29 August 2008

Namibian Writers Struggle to Enter Education System

Okahandja — The NIED has this week revealed its process and criteria for allowing prescribed works into the education system.

This came about as a result of complaints by a number of Namibian writers allegedly grossly sidelined in the growing lucrative literature market.

Numerous Namibian books have been written since independence by self-published authors, poets and playwrights at great cost and sacrifice, and they have been struggling to get their works prescribed in the formal education system.

"Any writer and/or existing publishing house has the right to submit books for recommendation consideration by NIED (National Institute for Educational Development) panels at least twice a year. Such books are as a rule scrutinised for educational value and relevance to the curriculum by a panel of experts. If a book is found suitable in that regard it is put on the official text book catalogue yearly made available to all schools in the country," said a senior NIED official, Elizabeth Simanga in an Art/Life interview in her office.

Schools have the option to prescribe these books at their own discretion, depending on the price and the need for such books.

Over the years publishing companies such as Gamsberg McMillan, Elock Printers, Heinemann, Pollination, African Publishers, Oxford Publishers and Edumeds have submitted books to NIED.

"Of late, we have received some book submissions from self-published authors as well, something that needs to be welcomed for consideration by our evaluation committees. In fact, we have just completed the evaluation of one such Namibian book, a drama intended for junior secondary school, God of Women," she said without divulging the outcome of the evaluation.

God of Women is a play by well-known University of Namibia (UNAM) lecturer, Dr Sifiso Francis Nyathi, of late also a publisher.

"Our evaluation panels as a rule look at the best and most suitable books catering for the needs and requirements of the school syllabi. We approve and not prescribe such books. Through our approval, these books end up on the official textbook catalogue from which schools can order such books for use as part of the curriculum," she asserted.

According to her, the evaluation committee has been enlarged to 17 members to accommodate representatives of UNAM, the Polytechnic of Namibia and the four colleges in the country.

Asked why a play-book such as Master Harold and the Boys of South African playwright, Athol Fugard, appears on NIED's textbook catalogue for the past few years, she reacted as follows: "We have to cater for the classics as well in the same way as Namibian books. Learners need to be prepared thoroughly and holistically for global education. We cannot deny them that right."

Simanga agreed that more selected Namibian books should be used in schools because these books can help to expand the growing local literature.

"Many publishing companies face the risk of publishing books that do not get evaluated, either through ignorance or impatience and then sit with the problem of having to sell and promote such books outside the NIED's jurisdiction. Some of them do take the chance, one that we will not recommend," she concluded.

Most self-published Namibian writers, poets and playwrights either pay the publishing costs of their creative products from their own pockets or secure hard-to-find sponsorships for such much-needed publications.

Of late, the National Arts Council is also availing funding for publications as a first bold and progressive move to help stimulate and expand Namibian literature.

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