Policy and Programs Program and Sector policy
Policy and Programs

Namibian College of Open Learning (NAMCOL)

While collecting information for this global distance education network, SAIDE held several interviews with organisations in Southern African countries. Impressions of each country were generated to give some introduction to distance education and technology use in the area. Each interview has also been written up separately as a case study.

SAIDE country visits conducted in 1999

Permission granted

Contact Details

Head of NAMCOL Mrs. Frances W van Wyk
E-mail: fmensah@iafrica.com.na
Fax: 09264 61 219 820
Tel: 09264 61 216 903

Contact Person: Mr Jerry R Beukes
Position: Deputy Director: Management and Support Services
E-mail: jbmss@iafrica.com.na
Fax: 09264 61 216 987
Tel: 09264 61 216 903
Postal Address Private Bag 15008
Katutura, Windhoek
Date: 8 June 1999


The Namibian College for Open Learning (NAMCOL) is a state supported, educational institution established by an Act of Parliament. The College was initially inaugurated as a directorate within the Ministry of Basic Education and Culture in November 1994. The College received parastatal status in 1997 when the NAMCOL Act came into effect, and as such it became fully operational on 1st April 1998.

NAMCOL has a broad mandate to contribute to the socio-economic development of Namibia. In terms of NAMCOL’s founding act, the College was set up to design, develop, and offer programmes, using a range of alternative education methods, collectively known as open learning. Such programmes are intended to upgrade and enhance:

  • levels of general education;
  • professional skills;
  • vocational skills;
  • managerial skills; and
  • economic self improvement..

Mission Statement:

Taking Education to the People is NAMCOL’s primary goal, which is reflected in its mission statement:

We are committed to providing increasing access to quality educational services for our learners and other customers using a variety of open learning methods.

NAMCOL’s Structure

NAMCOL is administered by a Director and Management Team under the overall guidance of a Board of Governors appointed by the Minister. The College’s Head Office is located at the Yetu Yama (formerly Career Guidance) Centre in Katutura. There are four Regional Managers based in Ondangwa, Rundu, Otjiwarongo and Windhoek. In addition to approximately 80 tutorial centres around the country, the College will be involved in an initiative to develop fourteen Open Learning Centres over the next three years.

Programmes Offered

NAMCOL’s core activity has traditionally been its programme of Alternative Secondary Education. Currently the College offers courses at two levels: the Junior Secondary Certificate (Grade 10) and the International General Certificate of Secondary Education (Grade 12). In addition, NAMCOL offers the Certificate in Education for Development (CED), which was designed to meet the professional development needs of adult educators, extension agents and community development workers. This course is offered in collaboration with the University of South Africa (UNISA) Adult Basic Education and Training Institute. All courses are offered through the medium of English, with the exception of the indigenous language courses.

Target Groups

After independence, the government in Namibia was faced with the problem of providing secondary education for large numbers of learners who could not be accommodated in the formal school sector. Learners who belong to this group include: young people who live far from schools, especially in rural areas; young people who cannot find a place in a secondary school; young people who have been forced out of school because they did not have sufficient points to continue or to repeat their courses; and employed or unemployed adults who left school without getting a secondary school qualification.

In 1998, NAMCOL experienced significant growth in the number of learners who enrolled and a dramatic improvement in examination results. Here are some interesting facts that have emerged as a result of a Management Information System that has been established to collect important student data. More detailed information can be obtained from the NAMCOL Statistical Digest, 1998.

  • The total number of learners who enrolled in 1998 was 18 325. Of these, some 12 667 or 69.3% were female.
  • The oldest person who enrolled with the College was 62 years of age. Almost two thirds of NAMCOL learners were below 25 years, while more than half fell into the range of 20-24 years. In general, relatively few people under the age of 19 and over the age of 35 enrolled.
  • 17 065 or 93.4% of learners indicated that they did not do any paid work apart from their studies.
  • The occupational category of ‘professionals’ accounted for the largest number of employed learners, and the vast majority of these were teachers. Considerable number of employed learners were drawn from the ranks of educational managers, associate professionals, technicians, clerical occupations, service and sales workers, elementary occupations, and the armed forces.

Growth in Enrolments

Between 1991 and 1994, enrolments with NAMCOL’s predecessor units in the Ministry fluctuated considerably, reaching a high of over 9500 in 1993, only to fall to about half of that level in the following year. Since 1995, when NAMCOL was first created as a separate directorate within the Ministry, the number of enrolments has tripled. In 1998, enrolments increased by 21% over the previous year.

