ICT school integration slow but steady

Concerted efforts are being made to bridge the digital divide in Namibian schools.

09 August 2017 | Education

Namibia's education minister has acknowledged that there are serious concerns about the low integration of information and communication technologies (ICT) at Namibian schools but said numerous committed efforts were under way to change the situation.

At the annual State of Education address last week, Minister Katrina Hanse-Himarwa noted that “ICT penetration, both in terms of access and use, into the school system remains low, with many schools not exposed to ICT at all. Especially schools without electricity are left behind.”

Educators and employment experts warn that ICT skills are crucial and non-negotiable for employment and life in general in the 21st century.

“All professions require ICT skills. Not only professions, but life in general demands knowledge of ICT tools. The ministries of home affairs and health are going digital. So there is a need for the education ministry to produce learners who will fit into society,” says Leo Svotwa, principal of Tanben College.

Jobs Unlimited general manager Gerhard Jansen agrees that “almost every vacancy advertised requires at least a basic level of computer literacy. Even jobs in which you don't necessarily have to sit behind a computer all day require a basic understanding of MS office and other applications.”

He says job applicants who are not computer literate struggle to find jobs.

Jansen adds that with the fast-paced changes in the ICT sector, it is crucial to ensure that learners are not taught out-dated programmes or skills, a situation the minister on Friday said is a tricky aspect of addressing ICT challenges in schools.

“While the ministry has developed strategies to face the sector's challenges, new ones are emerging, and this results in additional priorities,” the minister said.

The minister emphasised that while the education budget would “never be responsible to the targets” of ICT in education programmes, the ministry had nevertheless begun with urgent revisions of ICT in education policies and related implementation plans to ensure the country's ICT education was aligned with global priorities.

She said the ministry was fortunate that “all stakeholders' efforts that support our initiatives in the education sector have been towards facilitating efficient and effective implementation of ICT programmes in education.”

Colette Rieckert, managing director of Windhoek Gymnasium, says that good computing skills today are “like good language skills. Whatever job you do one day, if you have good computer skills, it will always be a huge benefit.”



Things are improving

Hanse-Himarwa on Friday said that even schools that had ICT devices and connectivity struggled to provide learners with the necessary skills and information as “pedagogical use is low due to lack of professional development courses, pedagogical support and lack of ICT-related content.”

The minister said one of the factors influencing the roll-out of widespread and quality ICT education was “an overall lack of adequate ICT training opportunities for teachers, and we have observed that adequate professional development courses are not made available for teachers to utilise ICT in a pedagogically meaningful way.”

Olga Maartens, senior education officer responsible for computer studies, ICT literacy and information and communications at the National Institute for Educational Development (NIED), says in most cases the problem “boils down to not enough computers at schools” or maintenance issues.

She says through her work in training and assisting teachers countrywide, “their complaints were not inadequate skills, but rather inadequate facilities, computers specifically, at schools.”

Nevertheless, Maartens says there are several lines of strategy being employed to resolve ICT issues at schools.

She says often teachers can do more with little, and that they are encouraged to think outside of the box even when there are too few computers.

According to her teachers can make use of mobile devices, which many learners and teachers already own, as a way to engage with students on the subjects.

“Teachers can in so many ways still utilise these, even if learners are not allowed to bring their devices to school. Teachers should start thinking innovatively and implement blended teaching and learning,” she advises.

Maartens says the ministry is also offering workshops for ICT integration to teachers on regional level, and the ministry offers round-the-clock support to teachers and schools on issues related to ICT and computer studies.

JANA-MARI SMITH

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