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Integrating heritage into education: Namibia case study

The future of Namibian heritage lies in the hands of learners and students in schools, colleges and universities.
When Namibia gained its independence from South Africa’s apartheid regime in 1990, it inherited an extremely biased educational system, the “Bantu Education”, which used Afrikaans and English as teaching languages, made no reference to Namibian heritage, and only limited mention of Namibian history. Unfortunately, I myself was educated under this teacher-centered system that neither promoted independent thinking, nor used examples familiar to us in any of the subjects we were taught.
In 1998, just a year before the end of my high school, new learner-centered syllabi were introduced which tried to include more familiar contents, with Namibian case studies as examples. But this was probably not enough. In fact, in 2010 the Namibian Institute for Educational Development (NIED, the national centre for curriculum development), asked the Museum Association of Namibia to carry out research in order to assess how well heritage was integrated in school syllabi and tertiary education, and to propose recommendations that could be applied during the coming syllabi review. I had the chance to be part of the team tasked with doing this research, and I was thrilled to give my contribution.
We started with an analysis of school syllabi and universities course outlines. Subjects ranged from Science and Geography to History, Arts & Design, and Religion. For the tertiary level we considered departments including Visual and Performing Arts, Biology, Tourism, and Language. The study clearly showed that most subjects lacked any correlation to our past and present heritage. Therefore, we made suggestions to include heritage-related examples not only in the Humanities, but also in the area of Science. For instance, in Physics, to explain the notion of “friction” in Grade 8, we proposed to introduce as an example the traditional ways the San community used to obtain fire by rubbing sticks.

School students showcasing their research findings at SCAMX

School students showcasing their research findings at SCAMX 2010

As for the methodology, we suggested to encourage site visits and school competitions, such as the School Clubs and Museums Exhibition (SCAMX), an annual event dedicated to young people engagement in museum and heritage development, aiming at making Namibian museums more inclusive and education-oriented. We also proposed to establish synergies between curriculum developers, heritage institutions and local communities, so as to include local traditional knowledge in the syllabi for the new generations.

Exhibition of traditional houses at SCAMX 2010

Exhibition of traditional houses at SCAMX 2010

Overall, our aim was to incorporate in Namibian education the value of our environment and our cultural heritage so as to allow young people to learn about their own history and heritage and thus form their identity. The desk and field research were the most interesting parts for me because I had the chance to discuss with curriculum developers and heads of departments, and understand through hands-on experience the real significance of heritage and its role in society. This was a good start for Namibia, I am looking forward to seeing the revised syllabi!
Photos by the Museum Association of Namibia

author Helvi Inotila Elago has a Bachelor in Education (Economics and Business Studies), a PGD (hons.) in Museum and Heritage Studies, and is currently a student of the MA in Heritage Management. She has worked in heritage for 5 years and she would like to focus on the preservation of heritage through education and public engagement.

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