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Kasanda & Shaimemanya

 

 

EDUCATION RESEARCH FOR BETTER QUALITY OF LIFE FOR GIRLS IN NAMIBIA

C.D. KASANDA AND C. SHAIMEMANYA

UNIVERSITY OF NAMIBIA, FACULTY OF EDUCATION

 Abstract 

Prior to independence Namibia’s education provision was segregated and fragmented. Accordingly eleven education authorities were in existence to cater for the different racial and ethnic groups. The new Government’s reform of the education system involved a change in the examination system and the strategies of teaching in the schools.

The new Government has increased the intake of learners into schools and has introduced a compulsory basic education for all Namibians. This is in recognition of the fact that education is the key to human development and a better quality of life. Special effort has been given to encourage females to stay in school as long as their male counterparts since females make up more than 50% of the Namibian population. Nonetheless these efforts are being frustrated by factors such as teenage pregnancy and curriculum bias that seem to affect female education.

This paper addresses the effects of these factors on girls education in Namibia and indicates the role of education research in ensuring that girls benefit from it and lists the type of education research that should be carried out in order to improve education provision and practice for a better quality of life for girls.

It also attempts to find out whether both education and educational research have contributed to a higher quality of life for girls in Namibia and whether Government efforts are bearing fruit seven years after independence.

 

 

INTRODUCTION

Namibia, formerly known as South West Africa gained independence in 1990. Education provision in the country before independence was based upon ethnic, racial and tribal lines. It was unfair, discriminatory and fragmented in that eleven education authorities existed in the country, each one catering for a particular tribal or racial group. The main reason for this kind of education administration in the country was the entrenched apartheid system introduced by the South African regime. South Africa regarded Namibia as its fifth province. As a result of this set up, the racial and discriminatory policies in place in South Africa, had to be in force also in Namibia.

 

On attainment of independence, the new government embarked on a massive reform of the education system. This was based upon the realization that an education system that emphasized separate development of the people would not serve the interests, needs and aspirations of a new and independent Namibia. The education reform therefore, placed emphasis upon unifying the eleven education authorities into a single unitary education system, a new and unitary curriculum, provision of equal chances to attend school for all Namibians, in addition to using English rather than Afrikaans as a medium of instruction from grade 4 onwards.

The reform also included a change of the examination system at grade 12 level from the Cape Matriculation examination system to the International General Certificate of Secondary Education(IGCSE) and it’s variant the Higher International General Certificate of Secondary Education(HIGCSE) in conjunction with the University of Cambridge Examinations Syndicate. The HIGCSE variant was introduced mainly to cater for those students who might seek admission to South African institutions of higher learning.

 

STRUCTURE OF THE EDUCATION SYSTEM IN NAMIBIA

Namibia is currently following a 7, 3, 2 (seven years primary, three years Junior secondary and two years senior secondary) education model (see figure 1). The Junior secondary phase ends the compulsory basic education. Students sit for the Junior Secondary Examination(JSE), whereby successful candidates proceed to grade 11.

Figure 1. Namibian Education Structure

AGE OF LEARNERS GRADE LEVEL
7 1
8 2
9 3
10 4
11 5
12 6
13 7

PRIMARY PHASE

END OF PRIMARY SCHOOL PHASE. AUTOMATIC PROMOTION

AGE OF LEARNERS GRADE LEVEL
14 8
15 9
16 10

JUNIOR SECONDARY

END OF JUNIOR SECONDARY PHASE. SIT FOR JSE

AGE OF LEARNERS GRADE LEVEL
17 11
18 12

SENIOR SECONDARY

END OF SENIOR SECONDARY PHASE. SIT FOR (H)IGCSE

The three years of junior secondary education is followed by two years of senior secondary school( grades 11 to 12). At the end of grade 12 students sit for the (H)IGCSE examination and successful candidates may enter tertiary institutions in the country such as the University of Namibia, the Polytechnic and Teachers’ Colleges. Currently there is no selection examination at grade 7 as is the case in other countries within the South African Development Community(SADC) region.

Before Namibia’s independence, education was used to further the interests of the colonial power. It was used specifically to provide a semi literate black work force incapable of shaping it’s own destiny and making decisions(World University Service, undated). Accordingly, classroom teaching was book centred and one way - that is from the teacher to the learners. In this way little initiative and creativity were fostered in the learners. Learners were passive participants in the learning process and could only regurgitate what the teacher had imparted. Clegg(1989) attributed this type of teaching and learning in part, to the Afrikaner culture in which the adult is accorded the role of information dispenser while the learners quietly take in what has been said. Therefore, the reform in the education system had also to include changes to how teachers teach. Thus the introduction of learner - centred teaching. In this way learners become active participants and responsible for their own learning.

