqualified vocational education and training instructors; non-articulation of the Namibian vocational education and training output to the tertiary education sub-system and to allow graduates to pursue degree courses at higher education institutions. All these challenges need strategic interventions from MHETI and we have our hands on deck to ensure this is done.

TM: With education regarded as a catalyst to the country’s economic transformation, how will the Ministry of Higher Education ensure that more Namibians can access higher education?

BNO: Yes, education is regarded as a catalyst to the country’s economic transformation, however, it is not a panacea to all ills. Nonetheless, Namibia, since independence has worked tirelessly to ensure access for the majority of the Namibian children to education.

 As Namibia continues to work towards universal primary education (UPE), and increasing secondary education coverage, it is continuing to pursue this idea.

Through UPE, Namibia today is expanding the pol of educated youth who will soon make unprecedented demands for higher education opportunities. The challenge is thus in a continuum. 

 In order to meet this challenge, it is critical for MHETI to understand the status of higher education; its governance, its financing, the quality and quantity of input and output. Hence, our intention to transform and expand higher education opportunities for Namibians at tertiary and vocational training institutions.

TM: The transformation of the Polytechnic of Namibia to the Namibia University of Science and Technology (NUST) has left a void in terms of an institution that can train individuals who are not academically or practically inclined. How does the Ministry aim to address this issue?

BNO: It is extremely important to contextualise the transformation of the former Polytechnic of Namibia (PoN) into the Namibia University of Science and Technology (NUST) within the evolution of Higher Education in Namibia. For instance, at independence in 1990, our focus as the then emerging independent African nation, was to set-up new institutions of higher education that will address and redress the anomaly of Namibia’s education system prior to independence.

For example, there was not a single university in the entire country. Yes indeed, there was the Academy that was a semblance of a university, but that was in essence, a college of higher learning that awarded mainly certificates and diplomas but could not award degrees.

The Academy had a technical arm, the Technicon, that provided technical and to a limited extent, vocational training.

It also had a College of Out of School Training (COST) that served as a bridge between secondary school and higher education.

With the establishment of the University of Namibia (UNAM) by an Act of Parliament No. 8 of 1992 as the first, one and only national university of Namibia, it was then expected that the time had come for Namibia to have a university that will mainly award academic university degrees and to a limited extent certificates and diplomas as bridging qualifications to such degrees. For example, if UNAM was developing a Bachelor of Education (B.Ed.) degree, then there was a justification found to upgrade this with a Higher National Certificate in Education (HNCE).

Students, particularly teachers, were admitted to UNAM to pursue a (HNDE) as bridging qualification to a B.Ed. etc.

The Technicon and COST were amalgamated and transformed into the PoN. The PoN was mainly expected to provide that technical arm, yet linking the school-leavers to higher technical education that may start with a certificate and or National Diploma in Police Training and or any other qualification leading to a technical degree for example, the B.Tech. Degree etc.

It is against this elaborate genesis of higher education in Namibia that I wish to juxtapose your question. In juxtaposition thereto, and within this context therefore, I wish to state that appropriate transformation of institutions have been with us since independence, and as expected, transformative by  virtue of being  transformative and  thus, by cause  and effect, often and indeed  effect change.

Change as we know is not static but dynamic. Thus, transformation of yesterday are but challenges of today, and will often require even more transformation.

We, at MHETI are delighted at the prospects of the transformation of the PoN to NUST because in such lies a more focused niche for Science and Technology that should be at the center of our subsequent National Development Agenda (NDA).

This NDA should become the engine and must propel economic growth for vibrant, forward-looking, innovative Industry linked training in Namibia. There is need for with a futuristic trajectory as it co-opts and absorbs well-trained trainees and students, tailored to industry specifications, in collaborative ventures between industry and NUST and between the combination of the two and MHETI.

 There are thus exciting prospects, and processes being put in place to ensure this NDA is realised for the prosperity of all Namibians.

As to the void referred you in your question, our hands as a team at MHETI are on deck to ensure that such void is immediately and adequately filled.

