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Namibia

Educational System—overview

At independence in March 1990, a new teaching and learning paradigm had to be developed that would dismantle the previous regime's policy of segregation and inequality of access and that would reflect the new government's priorities of equity, access, quality, and democracy in education. The National Institution for Education and Development (NIED), one of the branches of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Youth, and Sport, was entrusted with the task of reforming and developing the curriculum, integrating the national language policy with English as the official language. The goal of the new education plan was that all Namibians would acquire basic literacy and numeracy skills and a basic understanding of natural phenomena within a few years. Increased funds were provided for adult and nonformal education, and there were increased educational opportunities for girls. While racial segregation was prohibited, the establishment of private schools, including Afrikaans or German medium schools that appealed mainly to whites, were tolerated by the new government. A new university, the University of Namibia, raised the level of the country's education, and much attention was paid to in-service teacher training as many teachers were ignorant of curriculum and syllabus development, having based their teaching on textbook content. Teachers were encouraged to participate in a democratic education system where both they and their students were creative and proactive.

From 1991 to 1993 the first learners, those in junior secondary schools, were phased into the new system. Senior secondary schools followed in 1994 and 1995. The implementation of the language policy and the phasing in of a new subject per grade per year was followed by upper primary schools from 1993 to 1999. Thus, mathematics was reformed and implemented in grade four in 1993, and it was taught in English from that year on in grades five to seven. Year after year other core and non-core subjects followed. From 1996 to 1999, the NIED, recognizing that lower primary reform was the foundation of schooling, phased in the new curriculum on a per grade per year basis, which included all subjects. In order to involve the parents and provide for their constitutional rights, all syllabi and materials for the first three grades were provided not only in English, but also in nine of the Namibian African languages, as well as German and Afrikaans. External examinations were set on the curriculum for junior secondary schools annually beginning in 1993 and for senior secondary schools beginning in 1995.


Language of Instruction: In the early twenty-first century in independent Namibia, 13 languages were officially recognized. While many belong to similar language families, they are distinct from one another, and retaining their use is the object of much work in the education department. The main languages are 10 national languages of African origin, spoken by the major ethnic groups, along with three languages of European origin (English, Afrikaans, and German).

The indigenous languages of African origin are spoken by an overwhelming majority of Namibians, many of whom can communicate in at least two indigenous tongues as well as English or Afrikaans. The African languages can be broken into two groups, Bantu and Khoe. Among the Bantu languages are those that can be grouped into the Sotho and Nguni language families: Oshikwanyama, Oshindonga, Rukwangali (the dominant language of the five related languages of the Kavango who live in the area of the Okavango River in the north of Namibia), Otjiherero (spoken by the Herero and Ovahimba), Rugciriku, Thimbukushu, Silozi (the language of the Caprivian people who inhabit the eastern end of the Caprivi Strip), and Setswana (a language spoken also by citizens of Botswana and South Africa). The two Khoesan languages recognized in the formal educational system of Namibia are Khoekhoegowab (formerly known as Nama/Damara) and San (also known as Bushman or Ju/'Hoan—the language of the largest Bushman group).

Although it is difficult and costly to have such a multitude of languages, it is important to the Namibian people to retain their cultural diversity, and educating the citizens of the nation is seen as the most important investment the government can make. Thus, in primary schools the national languages are used from grades one to three, and English is the language of instruction beyond grade seven. The Namibian education system encourages schools to offer at least two languages as subjects and to organize extracurricular language activities. Private schools are permitted to use any language throughout the primary cycle.

After independence in 1990, English, spoken only by about 7.0 percent and the mother tongue of only 0.8 percent of the population, became the national language. From 1884 to 1914, when then South-West Africa was colonized by the Germans, German was the official language. About 32 percent of the population spoke German by the year 2000, an important business language. After 1914, when South-West Africa became a South African Trusteeship, Afrikaans became the main official language and the language of instruction from the fourth grade upwards. In 2001 Afrikaans is the common language of most of the population and of about 60 percent of the white population.

The choice to make English the official language was based on international criteria such as unity, acceptability, familiarity, feasibility, science and technology, Pan-Africanism, wider communication, and the United Nations. National criteria, such as ease of learning, cultural authenticity, and the empowerment of the underprivileged, were not really considered, nor was the possibility of choosing a language such as Kiswahili, which is spoken by far more Africans on the African continent and can be more easily learned by Bantu-speaking Namibians than any of the languages of European origin. Consequently, even though most Namibians will never make use of the international contacts their official language gives to them, and even though it is virtually non-existent in many areas, English, the sole medium of communication in all the country's executive legislative and judiciary bodies, is increasingly replacing the Namibian languages in education. Even though Namibia's SWAPO-government is committed to a policy of "Education for All," most international donors, such as the World Bank and the Norwegian government, are not interested in supporting indigenous languages and make their contributions dependant on the use of English in schools. Given this pressure, and despite the findings of recent research that learning in the home language actually creates better competence in another language, Namibian parents often think that learning a local language takes time away from the international language.

This development is of great concern to educators. It indicates that, as the value system of the dominant group is being adopted, there is a corresponding deterioration in the self-esteem of the various speech communities that increasingly regard their community, language, and culture as inferior. It is ironic that in the apartheid system imposed by the South African government, the development of African languages and the publishing of books in these languages received much greater priority than in the present government, which prioritizes the official language to the detriment of the national languages. In the San or Bushman language groups, this issue is intensified. Before independence these groups were given little or no education. Whatever education was available was transmitted in Afrikaans. Today these groups are marginalized by black Namibians and their culture and languages are under threat. There are, however, attempts to develop educational programs geared to the culture of these learners in which teachers travel with children who must go hunting with their parents.


Additional topics

Education Encyclopedia - StateUniversity.comGlobal Education ReferenceNamibia - History Background, Constitutional Legal Foundations, Educational System—overview, Preprimary Primary Education, Secondary Education