Sabo A. Indabawa

The history of higher education in Namibia is inextricably linked to that of the country itself, which suffered numerous disadvantages due to past injustices, particularly during the apartheid period, before independence in March 1990. After independence, efforts were made to build a higher education system, which would once again offer opportunities for higher level training of citizens without regard to racial and other unegalitarian considerations. Thus what may now count as the higher education sub-sector consists of one University, one Polytechnic, four Colleges of Education, the Namibian College of Open Learning and an array of Vocational Training Centres spread across the country. This paper examines the establishment of the Department of Adult and Nonformal Education, University of Namibia. The Department was founded to help to cater for the professional training needs of adult educators and trainers in government and non-governmental institutions and contexts. – Dr Sabo Indabawa is Associate Professor and Head of the Department of Adult and Nonformal Education, Faculty of Education, University of Namibia, Windhoek. Previously, he worked at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. Together with colleagues, he is currently editing a book on the status of adult education in Africa. He is supported by a good number of African and international scholars, who are contributing a substantial number of case studies. The book will be available by the end of 2000. Those who are interested should write to the editor of this journal for a copy – as long as stocks last.

University Adult Education Development in Namibia

Founding of the Department

In order to implement its Mission, the University of Namibia (UNAM) has set up academic and service units and has mounted a variety of programmes leading to academic and professional qualifications from Diploma to doctoral levels in various disciplines. Currently, the University has a total of seven Faculties, five Centres and 26 Departments. One of the Faculties is the Faculty of Education, which has six Departments. The latest is the Department of Adult and Nonformal Education, also called DANFE. This Department was formally founded in December 1997 with the appointment of its first Head, who was later joined by a second member of staff in February 1998, before the commencement of its activities in March 1998 and the start of formal teaching activities in January 1999. The major rationale for establishing the new Department was clearly stated by the University Vice Chancellor on the occasion of its formal inauguration when he said:

“The Department was established to address some of the key problems which faced our nation (Namibia) at the onset of independence: the problems of adult illiteracy and inequity in access to education ... (which is) the key to prosperity and human advancement ... The Department was indeed conceived in an attempt to achieve justice and fairness in the delivery of education to the people in post-apartheid Namibia...”

The Department was given the task of developing and offering both academic and service programmes in the areas of adult and nonformal education. The target was to produce qualified Namibians who would take positions in government and non-governmental agencies requiring professional qualifications. These programmes were previously available only from institutions outside the country, with all the inherent implications of this, including the need to commit scarce financial resources for such training.

Programme Development

In order to develop the intended programmes, the University agreed to conduct a nationwide training needs assessment survey. The purpose was to interact with key role-players and stakeholders in adult education and training in Namibia. These were located in government ministries, departments and non-governmental organisations spread throughout the 13 political and seven educational regions of the country. This was a marked departure from the past, when university programmes had been developed by experts, often in their offices, without any reference to the realities on the ground. In many cases, a lot of time and resources had been expended, only for programmes to fail to meet the needs of the target groups or institutions. Under the new approach, the desire was to create truly Namibian programmes determined by practitioners to be relevant and appropriate to their needs. The process served to link the University with society through consultation, needs assessment and negotiation.


Consultations relating to the Department started from the time when the University was founded in 1992. Because of the unceasing requests for experts in adult and nonformal education received by the University, the Faculty of Education and individual academic staff, consultations were carried out on the need to have a Department of Adult and Nonformal Education. Some of these were purely informal, and others formal. One of the main steps was the establishment of an Adult and Nonformal Education Unit in the then Department of Comparative Education (now Educational Foundations and Management). This initiative was only in name, but it served to energise thinking about the creation of a Department itself. A second step in this direction was the opinion expressed by the Faculty Board of Education in 1996 on the need for a Department. In response, the University administration consulted the Ministry of Basic Education and Culture and relevant units within the University. Also, one academic staff member of the Faculty of Education was asked to make contacts with sister universities in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and elsewhere in Africa about the intention to found the Department. Finally, the University decided to formally establish t¹e Department. It sought clearance from Government and by December 1997 two academic posts were allocated to the new Department in the budget of the Faculty of Education for that year.