 In fact, one of own key focus as set out in the Harambee Prosperity Plan (HPP) is to dominantly  focus on Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) that is  aimed at training Namibian youth who wish to embark on such studies.

It suffices to add that subsequently, MHETI is and shall continue to work tirelessly on ensuring that the Namibian Education System shall no longer limp but run in a balanced way, on two equally appreciated legs namely, that of TVET and the Academic leg. In fact, TVET transformation and as we shall develop it, shall no longer be regarded as being for those that are ‘so-called’ not academically inclined, but by all the youth of Namibia who chose to follow TVET as a credible option rather than a second-hand option.

We at MHET envisage a transformed and attractive TVET with clearly-defined articulation across the board to enable the youth to access TVET, yet if they so wish, to access Higher Academic Education via the TVET route and vice versa. Both TVET and academic are equal and shall be treated as such.

The Minister of MHETI Dr. Itah Kandji – Murangi during the UNESCO general conference in Paris requested the Director General of UNESCO to assist us with her best to infuse a stronger TVET arm into the Namibian education system.

TM: Could you outline the short and long term objectives of your Ministry?

BNO: The first thing that we did as a team was to put up the structure of MHETI and the establishment.

 For this, we needed the support of the Public Service Commission. The costing of positions in line with financial resources as budgeted for and always keeping it within the financial ceiling.

 The long-term objectives of the Ministry of Higher Education, Training and Innovation are consolidated in our strategic plan. It is this document that provides the strategic direction and framework for the period namely, 2016-2020.

This strategic direction is aimed at fulfilling the mandate and achieve the Ministry’s vision, mission and strategic objectives.

The five strategic themes and corresponding strategic objectives, programmes and initiatives, address education, training and innovation in priority areas of Namibia. In particular, the themes emphasise the legislative and regulatory framework, and governance research and innovation institutional capacity building, stakeholders’ relations management and equitable and accessible education.

Holistically, these themes are aimed at producing technical and high-level skilled human resources who contribute to the economic growth and sustainable development in Namibia.

To have clearly defined national agenda that will, through public and private partnership and shared funding, build effective and efficient systems in the country. Through such collaborative efforts and collective genius, MHETI is expected to and shall provide affordable education for a prosperous Namibia.

TM: Over the last year that you have been in office, would you say that your Ministry has received sufficient backing, financial and otherwise, to enable it to fulfil its mandate?

BNO: The fact that this new Ministry was established to focus on HETI is in itself a demonstration of political will. Yes MHETI is in its formative years. It still needs to put basically everything in place from scratch.

I am grateful for what we have managed to achieve during the last financial year and trust that we will continue to drive the system to a maximum achievement and improve both education quality and student success rates.

 There is need for a constant debate and consultation with industry players to find the best way to continuously improve the quality of graduates produced in the country in a manner that appeals to the latest industrial needs.

 

TM: With the escalating tuition fees of tertiary institutions, how does the ministry of higher education aim make sure the few individuals who are eligible for acceptance at these universities do not get turned away because of lack of funds?

BNO: The Government of the Republic of Namibia through the MHETI funds tertiary education to the ratio of 50 percent of their budgets particularly to assist students. The Ministry continued to strive towards expanding training opportunities for Namibian people and especially, our youth, improving the skills base of the workforce, and overcome inequalities in support of an inclusive growth path.

TM: What role does your ministry expect vocational institutions to play in developing skills for Namibians especially considering the high number of school leaving individuals who are not eligible for acceptance at the country’s main universities?

BNO: Vocational institutions by design are skills training and updating institutions should deal with aligning such skills to industry needs and demands. MHETI therefore has the greatest expectations the TVET centres shall live up to this expectations. We are also in the process of targeting specific interventions that will address the needs of school-leavers to facilitate their access to TVET centres. For example, the TVET in Kavango Region [Rundu] shall specialise in woodcarving where as the one in Erongo region [NIMT] shall specialise in mining related training. The one in Omaheke Region [Gobabis] or Oshana may specialise in cow hides leather-related industries such as making leather goods such as sandals shoes, (veldskoene).

TM: With the world moving ever closer to a technogical way of doing things; How has the Ministry of Higher Education incorporated or utilised new technologies in the execution of its mandate?

