Teacher Training in Namibia: Teachers at the Centre of Education Reform


After the Namibian independence in 1990, the creation of an education system that would break away from the former one from South Africa became a priority. In contrast to the education that was marked by authoritarian practices that reinforced racial segregation, the new system aimed to promote access, equity, quality and democracy. Teacher training was set as a cornerstone to the reform and aimed to implement a learner-centred pedagogy. The reform and teacher training plan aimed to position teachers as creative agents in schools and essential agents of change for a new educational system.

This case study first sets the Namibian reform within the context of post-colonial countries, which face the challenge of reforming education to respond to the new national setting and needs. It then presents the postindependence educational reform and its focus on teacher training as a tool for building a new democratic nation. Finally, some lessons and limitations are explored.


After becoming independent, many African countries perceived a need to reform their education systems. The former systems were marked by colonial aspects, particularly in the curriculum and teacher training. Thus, new policies were needed as part of an effort to consolidate independence and strengthen the national identity and new democracy (Zeichner and Dahlström, 1999). However, despite governments bold statements recognising the relevance of these reforms, planning, implementing and monitoring has proven to be challenging. Part of the challenge involves financing and finding ways to truly bring about change, instead of superficial shifts in the curriculum that do not tackle the structures that sustain a colonial education (Arreman et al., 2016).

At the same time, since the 1990s education has been thought of as a means for “development”, usually focusing on economic development. The “new orthodoxy” that is being internationally adopted focuses on standardising the curriculum, using large-scale evaluation to monitor performance (often paired with financing consequences, the so-called high-stakes testing) and relying on private organisations (for-profit and nonprofit) to reform and improve education (Sahlberg, 2016; Verger et al., 2016). These approaches tend to dismiss the social purposes of education and the critical role teachers play in improving teaching and promoting social change (Saltman, 2015). With a focus on measurable outcomes, teaching is usually reduced to delivering a standardised curriculum and teachers are often submitted to high-stakes testing, leading to an “accountability by numbers” and a consequent de-professionalisation of teaching (Ball, 2003, 2009). This approach also hinders the creation of new education systems and practices that advance the shift from a colonial past.

Namibia is one of the countries to have gone through the process of reforming education after its independence in the recent past. It became independent in 1990, being formerly known as South West Africa, which was part of the South African territory and subject to Apartheid policies. Prior to that, the territory was a German colony. Education, therefore, was designed according to the Apartheid, with teaching that was teacher-centred and schools that were racially segregated with an authoritarian approach. The curriculum was planned according to these values, teachers were not adequately trained and there was no democratic participation in decision making (Angula and Lewis, 1997).

After independence, the vision for the transformation of the education system in Namibia was articulated in the document “Toward Education for All: A Development Brief for Education, Culture, and Training” of 1993. The establishment of a single, national coordinated system was central to this, one which should meet the learning needs of citizens and the reconstruction and development needs of society and the economy.


The change in education in Namibia started before independence. During the war for independence (1966 to 1990), the liberation movement South West African People’s Organisation (SWAPO), organised schools, including teacher training for Namibian refugees in various African countries. A three-year programme, the Integrated Teacher Training Programme (ITTP), was set up in a refugee camp in Angola in the mid-1980s. The ITTP was conducted according to the pedagogical idea of learner-centred education (LCE), and served as the model for postcolonial teacher education reform with the overall idea of preparing future teachers for democracy and social change in the new independent nation of Namibia (Dahlström, 2002).

The Namibian education reform, and its new format of teacher training, was supported by international organisations. Since the liberation struggle, Namibian teachers were sent for training in other countries, such as the United Nations Institution for Namibia in Lusaka, Zambia, and at the largest civilian refugee camp for Namibians in Kwanza-Sui, Angola. The latter was assisted by Swedish educators from Umea University between 1983 and 1989, who continued to collaborate with Namibian educators and policymakers after independence. University educators from other countries, such as Denmark, the US and the United Kingdom have also supported projects.

Once independence took place, the education reform was centred around 4 main goals, as established in the document “Toward Education For All: access, equity, quality and democracy” (Dahlström, 1995). Thus, education should have universal access for all, irrespective of race, gender, age, creed, class; redress past inequalities; improve quality, and ensure teachers are well-prepared and develop a democratic education. The education reform was based on a philosophy of liberation, aiming to integrate an excluded majority into the economic and political scene. Education was positioned as a means for promoting social equity and opportunities for all (Angula, 2019).

