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Following independence, the Namibian government saw primary education reform as a principal means of investing in human capital to promote socioeconomic development. This paper analyzes the efforts made during the first five years of the reform program. While emphasis on structural change, learner-centered education, and universality provided strong foundations for a democratic educational system, a difficult medium of instruction policy and insufficient attention to gender equity delayed a comprehensive transformation. This analysis calls for greater educator participation in implementing the pedagogical approach, altering the language-of-instruction policy, greater gender equity in resource allocation, and greater attention to sex and AIDS education.
The achievement of Namibian independence on March 21, 1990, brought an end to over a century of exploitation and the subjugation of the majority of the Namibian population. After years of leading the revolution against the apartheid-backed governing regime, the South West African People's Organization (SWAPO) came to power as the governing party in the state's first, post-independence government. The government set out to reverse the effects and practices of state-sanctioned inequality and minority privilege. The state's principal objectives were national reconciliation, the socioeconomic development of the country and its population, and the integration of Namibia in the economy and community of nations.
The SWAPO government recognized that an educated population stood as the crucial requirement for Namibian development (Namibia 1993d). Investment in human development, therefore, became a primary focus of the party and state following independence. Seen from this position, it is only with a self-sustaining, healthy, and educated population and labor force that a state can overcome external dependency, efficiently operate its capital infrastructure, develop industries, and promote economic growth. This paper analyzes Namibia's progress toward education reform during the early years of statehood.
Once SWAPO took power, it developed and began implementing a plan for educational reform that embraced learners, targeted the material of education toward pragmatism and relevance to pupils, and truly invested in human capital development rather than indoctrination. Given the international attention which the country's struggle for independence drew, the government's objectives of reconciliation and development, and the democratic zeal of the population, development agencies and organizations from around the world eagerly established projects to assist the state in its transformation efforts. This examination draws upon a combination of policy documents, site visits, and interviews to analyze the country's methodology and effectiveness of these efforts. This analysis ends with an assessment of Namibia's reform program and its theoretical foundations and offers suggestions for future policy alterations that could help the state better meet the needs of the Namibian population.
The Post-Independence Transformation of the Education System
Several scholars have written about Namibia's pre-independence education system, detailing its ideological propagandizing, institutional dis crimination, dependence on rote memorization of the canon, and alienation of both pupils and educators (Ellis 1984; Mbamba 1985; O'Callaghan 1977; Salia-Bao 1991). It is clear that the education system which SWAPO inherited from South Africa was distinctly dehumanizing. By 1990 Namibia faced many challenges in economic, political, and social spheres. What set education apart from other sectors of government efforts was the philosophical perspective of government leaders. Toward Education for All (Namibia 1993d), a policy briefing presenting the Ministry of Education and Culture's plan for education reform, showed that the state saw education as a means through which to address the ills of the nation. The document explicitly stated that "education for all is ... central to the national development strategy" (Namibia 1993d: 2). Such a focus on education as a driving force of development stemmed from a long tradition among regimes, particularly those with socialist leanings, in African countries following independence.(1)
The government made no secret of its assumption that education would contribute to the development of human capital. Although one could argue that the South African governing administration did this too, its methods of rote learning and hierarchical educational structure ensured the system's dependency upon the state and its institutions. This provided for both overt and internalized oppression of the majority population. Furthermore, South Africa's plan of dependency required big government, something Namibia's limited resources could not sustain. With a goal of national development, big government rejected as a feasible option, and an orientation toward promoting the interests of the entire population,(2) SWAPO initiated its term as the principal governing party with the transformation of the apartheid-styled ethnic authority structure into a democratic and pro-development education system.(3) Paulo Freire, a leader in the field of education reform for traditionally oppressed groups, has written that,
[t]he important thing, from the point of view of liberating education, is for men to come to feel like masters of their thinking and views of the world explicitly or implicitly manifest in their own suggestions and those of their comrades. (Freire 1970:118)
SWAPO recognized the value of such an approach and implemented it into its development structure for Namibia's educational system. "For learning to be liberating," the Ministry wrote, "it must involve developing both a critical consciousness and a solid sense of self-confidence" (Namibia 1993d: 15). Throughout the document the Ministry reinforced its commitment to developing systematic inquiry and problem-solving skills as well as an educational focus on the organization and management of work rather than the deposition of facts and figures that will serve little functional purpose in the life of the learner. These Freirean ideals were in line with the objectives of liberation and self-determination held by other post-independence regimes in Southern Africa, most notably ZANU in Zimbabwe and Frelimo in Mozambique. Unfortunately, despite early efforts in both of these countries toward developing new syllabi and course materials incorporating this approach, each quickly reverted back to an education system with little applicability to learners' realities and the dependence on rote learning (Hanlon 1990; Pape 1998; Stoneman and Cliffe 1989). Having observed such patterns in neighboring countries, Namibia became proactive in implementing these reforms in its schools and establishing institutions and partnerships to continue in this vein.
The sections below probe aspects of the nation's early transformation of the education system with a focus on how it attempted to achieve these goals. The analysis encompasses 1) the radical, structural change in the educational philosophy and practice; 2) the development of student/ teacher relations with an emphasis on "learner-centered" education, and 3) the universal approach of relating to all peoples of Namibia.
Freire (1970) argued that upon seizing power, formerly subjugated people must not simply introduce the oppressive management and control hierarchy of an inequitable system into the new, horizontal institutions. Such a move would simply transpose the power dynamic without changing it. Pape argued that ZANU's policy objective of "maintain[ing] an education system of high quality in respect of both its organization and content" (1998: 256) resulted in its failure to eliminate Zimbabwe's class disparity --thus diverging, in practice, from Freirean theory. In the Namibian case, such a transposition of the power dynamic would have manifested itself through the provision of the resources formerly available to white students to all pupils of the state. This would have done little to counter the oppression and dependency created by the state through the curriculum and could have exacerbated domestic conflict. Furthermore, even if desirable, it would have been prohibitively costly. Instead, the realignment of the national mind-set required a radical structural change in the material and institutions of education. In the words of the Ministry of Education and Culture, "... education for all means more than increasing the number of children in school ... [it] also means replacing the philosophy and practices of education suitable for educating the elite with a new philosophy and practices appropriate for providing education for all our citizens" (Namibia 1993d: 5-6). To implement this, the Ministry changed the philosophy and practices used in educating the elite to those appropriate to provide critical life skills to all, regardless of their background.
The country's constitution established the …