Prior to 1996, Distance Education Enrolments accounted for only a small proportion of total learner numbers. Since then, however, Distance Education enrolments have increased dramatically, such that almost half of all learners studied through this mode over the last three years. However, study at a distance appears to be more popular among those taking subjects at IGCSE level. JSC learners seem to prefer the face-to-face tuition mode because two thirds of enrolments at this level are for this mode of learning.

The following groups have been targeted for future development:

  • Adults who never completed their formal schooling

Census figures from 1991 indicate that some 400 000 persons over 15 years of age (60% of the population who are not at school) never completed secondary education. Although many of these are still struggling to attain basic literacy, NAMCOL programmes offer an alternative pathway by which these learners can achieve recognized qualifications.

  • Learners who have not succeeded in the formal education system

Each year, approximately 3800 learners fail their Grade 10 examinations, and the majority of these are not allowed to repeat the year in school. In addition, there are not enough places at senior secondary level to accommodate all learners who wish to continue their studies. NAMCOL offers these learners the opportunity to complete their secondary education outside the formal education system.

  • The un- and under-employed

Although it is difficult to determine the number of unemployed persons in Namibia, it is clearly a major problem. In addition, substantial numbers are under-employed. Furthermore, the formal sector of the economy is not growing fast enough to provide full employment for all those who seek it. Thus, NAMCOL is exploring approaches to offer basic skills, while also providing an orientation to self-employment and micro-enterprise development.

  • Unskilled workers

In general, the productivity of the Namibian workforce is low because many workers possess only basic skills. New legislation to promote affirmative action will require companies to place greater emphasis on staff development. NAMCOL can assist by devising cost-effective alternatives to traditional training courses for different categories of staff.

  • Special groups

NAMCOL’s expertise in the development of open learning programmes is widely acknowledged. The College is anxious to make this expertise available to government ministries, commercial companies, and non-governmental organizations to assist with programmes of human resources development.

Delivery Modes and Technologies

NAMCOL learners can either study through the distance education mode, the face-to-face mode, or through a combination of the two modes.

In its face-to-face delivery, NAMCOL provides tuition to learners who study part-time and who attend afternoon or evening classes at the tutorial centres. About half the learners make use of this conventional form of teaching.

For its distance education delivery, staff at NAMCOL has developed materials in most of the core courses for grades ten and twelve. These materials, or study guides, have been specifically designed for learners who have to study on their own with minimal support from tutors. The study guides are mainly print-based, with some audio tapes used, for example in the English Language course. A few courses are currently not offered by means of distance education, and, where learners enrol for such a course, they have to study it by means of face-to-face tuition.

A pilot project, which tested the use of distance education with more regular face-to-face support, also referred to as a combination delivery mode, was introduced in 1997 in the Hardap and Karas regions (NAMCOL’s southern region). All learners are registered as distance learners who receive monthly tutorial support and two vacation workshops of one week each. Staffs are generally enthusiastic about this method of delivery. A decision was taken in 1998 to extend the pilot project to the Caprivi region (NAMCOL’s northeastern region) in 1999.

Radio has mainly been used for information campaigns. However, training has begun for staff at NAMCOL to become skilled at producing audio and radio programmes. A radio programme, which will be incorporated as part of the Business Management Course for Grade Ten, is being developed in conjunction with the Namibian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC).

Learner Support Strategies

There are some 80 NAMCOL face-to-face tutorial centres throughout Namibia, and they are grouped into eight regions and sub-regions:

  • Oshakati;
  • Ondangwa (sub-region);
  • Otjiwarongo;
  • Windhoek;
  • Keetmanshoop (sub region);
  • Rundu; and
  • Katima Mulilo (sub-region).

Regions primarily function as support units for both face-to-face and distance education learners and the part-time staff who teach them.

The type of support offered to learners depends on the method of learning for which they have opted. Both groups of learners receive an orientation booklet, Handbook for Learners, which contains useful information about all aspects of the programmes offered at NAMCOL.

Learners who prefer face-to-face teaching receive tuition of four hours per week for each subject from qualified teachers at the centres where tuition is given in the afternoons or evenings. Learners also participate in the vacation study week organized in the regions twice a year. Their course fees do not cover purchase of text books or study guides. At the beginning of 1999, learners were given the option of acquiring the study guides at their own cost, but so far the response has not been enthusiastic.

The distance learners receive their study guides, which form the core teaching for each course. In addition, a weeklong workshop is held twice a year in the regional centres. This provides learners with an opportunity of interacting with tutors and sharing experiences with fellow learners. In addition to this form of support, learners also receive feedback on their assignments, and tutorial letters complement this feedback.