Other factors affecting education in Namibia included the lack of adequately qualified teachers and lack of both textbooks and other teaching materials in black schools. The lukewarm encouragement of black students to attend school by the colonial authorities in the country did not help the situation (Ellis, 1984; World University Service(WUS), undated, Clegg, 1989). World University Services (WUS)(undated) noted that close to 80% of Namibian teachers were unqualified and as a result easily became ardent followers of the work scheme and textbooks. The classes were overcrowded and inefficient(WUS, undated; Mbamba, 1982: Midbjer, 1992). This made it impossible even for qualified teachers to teach creatively. In addition very few black learners, both boys and girls offered mathematics and science subjects. One of the major reasons apart from those given above was that blacks were regarded as incapable of learning science and mathematics(Clegg, 1989). Indeed, the view from the corridors of power in South Africa was that the African child had no need to study mathematics and science, because his/her environment did not require it. For the South African education authorities the blacks were to continue serving the whites as domestic workers and as gardeners.

EDUCATION FOR GIRLS

The majority of learners in Namibian schools until grade 10 are females. The majority of boys before independence were sent to herd cattle at cattle posts instead of attending school. Those male children living on the white farms were regarded as unpaid or cheap labour and discouraged from going to school by their parents or by the farm owner who benefited from their labour. The parents often sent their sons or daughters (also in the case of domestic workers) to take their positions when unable to go to work or sick. This was done to hold their position in the work force and forestall a possible sacking. WUS(undated) observed that white farmers had no use for educated blacks. They saw them as a danger to the peace and tranquillity that existed on their farms and did little to educate their farm workers. Although parents tended to send their daughters and boys to school, the economic realities of the time forced them to marry them off at the first opportunity and often at an early age. In addition due to female high drop out especially at the secondary level had the effect of increasing the number of males educated and hence entering better paid jobs than their female counterparts, who mainly sought poorly paid jobs which did not require educational skills.

Since independence the government of Namibia has tended to encourage girls to complete school in the same way as boys. This is in recognition of the fact that females make up over 50% of the population in Namibia. This trend is in line with UNICEF’s concerns regarding girls’ education world wide(UNICEF, 1996). Therefore, for Namibia educating females will ensure that a large pool of untapped human resource is utilized in the social and economic development of the country. Nonetheless fewer girls often attend school in the rural areas due to poverty and the long distances to schools. Most get married at an early age or stay at home to look after their young siblings or tend the fields together with their mothers. For example, recently it was indicated that girls as young as 11 years of the Kxoe community in the Caprivi region were getting married and bearing children due to the above mentioned factors(Inambao, 1997).

WHAT HAS BEEN DONE TO ENCOURAGE GIRLS EDUCATION IN NAMIBIA

Namibian girls and women were both marginalized and disadvantaged during the colonial rule(Kleiner, 1990). Married women were regarded as minors and could not as a result own property or get a loan from financial institutions without their husbands signature. Further, the majority of non white adult women formed the bulky of the unpaid subsistence farmers and underpaid farm- and domestic- workers. Indeed, many of them held (and continue to hold) more than two jobs to ensure food on the family table.

The coming of independence to Namibia has tremendously improved the situation of girls and women in the country. A minority of women( 25 as compared to 187 men) held senior positions in Government in 1995( Fild, 1995). This was an improvement over the figures presented by Kaure(1992). Indeed many females today hold more and senior positions in public, private and non governmental sectors than was the case previously.

A lot of non governmental organizations in the country have contributed to raising the quality of life of Namibian women by awarding them scholarships for further study. In this way a number of females have become important catalysts in encouraging other females to persist in school and have become valuable contributors to the social and economic development of Namibia. In addition, projects such as the Gender and Development(GAD) funded by Sweden in 1994 are important in that women are empowered to do work such as road construction in the North of Namibia which was previously done by males. In this manner women earn the much needed income that helps improve the quality of life(Lexow, Samset, Hammar, Bezbourah and Basu, 1995). The inclusion of the equality of all human beings regardless of their gender, race, in the Namibian Constitution has ensured that females are treated in the same light as males(Republic of Namibia, 1990).