BNO: As we transform TVET, the utilisation of new technologies is surely anticipated.

Another important area is Research, Science, Technology and Innovation (RSTI). STI as developed with in SADC shall be used as a developmental tool for social advancement.

Discourse is ongoing regardging how best to develop new and relevant scientific technologies and innovative processes and organisations to drive this import into the MHETI’s operation.

TM: Where would you like to leave the MHETI at the end of your tenure?

BNO: I had always believed that education is a continuum and key to our cognitive potential to perceive old things with new vigours from new vintage points.

The Namibian philosophy of education at independence was anchored on five tenets of access, quality, equity, efficiency and effectiveness. With democracy all along the past 26 years of existence as an independent nation, we had relentlessly pursued this philosophy.

In other words, what we did, we were attempting to provide education of equity and democracy, improved planning and governance of these institutions through capacity building and knowledge sharing and communication. Expanding access to technical and vocational education and training through the establishment of centres in each of the political regions and also to enhance instructors training.

TM: Would you say that Namibia as a nation has done enough in terms of developing its higher education structures to cater for Namibians of different abilities?

BNO: Yes, I would say so. However, what is enough in terms of developing higher education structures? Because, enough of today in actual fact could be synonymous with the inadequacies of tomorrow. 

It is true that the Government from its inception had tried to bring equality to Namibians through education because we as a nation believe, and I do concur, that education is the best equaliser as Nelson Mandela once opined, and we should use it as such.

Namibia is a unitary state but with diversified communities and even within communities with people with diverse needs and different abilities. Therefore our education structures should be diversified in such a way so as to cater for those needs in a multifaceted way.

 

TM: The Government has taken a deliberate move to pump money into VTCs as a measure to improve skills, do you think there is enough capacity in terms of teaching staff to drive all the vocational institutions in the country?

The Government of the Republic of Namibia had, over the years, spent huge sums of money on education. However, it was soon discovered that the high spending on education was not commensurate to the educational outcomes, and that something needed to be done about it.

Hence, the Education Training Sector Improvement Programme ETSIP, a 15-year reform programme from 2005 to 2015. ETSIP recommended greater improvement in vocational training and an act of Parliament of VET Act 1 of 2008 was promulgated by Parliament to regulate TVET. Thereto, the Namibia Training Authority (NTA) was set up as a regulatory body to particularly implement a 1 percent levy from industry.

It is against this background that the Government has taken a deliberate move to put (not to pump) financial resources into VET to improve and update skills of artisans according industry’s specifications, so that the artisans could be more hands-on and productive in the industry.

Thereto, the improvement of trainees and graduates from TVET; and instructors’ training is a continuous process that shall enjoy MHETI’s attention for a long time.

TM: In other countries pupils are in introduced to technical subjects which act as a conveyer belt for vocational education while they are still in the lower and upper levels of primary education. Do you feel that this will work in Namibia to benefit those that are not academically inclined?

In cognitive terms there are actually no people that are academically inclined and others not. All depends on conditioning, learning and exposure. We therefore, need maximum, diversified and broader exposure.

Cabinet, at its third meeting, approved the curriculum reform for basic education and the eight year implementation of the curriculum. The basic education structure also shows that from the junior secondary phase the curriculum is diversified with a predominant academic stream. This means that most schools will offer academic and pre-vocational/technical and home science subjects.

 At the end of the ninth grade, learners will write junior secondary semi-national exams. This means that examinations will be set and moderated centrally but marked in the regions [Semi-national examinations]. This means that examinations regions. Semi-national examinations will be carried out for quality assurance purposes. Promotion of learners to the senior secondary phase will be based on national promotion criteria.

Grade 11 is the first exit point in the senior secondary phase. Learners will get internationally recognised National Senior Secondary Certificate Ordinary. NSSCO (ordinary) Learners may choose to continue to Grade 12, tertiary institutions or job market. Upon completing Grade 12 school-leavers will have an internationally recognised certificate, National Senior Secondary Certificate Higher Level NSSCH (higher), which gives them access into higher education institutions or the job market.

