It’s national science week in Namibia

The World Bank has reiterated that knowledge, and not capital, is the most crucial resource for economic development. Japan, a country without natural resources such as oil, diamonds, and other rich mineral deposits, is the world’s second largest economy.

Japan earns much more foreign exchange than such oil-rich countries as Saudi Arabia because its products are based on human intellect.

There is a positive correlation between increased investment into education and economic development.

Mauritius made impressive progress towards increasing school enrolment and enhancing educational quality; thus Mauritius has moved from a low-income country to a middle-income country. Mauritius has achieved a per capita GDP of US$12,800 as a result of rapid and sustained economic growth since the 1970s, and the economy has diversified from sugarcane exports to textiles, banking and tourism.

In contrast, Tanzania’s higher education performance mirrors its overall economic status. With a gross tertiary enrolment rate of just 1%, and weak performance in science-related subjects, Tanzania has failed to competitively exploit its natural endowments including gold, natural gas, diamonds, tin and coal. Thus Tanzania remains a low-income country, with a GDP of just US$700.

The case of Republic of Korea and Pakistan perhaps best illustrates the potency of knowledge and education in national development. Both countries had the same per capita income in 1960, but very different primary school enrolment ratios (the Republic of Korea had 94%, while Pakistan had only 30%). By 1996, the Republic of Korea had three times the per capita gross domestic product of Pakistan.

In the past half-century, the Republic of Korea has progressed from an input-driven to a knowledge-based economy. In 1960, agriculture and fishing accounted for 36% of GDP, with services accounting for 47% and manufacturing for 16%. By 2002, this had reversed: services accounted for 63% of employment, while agriculture and fishing accounted for just 4%. With these changes came dramatic income growth. Per capita gross national income rose from US$3,000 in 1975 to around US$15,000 in 2002.

Much of this growth has been driven by knowledge. According to the World Bank, only three Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries invest a higher percentage of their GDP in knowledge (higher education, software, and research and development) than Korea.

Korea scores highly on the World Bank’s Knowledge Economy Index. The proportion of individuals with computers, the fraction using the Internet, and the number of patent applications granted have risen significantly since 1995.

Korea invested heavily in education at all levels. It achieved full primary education enrollment by 1970, and secondary enrollment, which stood at 40% in 1970, had become universal by 1997. The 1970s and 1980s saw a focus on the promotion of science and engineering programs, while emphasis in the 1990s shifted to quality assurance, research and development. In 1999, the government adopted the “Brain Korea 21” project, an effort to channel research funds to a relatively narrow set of institutions and graduate students, in an attempt to create world-class research universities in Korea.

The ‘Bill Gates of Africa’, Philip Emeagwali stated that African countries have paid an extraordinary price for their lack of domestic technological knowledge. He cited the case of Nigeria which since independence has surrendered 40% of its oilfields and US$200 billion to American and European stockholders due to lack of domestic knowledge. Writing for the New York-based life sciences magazine The Scientist in June 2006, I reiterated that the lack of relevant and adequate local scientific and technological skills has caused a developmental time lag in most African countries.

Against this backdrop, Namibia has recognized the need to grow a knowledge economy premised on the production of local scientific and technological skills, to induce a competitive advantage in the production of goods and services, and in value-addition to primary sector natural resources such as diamonds, uranium, livestock and fisheries, the main foreign exchange earners for the economy.

Thus Namibia spends more than 20% of GNP on education, more than any other country in Southern Africa.

Under its Vision 2030 programme, the Namibian government stated: “The vision for education and training provides for a strong general education base in science and technology” (GRN, 2004, p30) and “a high rate of enrolment in science and technology courses at all levels” (GRN, 2004, p31). Vision 2030 also provides for the establishment of a University of Applied Science and Technology, and to harness science and technology in such a way that citizens as a whole will truly share in its progress and benefits.

The Namibian government, under the Ministry of Education, has set up the Directorate of Research, Science and Technology to act as a policy-hub to coordinate and popularize science and technology activities, enhance capacity and value-addition, and draw up legal instruments. In order to produce the required person-power in the science and technology sector, there has been a resurgence to increase the enrolment of students into science-based subjects.

Vision 2030 also states: “In terms of relevance, there is a renewed focus on science and mathematics at basic and secondary levels, and on science and technology at tertiary level, including the pre-service training of teachers” (GRN, 2004, p31). Science education is now seen as the vehicle to attain knowledge-led economic development in Namibia.
<BR> At the college and university levels, government has embraced programmes to produce more science and technology graduates in all the critical sectors of the national economy. At the University of Namibia, there are plans to start Faculties of Engineering and Medicine.

(Additional information from: Chinsembu, K. (2006). Why we must re-educate African science. The Scientist 20(6): 48-50.

GRN (2004). Namibia Vision 2030. Policy framework for long-term national development, Office of the President, Windhoek, pp. 30, 31.

World Bank (1999). World Development Report: Knowledge for Development, World Bank, Washington DC.)

September 2006
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