FACTORS HINDERING GIRLS EDUCATION IN NAMIBIA

Education has been recognized as essential in the social and economic development of a nation and as an equalizer of a country’s citizenry(MEC, 1993; Angula, 1989;1990). Appropriate and effective education for both boys and girls will help in improving the health of the nation. It will also reduce infant and maternal mortality rate and increase the pool of skilled human power to both the public and private sectors. Investing in girls’ and women’s education in Namibia is a sound strategy in that it will empower them, increase their participation in national development activities and consequently increase their earning power. This will act as a way of reducing poverty and will improve the quality of life for their families and for the nation(MEC, 1993; Schutz, 1997).

Education is both an equalizer and liberator of individuals regardless of their gender, race, ethnic affiliation, etc.(Freire, 1985). He noted that education should bring out individuality in each person. That is, it should enable an individual to become an independent and critical thinker rather than a carbon copy of his/her teacher or other significant persons in his/her life. Therefore, it is difficult to understand why many girls in Namibia fail to complete school in large numbers as their male counterparts. It should be pointed out that the government continues to encourage girls to stay in school as long as their male counterparts. For example, no student may be excluded from school for not having paid school fees.

The following factors appear to hinder girls' education in Namibia.

1. Curriculum bias.

Banks and Banks(1989) pointed out that curriculum bias(i.e., linguistic bias, stereotyping, invisibility and imbalance in textbooks) hinder the education of girls in America. The same situation appears to operate in Namibia. Even though a large number of girls enter schools, few tend to study sciences and mathematics(Clegg,(1989). These are important subjects for engineering, medicine, etc. The reason could be that girls regard these as male domain and not appropriate for them. This trend still continues today and girls consequently tend to select themselves out of science based jobs and professions(Koehler and Fennema, 1982; Taylor, 1990; Ellis, 1984).

The other aspect of the school curriculum that reduces the girls' participation in a number of school subjects is the linguistic bias. In this case the textbooks in use have tended to include the use of masculine nouns, names, pronouns, etc. , to the exclusion of feminine ones. As such girls do not feel a part of the learning situation and consequently do not work hard at these subjects.

Recent published textbooks have on the whole tended to be gender sensitive. Unfortunately a number of old textbooks are still in use and as such tend to discourage female students doing well in such subjects where textbooks are linguistically biased against them. Obura(1991) after analyzing Kenyan textbooks for gender bias concluded that in some subjects (e.g., science and mathematics) girls' participation declined with the increased use of masculine names, nouns, pronouns, etc. Therefore, to ensure equal participation in school and class activities by boys and girls, a balance in the use of gendered pronouns, nouns, activities, etc. should be encouraged.

Stereotyping of boys and girls in our schools appears to contribute also to female drop out in schools or subject offerings in Namibia. As in the case of linguistic bias, often one finds that boys and men are portrayed in a positive manner. They are shown as engineers, scientists, leaders, creative, geniuses, etc. On the other hand, females are depicted as dependent, helpless, followers, shoppers, nurses, etc. Such portrayal of females does not result in high self esteem. It results in females either dropping out of school or out of those subjects where they are shown in this derogatory fashion. Reduction of stereotyping of this nature will go a long way in encouraging girls to compete on the same footing with boys in all school subjects and consequently enter tertiary institutions in the country.

Curriculum bias has also tended to make women and girls invisible. That is the contributions of females are often not recognized at all. For example, Namibian females played an important role in the liberation struggle for independence. Nonetheless, their contributions have been either glossed over or given scant mention in history books. The invisibility of appropriate female models for girls in the textbooks and other reading materials makes it difficult for girls to become actively involved in the so called male dominated fields(Moussa, 1994). There is need to make female models and their achievements more visible to encourage females (and males) to aspire to higher levels of achievement and effort in all that they do. In addition, there is need to ensure that the textbooks in use show a balance in the activities and roles of both males and females.

2. Time tabling of school subjects.

Subject time-tabling in Namibia has contributed to fewer girls taking science, mathematics and technical subjects. The result has been that, the fields that require these subjects as bases for entry to them are dominated by males in the country. In the past it was often found that both science and technical subjects were offered at the same time as home economics. Such time tabling of school subjects had the effect of forcing girls to take home economics(and they were actively encouraged to take this subject in the mistaken belief that this will make them better wives), while boys took the sciences and or technical subjects. Indeed, this may explain in part why more males were found in science, technical and mathematics streams even though they were in the minority in the schools. Even though the situation has changed for the better in the schools as far as subject time tabling is concerned, girls still tend not to study science and mathematics subjects as soon as they become elective.