Teacher education was treated as the centrepiece of the national educational reform, and it has gained attention in the international context. Teacher training was seen as fundamental to break the “cycle of authoritarianism and inequities that existed in schooling prior to independence in 1990” (Zeichner and Dahlström, 1999). In 1992, the new national programme for teacher training was created with the Basic Education Teacher Diploma (BETD) (Dahlstrom, 1995). The focus on teachers contrasted with the teacher education reforms implemented in other countries, which treated it as an appendage that follows efforts to affect change in schools (Samoff, 1998).

This new programme connected the knowledge gained from the educational experiences during the liberation struggle, with critical pedagogy and reconstructive ideologies of education (Zeichner and Dahlstrom, 2000). The BETD promoted student-centred pedagogies, aiming to attend to the goal of quality, expressed at the Toward Education for All policy. Learner-centred classrooms should be interactive and exciting, which requires a new role from teachers. This meant a shift from an approach that puts teachers as workers who “deliver” a centralised and top-down curriculum, to an understanding that teachers are reflexive professionals that are key to learner-centred and democratic education, continuous assessment, and critical inquiry (Zeichner and Dahlstrom, 2000). 

Furthermore, it had a significant part of the training done in schools and initial training was placed as part of lifelong learning. Thus, the BETD employed Critical Practitioner Inquiry (CPI) as part of its pre- and in-service programmes. CPI is an educational approach that draws from critical pedagogy and aims to bridge theory and practice, and in Namibia it aimed to empower teachers to become contributors to the educational discourse (Zeichner and Dahlstrom, 2000). To make sure that the teacher training courses would follow the new guidelines, teacher colleges were kept separate from universities. This aimed at fomenting the new way of working and preventing the conservative faculty from reinforcing a colonial structure (Zeichner and Dahlström, 1999).

Second, the teacher education reform in Namibia differs from the post-colonial education in many African countries that have focused on quantitative indicators (such as more schools and teachers), but not on transforming the character and quality of education, leaving authoritarian classroom practices and structures. In these cases, access is central to the reform, but they do not address quality, inequality and the social purposes of education. In the case of Namibia, the reform aimed to transform practices that emphasised repetition and memory into student-centred ones, with learners as active participants. The teacher training aimed towards reflexive teachers that could question and rethink structures and practices (Swarts, 1999). Relatedly, the curriculum should be relevant and respectful of cultural traditions and communities.

Between 1990 and the early 2000s, the country made great strides regarding education. For instance, enrolment in primary education increased from 60% to 95%, there was a 30% increase in the teaching workforce, and 3,000 new classrooms were built by 2006 (USAID, 2006). Access to secondary education increased significantly. Results show that Grade 12 student enrolment for the Namibia Senior Secondary Certificate Higher level (NSSCH) increased from 904 students in 1996 to 16,308 in 2017. Overall, Namibia has managed to improve its Education for All Development index by more than 5% since 1999 (African Economic Outlook, 2012).


In contrast to the understanding that education is a technical matter which is mostly at the service of economic development, the Namibian case is an illustration of how education is connected to deeper and wider social issues. In the context of a recently conquered independence and a transition from the Apartheid, the new country envisaged that education should play a central role in fostering social and racial equality. The former contents and practices were understood to maintain authoritarian and colonial relationships, which had to be replaced by participatory and democratic ones. This is a reminder of how the contents and structure of education are intimately connected to the intended type of society. To move towards more equal and democratic societies, educational systems need to promote and support the necessary social changes.

Second, teachers are central actors in this educational shift. Training and empowering teachers to be the agents of change is fundamental, and it must happen together with other reforms, such as curriculum, evaluation and management. Teachers must advance new classroom practices and relationships with students, which cannot be achieved with other policies on their own, such as curriculum or large-scale tests. Current market-based practices and approaches go against this premise. Instead, they harm the professionalism of teachers by reducing their work to delivering standardised content, training for tests or leaving them in precarious working conditions, thus hindering teachers’ possibility of improving the quality of education.

However, in spite of the advances and improvements resulting from both education and other social policies (such as policies for the protection of children), there still are considerable challenges in Namibian education concerning learning outcomes and access. Some studies have indicated that the new teacher training has had a positive impact on teachers, but that it has not affected practice as much as expected (Dahlstrom, 2002, O’Sullivan, 2002, Arreman et al., 2015). Thus, other policies are needed to advance change, continue improving education quality, and tackle teacher absences, poor pupil performance and the inadequate physical conditions that exist in many schools and classrooms (Arreman et al., 2016). There are also research gaps concerning how the Namibian reform was implemented and the long-term impact of the new teacher training programme. Nonetheless, this case points to the relevance of investing in teacher training and empowering them as agents of social and educational change.