TM: How many vocational training schools does your Ministry plan on setting up in the next five years and do you think that Namibia has made enough ground to create technical skills that are needed by industry through vocational training?

From the onset, I must state that TVET is our new focus and priority. We at MHETI felt we needed to do something about TVET as of yesterday. Hence, the first visits to the regions by Hon. Minister Dr. Itah Kandjii Murangi and I, were around TVET. The Hon. Minister went to some and I went to others. Our visits were aimed at assessing TVET countrywide, in terms of what is in place, what needs to be put in place and according to their specifications, where such facilities should be set up and our findings inform our subsequent intervention in TVET. There are six (VTC’s) in the country. That leaves us with a deficit of eight VTCs. We need to build an additional eight if every region is to have one VTC.

For this financial year, we plan to build two new VTCs and upgrade and renovate existing identified old buildings to help stop the gap while we plan additional centres for the next financial year.

Maybe one would acknowledge that not enough ground has been broken to create technical skills of artisans and craftsman needed by industry through TVET. Nonetheless, credible efforts have been made to regulate TVET through NTA and to have productive conversations between MHETI and industry. These productive conversations are expected to produce results and are ongoing.

TM: Are there any additional remarks you would like to make with regards to the Ministry’s prospects or its operations going forward?

BNO: Whatever we do, we build on what exists. The Constitution of the Republic Of Namibia is the grand vision of Namibia. It is against this grand vision that all other Visions, Plans and Projects find expression. Grand Vision, Vision 2030, NDP4 and Harambee Prosperity Plan all denote an integrated development approaches in the framework of sustainable development. In this approach, TVET.

Education, Science and Technology, as well Innovation (STI) systems are expected to address multiple demands, with economic, social and environmental nature. This is also in line with the impetus set by the international community through the Agenda 2030.

The Ministry aims to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all, the Ministry of Higher Education, Training and Innovation, in cooperation with UNESCO and the International Labour Organization (ILO), carried out a scoping exercise in its three functional areas namely higher Education, Training and Innovation between 18 to 28 April that culminated in the validation workshop of 20 to 21 June 2016. The Final report to inform the transformation and expansion of TVET and STI. Encompassing issues at the nexus of cross-cutting objectives such as economic growth, entrepreneurial development and employment creation, amongst others, will be the underlying considerations. Such a systemic integrated approach will highlight new and sometimes overlooked opportunities which are needed to achieve the broader development objectives such as poverty eradication.

Another important highlight is the first ever Namibia National Skills Competition and Exposition, which is to take place at the Ramatex Complex from the 14th-17th September 2016. A national skills competition which is to serve as a platform from which to select Namibia’s competitors to represent the country at the next World Skills International competition and an exposition in which credible and accredited local and international technical and vocational training institutions are going to participate and share information about their institutions and course offerings to Namibians, wishing to embark a career path within the VET sector.

The MHETI and NTA support the promotion of technical and vocational training career paths among Namibians, we should create new pathways; vertical and horizontal articulation challenge societal perception and under which such career path are stigmatised as low status option, with limited prospects for career advancement.

In conclusion, what we aim to leave behind as a team is to have reviewed particularly technical and vocational education and training; higher education; science, technology and innovation (STI); and to have taken informed decisions on the issues reviewed and having done that to provide a new trajectory of looking at TVET with dignity and thereto facilitate a well-balanced education that runs on equally-important two legs. It is my hope that by the end of term of office we would have ensured that every region has a contextualised VCT that recognises prior learning and generic knowledge and that certifies those with such knowledge eg the woodcarvers of Okavango and that tabs on natural available resources for VCT products that encourages regional consumption utilisation and beyond. We look forward to the implementation of TVET as proposed in HPP 10. MHETI’s prospects and operations going forward should be anchored on a successful transformation and expansion of VCTs with improved image and quality that allows for apprenticeship and funding so that the craftsmen and artisans we produce shall be attractive to industry. We hope to, upon the final analysis, have added an extra brick and an extra mortar on the foundation that has been laid since our independence in line with and according to our philosophy of education as a country. We must equalise through education.