Needs Assessment

The focus of the needs assessment survey was on programme development. At the start, the University provided funds for nationwide contacts and interaction for a period of 40 days. In order to prepare for the needs assessment activity, two data collection instruments were developed. The first was a questionnaire entitled “Training Needs in Adult Education Questionnaire for Heads of Agencies” (TNAQ). The second was another questionnaire called “Training Needs in Adult Education Questionnaire for Adult Educators”(TNQAE).

After these instruments had been tested and refined, the field work commenced in the first week of March, in Windhoek, and ended in the first week of April 1998 in Keetmanshoop. In each station, interviews with institutional heads and focus group meetings with adult educators were conducted. By the end, 20 institutional heads had been interviewed and 294 adult educators had been assisted to fill out the questionnaires.

ýrom the field work, we returned to the University and started the data analysis. A period of two weeks was spent on this task. At the end, a report on the needs assessment was compiled. The data generated were used in identifying the 10 most salient issues for programme development:

  1. Types and numbers of organisations involved in adult education and training in Namibia
  2. Number and characteristics of the personnel engaged in adult education and training in Namibia (it was found that most of the adult education practitioners did not have relevant professional qualifications)
  3. Type of adult education and professional training and service (i.e. nonformal, outreach) programmes required for the professional handling of adult education work
  4. Content of the proposed programmes, especially core and subsidiary course elements necessary for professional training of adult educators and trainers
  5. Levels and types of qualifications needed by professional adult educators and trainers
  6. The most helpful ways of organising the university adult education and training programmes, especially the relation between theoretical and practical components of the programmes
  7. Mode of delivery of the proposed programmes
  8. Possible sources of sponsorship for participants in the programmes
  9. Duration and timing of the proposed programmes, especially whether part-time or full-time
  10. Commencement of the University adult education programmes

These findings guided the programme development process. The Faculty of Education administration organised a Faculty Retreat meeting to consider the report and the proposed academic and service programmes. Simultaneously, the Department commenced the planning of a national consultative workshop with the aim of reporting back the findings of the survey to the role-players and stakeholders. These steps set the tone of the negotiations that followed.


Negotiation complemented consultation and needs assessment. This was at two levels, in the University and with role-players and stakeholders from the wider Namibian community of adult educators and trainers. The negotiation at UNAM started with the Faculty Retreat meeting, where a team of academic staff from the Faculty met representatives of relevant government institutions for two days to discuss the proposed programmes. This resulted in some modifications.

After the Faculty Retreat, negotiations were held within the Faculty Board, the Academic Planning Committee, and the University Senate, which met in October 1998. The Senate approved the programmes, with appreciation and commendation.

Outside UNAM, a national consultative workshop was held on June 30, 1998, at which 40 participants examined both the needs assessment survey report and the proposed programmes. It was agreed by the assembly that the report was a correct reflection of what respondents were saying in the field. It was also suggested that any University programme to be developed should henceforth undergo a similar pattern of development.

The issue of scholarships was also raised. In consequence, approaches were made by the Department to several international agencies and institutions for support. The Institute for International Cooperation of the German Adult Education Association (IIZ/DVV) gave the first positive response. It offered funds for basic equipment, books and scholarship grants for students. To date, a total of about 100 students have benefited from grants, which have helped them considerably in their studies. Similarly, the Department is one of the best equipped in the entire University. The Institute also funded the publication of the needs assessment survey and workshop reports in 1999.

Feedback received relating to the duration of the programmes suggests that it is not possible for adult educators in government establishments to obtain leave for between two and four years’ full-time study at the University. The options are therefore either to reduce the number of years or to offer the programmes in the distance mode. The latter option has been accepted, and the Department, in collaboration with the University’s Centre for External Studies, has now started development of the necessary course materials.