3. Teenage pregnancy.

Teenage pregnancy could be described as approaching endemic proportions among school girls in Namibia. It is one of the major factors which has contributed to the increasing number of female dropouts in the country’s schools. The high rates of female drop outs due to teenage pregnancy are found mostly in the northern part of the country (Rundu and Ohangwena regions) in almost all grades. A Demographic and Health Survey of 1992 found that 4 044 female learners in the North East had dropped out of schools because they had become pregnant(Ministry of Health and Social Services, 1992). It further indicated that about two percent of girls 15 years and younger, six percent of 16 year olds, 19 per cent of 17 year olds, 36 per cent of 18 year olds and 45.4 per cent of 19 year olds were either mothers or pregnant with their first child. In Windhoek and Omusati regions the high drop out rates are mainly concentrated in grades 8 and 9 and in grades 7 to 9 in the Keetmanshoop region in the South.

4. Economic factors.

Economic factors have also hindered female education in Namibia. These factors include poverty and female headed households. Female headed households in the country tend to live in poverty. The main reason is because most of these females (often school dropouts due to early or teenage pregnancy) end up finding low paying jobs to maintain themselves and their children. Schutz (1997) has noted that in Namibia poverty is gender related and that many females headed house holds are poor. As a result, single female parents fail to send their children to better schools to receive quality education that might help them (children) to break out of the vicious circle of poverty.

It is true that impoverished families tend to see little value in sending their children to school because they do not see any immediate returns to their efforts(Mendelsohn, Lewis, Hua and Fuller, 1995). Accordingly, there may be need to impress upon such families, especially the parents the fact that, education may someday be the key to a better quality of life for them and their children and a way out of their poverty. Emphasizing the fact that work as domestic helpers entails earning very little money and being exploited by unscrupulous employers may help in this regard.

4. Beliefs and attitudes of teachers and girls.

Research has shown that teachers often come to school with biased views of the learners they are to teach. In addition, homes tend to socialize learners in definite gender roles (Delamont, 1990; Ernest, 1991). Ernest (1991) noted that the gender bias that teachers are socialized in within their society is reproduced in their classrooms unconsciously. Accordingly, teachers may unintentionally spend more time probing and interacting with male than with female learners, unconsciously signaling to the girls that their contributions are insignificant and girls accordingly learn to become passive learners in the class. This type of gender bias is not restricted to male teachers only. Female teachers as products of society also tend to hold biased views in this regard and expect a male student to do better than a female student.

The attitudes and beliefs of the girls themselves are also a contributory factor to their inability to compete on the same level as males in the school(Koehler and Fennema, 1982). Many girls have been brought up to believe that they are incapable of doing better at school, or in previously male dominated fields. As a result they tend to develop a dependence syndrome, relax and look forward to boys to take the lead. Even intelligent and capable girls often learn to become helpless and dependent in order to be a part of a peer group. Further because society places a low value on girls education, girls also tend not to value education in their lives and as a result are willing to leave school for any flimsy excuse. It is therefore important that girls’ self esteem is built up. In this way they will come to believe in their ability to do the same things that boys can do.

EDUCATION RESEARCH: IT’S IMPACT ON RAISING THE QUALITY OF LIFE FOR NAMIBIAN GIRLS.

The importance of education research to inform both practitioners and policy makers can not be over - emphasized. Kasanda (1995) observed that education research could serve a multitude of interests and needs of government and its citizens. He further indicated that education research findings could be used to improve education practice and provision in a country. That is school personnel may be introduced to a new product on the market through education research to find out its’ effectiveness or the effectiveness of a new computer software package or textbook. Currently in Namibia learner - centred education is the new and favoured method of teaching by the Ministries of Education(MEC, 1993; Kiangi 1994). Unfortunately, this method was introduced in the country without any appropriate research to find out its’ effectiveness in the Namibian case and whether the teachers were ready for it. Appropriate research would have indicated to the education authorities how best to proceed in introducing this method of teaching and whether teachers were comfortable with its introduction or not. The planned research by Kasanda and Ndunda may serve to provide this desperately needed information and shed light on the implementation of learner- centred education in Namibian schools.

Therefore, it is important that the carrying out of education research be encouraged and liberally funded if efficiency in the education system is to be achieved. Further, effective means of disseminating this information so as to reach the appropriate audience should be found and used. In this way education research findings will bear fruit since it will be used by the practitioner and the policy maker - the consumer.

A number of education research have been carried out in Namibia directed at making the quality of life for girls better through education(Kasanda, Phiri and Kamoruao, 1996; Hubbard and Tapscott, 1991; Mendelsohn, Lewis, Hua and Fuller, 1995) among others. These studies have either addressed the ways in which female learners could be encouraged to remain in school, maintain better health and or enter the job market on the same footing as their male counterparts.

