14 June 2013

Namibia: How ICT Could Develop Education


INFORMATION and Communication Technology (ICT) has become a key ingredient in the various aspects of global development.

A rapid expansion of infrastructure, as well as services and applications, has made ICT an essential part of today's societies, both in the developing and developed countries. However, ICT takes different forms and functions in different parts of the world. Namibia has a growing appetite for data, to provide for high speed Internet, e-commerce, e-learning, e-health, e-business register, e-law, e-policing, e-prescription, e-governance, data ICT, and cloud computing, video and voice services.

As a country Namibia formulated a long-term vision, called Vision 2030 that reflects the hopes and aspirations of the people. This overarching vision is to have a prosperous and industrialized nation by 2013. The 4th National Development Plan (NDP4) is formulated to realize Vision 2030 and it has an entire key results area, which is expected to create a knowledge-based economy and a technology-driven nation.

ICT offers tools and systems that can improve planning, administration and management of education at local regional and national levels. Mobile applications, databases and electronic networks can be used to enable a more efficient management of the education system. Communication tools can help ensure that policies and directives are followed through at all levels of the education system, as well as improving its responsiveness to local realities.

Many developing countries have an educational management information system in place, and more can be done to explore the educational potential of mobile telephony for development and free and open source software. ICT further enables the development of new forms of learning, such as flexible and collaborative learning, combining innovative technological tools. ICT can also be used for more inclusive education, from lifelong learning for adults and training programmes for out of school youth to open courseware and open access to quality education.

In a developing country, the technological tools must be carefully assessed to fit local circumstances like locally relevant content, while paying close attention to financial, social, and cultural contexts. ICT for education can support a number of vital functions such as educational administration, student access to education, and teacher up-skilling. ICT also carries the potential to connect marginalized regions of the world with the wider educational and scientific community, thus leapfrogging development.

The Internet started within the academic community, in the spirit of freethinking and sharing knowledge. These are core values for development in our interconnected world. Namibia has a good ICT infrastructure in place and various institutions in terms of equipment, skills and systems use this. For example, we have got the West African Cable system (WACs) housed in Swakopmund - this system has led to improvements in respect to increased data speed, voice quality and video conferencing, 4G availability countrywide and the migration from analogue to the digital broadcasting (Digital Terrestrial Transmission) project, which is currently underway at the NBC.

Therefore, it is very easy for the country to transform from manual to digital literacy in order to fully utilize the potential of ICT. Sufficient numbers of the population need to have the skills to explore and exploit technological developments. Access to ICT is but the first step in a long process of capacity development, the overall aim of which should be digital inclusion.

Some social groups are more prone to acquire digital skills e.g. young people, students, and professionals, while others are likely to fall behind e.g. the elderly, uneducated, and unemployed sections of the population. A concerted effort must therefore be made for digital literacy at the early stages of education, not least to ensure that the introduction of ICT will narrow rather than widen social inequalities.

Access and the usage of ICTs in education is no longer a privilege of a few, but it should be viewed as a basic human right, especially for the digital citizen (school-going children).

Finally, I recommend, more resources should be made available for human resources, capacity building and ICT equipment, and extended network access and power supply to remote areas for support and implementation of ICT in education.

- Dr Moses Amweelo is a Swapo Party Member of Parliament, who is also the Chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on ICT.

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