Service to Society

This is the story of how consultation, needs assessment and consultation mechanisms have been used for effective programme development in the Department of Adult and Nonformal Education, University of Namibia. It is living testimony of how UNAM tries to serve Namibian society by trying to achieve its stated goals of Education, Service and Development. Since the establishment of the new Department, steps have been taken to respond to society’s needs and aspirations through teaching, research and community service.


After the inauguration of the Department on February 18, 1999, two programmes were introduced, namely the Diploma and the B.Ed., in which pioneer Year 1 classes of 40 and seven were enrolled respectively. In the year 2000 session, Years 2 of both programmes were added. In addition, students were also admitted to the M.Ed and Ph.D. programmes. At the moment, The Department has four academic programmes. These are indicated in the table on page 300.

Currently (2000), the total student population is 128. It is interesting to note that of the total number of students, about 70% are females. Also, 96% of those enrolled are Namibians, coming largely from the northern “disadvantaged areas”. Many of the students are drawn from government agencies, including the police force. Others are from non-governmental organisations. The rest are secondary school leavers without any previous work experience.

Programme profile

S/No.  Programme  Duration  Current enrolment
1. Diploma in Adult Education & Community Development
Years 1 & 2
2 years 105
2. B.Ed. (Adult Education)
Years 1 and 2
4 years 15
3. M.Ed. (Adult Education) 2 years 05
4. Ph.D. (Adult Education)
by research only
3-5 years 03

It is interesting to note that the content of the courses on offer in the Department is largely based on the Namibian context and professional training needs. Also, the Ph.D. programme is the only programme at that level in the Faculty of Education at the moment, although efforts are under way to introduce doctoral programmes in sister Departments as well.

In order to fulfil the pledge to offer the programmes in the distance mode and to widen access to all Namibians, all staff members are now engaged in materials development work in collaboration with the Centre for External Studies. The distance teaching of the Diploma is expected to start in the year 2001, and the distance B.Ed. will follow later.

Another definite indicator of success is the sessional examination results of the Department for the 1999 session. Pass rates of 96% and 100% for the Year 1 of the Diploma and the B.Ed. programmes were recorded.


In the area of research, the Department has also made some modest efforts. Firstly, each of the staff members is engaged in research work. Some of the outcomes were presented at Faculty of Education seminars in 1998 and 1999. Others have been published in books and journals. On a wider scale, the Department is engaged in a nationwide “Impact Study Project on Improving Nonformal Basic Education Programmes in Namibia”. The project is being funded by UNESCO through the Educational Research Network for Eastern and Southern Africa (ERNESA).

The results of the first known nationwide training needs assessment survey in the country have, as mentioned above, been published in book form with financial assistance from the IIZ/DVV. This book, and the anticipated outcome of the UNESCO project, may help to extend the frontiers of adult and nonformal education scholarship in Africa. The policy-making community of Namibia and other practitioners may also benefit from the data generated in these studies. There is also further research work going on in the Department.

Community Service

Under this sub-heading, the Department has made some modest efforts. Within the University, the Department ensures that adult education has a voice in several committees and structures. Outside UNAM, the Department also serves many interest groups and institutions through advice and consultancy. For example, the Department represents the University on the Advisory Board of the Certificate in Education for Development (CED) offered by the Namibian College of Open Learning (NAMCOL). As a result, efforts are now under way to link the CED with the programmes of the University so that holders of that qualification can easily access the University Diploma and B.Ed. programmes at appropriate levels.

Secondly, the Department took a lead in developing a National Plan of Action for Adult Learning which was produced after the national conference on adult learning held in September 1998. This was a follow-up workshop to Confintea V, held in Hamburg, Germany, in 1997.

Thirdly, the Department participated actively in the national conference on education held in August 1999 which discussed the draft report of the Presidential Commission on Education, Culture and Training.

In addition, the Department is a member of the Namibia Association for Literacy and Adult Education (NALAE) and the Distance Education Association for Southern Africa (DEASA).

