Hybrid education system underway

Bridging the digital divide

05 February 2021 | Education

Sanet Steenkamp; Executive Director, education ministry; “I think the ministry has made strides in terms of hardware and software updates.”

Swakopmund • [email protected]

The executive director of the ministry of education, Sanet Steenkamp, says that Covid-19 has pointed out inequities and inequalities that her ministry is constantly trying to address.
Steenkamp says that a hybrid education system is underway nearly a year after President Hage Geingob first declared a state of emergency. This is a system in which both remote learning and face-to-face learning is possible.

Students are often allowed to choose which mode of education is better suited to their learning needs, while those who are not reachable by one mode of education can often be reachable through another method of education.

“Due to the pandemic, we had to go back and deal with the mandate of the ministry instead of just focusing on averting this crisis in our schools,” Steenkamp says.

This mandate outlines a fair chance at receiving an education for every Namibian child.

According to Steenkamp, the ministry noted a “huge divide” in digital literacy and access to information and communication technology (ICT) via smartphones, tablets, laptops and desktop computers. She estimates that roughly 80% of learners in private schools have access to such technology while this number is significantly lower for learners in the state education system.

Namib High School principal Roosmarie September, says that access to ICT is a more significant problem in the junior secondary phase. “In our experience, the majority of our seniors have access to some form of ICT. We noticed that children without means have generally opted for face-to-face education.”

She notes that learn-from-home education has not been a rosy experience for all. “Some of our children are hungry. School feeding and support schemes thus play a role.”

Steenkamp says that a school structure cannot be eradicated for a multitude of reasons – one being programmes such as Sonnenkinder.

“Roughly 400 000 children in this country are fed by school feeding programmes in 350 schools.”

She adds that many learners also prefer the classroom experience. “As an educator myself, I feel that you could never replace a teacher.”

September agrees, saying that the learn-from-home method of education has left many “bright students” underperforming. “This experience has been an eye opener. We experienced that many students perform better when learning from home and that some of our performers require a teacher.”

The making of the hybrid system

Steenkamp notes that three basic components are needed to allow a student access to online or electronic learning: Access to a smart device; access to data/internet; and access to connectivity.

“I think the ministry has made strides in terms of hardware and software updates.”

She also encourages the use of online and electronic resources such as YouTube and Smart TV’s for better education.

“This will be vital during the remainder of the pandemic as schools must adapt to less teaching days as a result of children only attending school on alternate days. Grades 10, 11 and 12 will all be prioritized when making online learning and e-learning possible,” Steenkamp says.

She adds that 16 of the 120 schools that offer AS level education are based in the Erongo region. Eight of these schools are state owned and the remaining four are private schools. This, however, comes at a price.

“Creating this system is not as cost effective as one might think due to the fact that most companies prefer that you have a long-term contract with them and keep hardware and software up to date. Creating an optimally functioning education system that addresses inequities thus requires the assistance of other ministries, the government at large as well as the private sector.”

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