Kasanda et al(1996) addressed teachers teaching behaviours in the classroom. They specifically addressed the inclusion of gender issues in the teaching of English, Mathematics and Geography at secondary school and teachers’ colleges. They found that teachers who became themselves gender sensitive and aware tended to provide a conducive learning environment. In such an environment, both boys and girls contribute as equals and hence improve their performance, respect and rapport towards each other are fostered and avoid gender biased remarks, even in those subjects regarded as male domain.

Hubbard and Tapscott(1991) after analyzing the social situation in the country indicated that differentiation based on gender existed in Namibia in almost all spheres of life including education. They expressed the view that Namibia’s development would greatly benefit if the women were provided with the means of competing on the same footing as their male counterparts and that enabling them to stay and complete school was important. Reducing teenage pregnancy would help in this case.

A related aspect of teenage pregnancy in the country is the spread of sexually transmitted diseases(STDs) and HIV/AIDS. Since 1986 when six known cases of HIV positive carriers were diagnosed in Namibia, HIV/AIDS has become pandemic across the nation. School children who are often sexually active at this stage are not immune to infections. Accordingly a number of researches have been dedicated to informing them of the dangers and effects of early pregnancy on their future and possible STDs infections. Blaauw, Farmer, Mameja Mootseng and Venaani(1995) observed that schools could play an important role in helping to prevent teenage pregnancy through involvement of students in activities that would make them aware of effects of teenage pregnancy. The distribution of relevant literature that would inform learners about their sexuality and the process of child conception(several held wrong notions of how children are conceived) were indicated as ways in which the school could help reduce teenage pregnancy.

The study by Mendelsohn and others(1995) was an attempt to find out whether deliberate educational policies and budgetary programmes could help in alleviating the effects of poverty on learner performance at grade 4 in Mathematics and English among Namibian children. They found that girls lagged behind boys in mathematics achievement at this early grade, and suggested that policy initiatives in raising female enrollments in mathematics, science and engineering at the university be put in place to counter the gender differences found. In this way numeracy skills would be imparted to Namibian women who fill the service and commercial sectors which need sound numeracy skills. In this way a high quality of life for the majority of the women and their children would be realized.

In the preceding paragraphs a number of research that have addressed aspects of girls education and how these impact on the quality of life have been highlighted. Nonetheless, there is still need for more concerted efforts in Namibia to carry out education research that will have a direct bearing on girls continued education and progress and its’ impact on the quality of life of girls. The following are given here as potential research areas that will benefit girls’ education in Namibia:

1).Education research that will address the question of financing education in the country. Specifically, this should address the impact of shifting the cost burden to the family. The effects of school fees especially on the poor families. Will such a policy adversely affect the education of girls and boys equally?

2).Teachers’ classroom practices including their expectations and roles in encouraging both boys and girls in continuing education need to be researched. This may include the effect of teachers’ expectations on the learners performance and their perceived and actual roles in the classroom with regards to boys and girls. The research by Kasanda and others(1996) represents commendable efforts in this regard. But a larger study covering the whole country would provide a better picture of the situation

3).Another area of education research focus in Namibia should be that of economic and social returns of Education. Specifically, there is need to find out whether in reality investing in girls’ education(or boys for that matter) results in a higher quality of life for girls or not. Further such a study may also address the question of whether both social and economic development results from the provision of higher education to the Namibian youth.

4).Another area of education research that needs to be carried out should involve the analysis of textbooks that students are using for gender bias. It was indicated above that many recently published textbooks are on the whole gender sensitive and appear gender balanced. There is need to carry out a research similar to that carried out by Obura on Kenyan textbooks in Namibia, to ensure that textbooks in use are really gender balanced or neutral and are not perpetuating gender biases in our learners.

5).It has been indicated that attitudes and self esteem impact on learning and effort put in doing a task. Such a study needs to be carried out with Namibian learners. Identifying the factors that seem to affect the learners attitudes towards the study of science, mathematics and technical subjects will help in identifying ways and means of combating them and hence bringing about acceptable levels of female participation in these important subjects in Namibia.

CONCLUSION

The need for appropriate and sustained education research on factors that may be influencing the education of girls in Namibia can not be overemphasized. Efforts in this area may in the long run help in raising the quality of life for girls. Accordingly, education stakeholders in the country should support efforts directed at education research through active funding and dissemination of results. It is imperative that this be done if the quality of life for Namibians through education is to be improved. Indeed, the areas listed above are essential in informing education practice and conduct in the country.

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