Individual members of the staff also hold memberships in professional associations and have been undertaking consultancies in the country, the SADC region and other parts of the world. Currently, the Department is taking a lead role in the coordination of a major book on “The State of Adult and Continuing Education in Africa”, which is being sponsored by the Institute for International Cooperation of the German Adult Education Association.

Outreach Programmes

The Department has developed a package of outreach, nonformal education programmes to serve the wider professional needs of the community. The five proposed programmes that were accepted at the national consultative workshop are:

  1. Skills and vocational trainers’ refresher course, meant to serve the staff of the Vocational Training Centres in Namibia
  2. National (annual) Literacy and Development Seminar, for policy makers and other practitioners in literacy, adult education and training
  3. Annual National Human Resource Development Conference, targeted at government and private sector human resource staff
  4. Annual Literacy Promoters’ (instructors’) workshop, intended to help in capacity building for the National Literacy Programme in Namibia (NLPN), which commenced in 1992 with the aim of attaining an 80% adult literacy rate in the country
  5. Annual Literacy Primer Writers’ workshop to enhance local capacity in materials development for basic and post-literacy programmes in Namibia

Due to lack of staff in the Department, these programmes have not taken off, but they are on the drawing board for delivery at any convenient time.


At the moment, the Department has four academic staff. One of the staff holds a M.Ed. and the three others have Ph.Ds in adult education, with experience of university adult education in other parts of the world. Given the number of students in the Department and the array of courses offered, the current staffing situation is not ideal. More staff are needed, although one difficulty in this case is finding highly qualified professionals within the SADC region. The problem becomes even more intractable when the factor of cost is added. This will, in particular, hinder the recruitment of qualified staff from outside the immediate environment. Yet, in spite of existing constraints, some modest progress has already been made.

Evaluation of Performance

There is a need to assess how the Department has fared since its inception. But we cannot be our own best assessors. We have interacted with several individuals and institutions, from Namibia and outside. Some of these have expressed opinions on the current efforts of university adult education to serve society in Namibia. The sample views presented below may therefore count as an informal external assessment of the Department’s performance.

External Examiner’s Report

At the end of the 1999 session, the Department’s first examinations were vetted by an external examiner. He examined the Diploma in Adult Education and Community Development and the B.Ed. (Adult Education). The examiner undertook a review of the entire work and remarked that:

“... the progressive new Department has performed most impressively and achieved enviable high standards of performance by both staff and students.“

Some Visitors’ Opinions

The Department has also received many visitors from within and outside the country. A partner from Germany who called in February 2000 spent two days and interacted with staff and students as well as with stakeholders of the Department. He commented as follows:

“... I was highly impressed ... by the vibrant and successful new Department of Adult and Nonformal Education...”

A visitor from South Africa simply said: “Great effort.” Another from Swaziland said: “Very informative and helpful.” Yet another from the University of Manchester, United Kingdom, said: “A friendly atmosphere.” Finally, a team from a major stakeholder and partner, the Namibian College of Open Learning, led by the Deputy Director said: “We are impressed.”

It is hoped that these accounts provide some insight into the working of the whole adult education project, which is one of UNAM’s contributions towards building a more just, humane and egalitarian Namibian society. The University of Namibia is striving to link up with and serve society, operating as far as possible unlike a typical isolated ivory tower institution.


This paper attempts an appraisal of the development of adult education at the University of Namibia. Three basic parameters were used in developing a perspective for the paper. These are consultation, needs assessment and negotiation. Each of these was used effectively in developing the professional adult education and training programmes of the University, which are already well patronised by the community. One obvious implication of this different programme development approach is that if due consultation is conducted, accurate needs assessment is undertaken and all-involving negotiation is carried out, university programmes may well be more relevant to the realities and needs of the community. This approach is commended to university adult education development in other parts of the world. Perhaps this may be the beginning of the evolution of a “new” programme development approach that is not only rooted in theory but also deeply in practice: programme development together with the people.

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