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Communication and Information Sector's news service

Learning Outside the Classroom in Namibia

16-11-2004 (Paris)
The traditional model of education is known as a classroom with four walls and a teacher. Over the years this image has changed. In a vast country such as Namibia with a relatively low population of only 1.8 Million inhabitants the task of building schools has met many setbacks. Open as well as distance learning have proven to be viable alternatives.
The UNESCO Office in Windhoek reports on the work of the Namibian College of Open Learning (NAMCOL) that is supported by UNESCO.

“NAMCOL, in its role as a center for open learning, has been in the forefront of meeting this challenge. It has been providing open learning from as early as 1994. ICT in and for education has been identified as a development necessity. It was even identified by the Dakar Framework for Action of April 2000 as one of the main strategies for achieving the education for all goals.

Therefore the recently launched NAMCOL program, which is funded by UNESCO, has the aim of integrating media and technology into the open learning system. This incorporation of ICT is a step in bringing the learning culture even further outside the classroom.

The development of effective ICT supported distance education delivery models and methodologies for NAMCOL and secondary school learners’ is intent on improving the open learning sector. UNESCO funded N$ 400 000 which will be utilized over 14 months. The NAMCOL project is not an isolated initiative but runs concurrently with a similar project in Kazakhstan, Asia. The project will develop and test ICT-supported distance education models and methodologies for secondary schools in disadvantaged areas in Kazakhstan and Namibia. Both projects are part of an effort to test the waters for ICT based distance education, and to gauge whether it viable to be scaled up by the national authorities.

According to the Director of NAMCOL, Ms Frances J Mensah, the center had already begun to explore the opportunities of ICT over the last year. This was done through an “in-house training intervention to extend the capacity of our program developers to convert print-based materials into digital format.” With the new program NAMCOL will be able to further explore the possibilities that the Internet and related technologies provide to the open learning institution. Ms Mensah explained that the small-scale pilot project will focus on the development of digital content in JSC/IGCSE Physical Science (during phase 1) and JSC/IGCSE Mathematics (during phase 2). This will be done as additional support to NAMCOL learners, learners in formal schools as well as interested learners in other parts of the world. The poor examination results over the years as well as the student’s impression that these subjects are difficult are the main reasons why they have been targeted with this intervention.

NAMCOL and UNESCO share some common interest, which make this joint effort mutually beneficial. The mission of UNESCO Windhoek office is to be a vital channel for improving effective collaboration and partnerships especially in response to the needs of its cluster member states in the areas of education, science, communication and culture. This synchronizes with NAMCOL’s mission of “providing wider access to quality educational services for its learners and other customers using a variety of open learning methods”. This is not the only motivation for the partnership. UNESCO, in accordance with the Dakar Education for All Forum, believes that special emphasis should be put on the girl child. With about 68% of their students being girls or women, NAMCOL places similar emphasis on the gender. Given that males are more involved in technology related activities, efforts will be made to explore whether the use of ICT will increase male participation. These gender issues will be considered when the pilot group is being chosen.

Even though the primary aim of this intervention is to increase access to education, it is not the only advantage. Another advantage is that it will reduce the digital divide. A significant portion of the contract will deal with the computer literacy. This will not be confined to students as tutors, teachers and educators will receive similar training. A desired result of this program will be the strengthening of human resources and local capacities, in particular teachers and other basic education providers.

Open and distance learning offer a feasible alternative to the conventional classroom education. With this system a larger amount of students can enjoy the fruits of education without actually having to sit in classes. Open learning offers a degree of flexibility as far as admission requirements, course design and delivery are concerned thus creating a favourable environment for a large number of learners. With the addition of ICT it is hoped that this alternative education will grow from strength to strength. The program will serve as a viable beginning for an education well outside the conventional four walls of a classroom.
Related themes/countries

      · ICT in Education: News Archives 2004
      · Namibia: News Archive
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