In the learning support innovation, which is being pioneered in two regions, learners do not only have to rely on workshops for face-to-face support. Trained tutors at the centres facilitate monthly tutorial sessions.


All learners who have enrolled with NAMCOL must register separately with the Directorate for National Examinations and Assessment (DNEA) in order to sit for the examinations that take place in October/November each year for Grade Ten. Learners who have registered for Grade Twelve can sit for the examinations twice a year, in May/June and October/November.

Continuous assessment (CASS) is used only in Grade Ten. The term (three terms) test mark counts towards a yearly CASS mark for face-to-face learners. For distance learners, the CASS mark is made up of the results of the three compulsory assignments they have to submit.

Quality Assurance

Providing quality services to students is a key goal at NAMCOL. In order to achieve this, various strategies are being planned and gradually introduced. Among the most significant are:

  • Intensive capacity building activities at all staff levels. In 1998 a training event which involved all staff focused on how NAMCOL could provide quality customer care.
  • Standardizing practices by means of developing processes that are documented in manuals and handbooks such as the Manual for Face-to-face Centres, Tutor Marker’s Handbook, Learner Support Guide.
  • Establishing monitoring mechanism to ensure that learners receive the support they need. For example, students are asked to complete subject evaluation questionnaires; part-time tutors are asked to keep a record of common problems experienced by learners and assist the senior tutor marker in compiling feedback tutorial letters to learners; various managers such as regional managers, area coordinators, and heads of centres have monitoring tasks.
  • A research and evaluation unit is operative at NAMCOL. It is responsible for establishing a Management Information System (MIS), which is able to collect data on the basis of which future decisions can be made.

Professional Development

Most of NAMCOL’s professional development activities have been arranged by the University of Bath/NAMCOL partnership, with the financial assistance of the Department for International Development (DiFD). The following significant training activities were part of an internal capacity building strategy for 1998.

  • Strategic Management Retreat: This exercise took place soon after NAMCOL became operational as a parastatal in April 1998. The management team developed a five-year Strategic Development Plan for the College in consultation with all stakeholders.
  • Change Management and Team Building: This input was arranged to enable managers to manage change and to build effective teams in the work place.
  • Learner Support: Two workshops focusing on various aspects of learner support were conducted.
  • Quality Customer Care: The objective of this course was to identify weaknesses in customer service and to equip all staff with tools to improve in this important area. The impact of the course is visible but ongoing improvement is needed.
  • Course Design and Development: Professional staff involved in course development participated in this course.
  • Writing and Editing: This training event was also aimed at professional staff involved in course development.

Two staff members have gone on regional placements, one to UNISA and the other to the Botswana College of Distance and Open Learning (BOCODOL).

Relevant National Policy

The Namibian College of Open Learning Act, 1997 identifies the ‘Objects of NAMCOL, to be:

  • To contribute towards the social and economic development of Namibia by upgrading the educational level of adults and out-of-school youths:
    • through programmes of open learning;
    • by designing, developing and offering programmes to address the diverse educational needs of such adults and out-of-school youths; and
    • by providing opportunities for adults and out-of-school youths to upgrade their professional and vocational skills, as well as their level of general education, to attain economic self improvement and managerial skills for the sound management of, inter alia, rural societies and non governmental organizations.
  • To broaden access to education by establishing and maintaining tutorial centres in the various regions of Namibia for those Namibians who have been deprived of formal education or vocational training or who are too old or for other reasons are unable to engage in conventional school-based education.
  • To create opportunities for open learning through the use of modern instructional techniques, including, but not limited to, the media, and utilization of technological equipment.
  • To provide guidance or counselling services to those seeking admission into programmes of open learning, as well as to learners already involved in such programmes.
  • To provide an effective collegial governance structure that encourages active participation of all its constituents and reflects the collective input of such constituents.
  • To coordinate with other bodies, institutions, organizations, and interest groups in order to facilitate cooperation and encouragement of an inter-disciplinary and multi-disciplinary approach to open learning.
  • To seek and promote cooperation with regional and international institutions providing education.

Enabling and Hindering Factors

One of the biggest challenges for NAMCOL is to convince the Namibian public that distance and open learning is indeed a viable alternative to formal education because there is still limited public acceptance of distance education and open learning in Namibia. Some additional key factors that place constraints on NAMCOL’s activities include the following:

  • The over dependence on state funding is worrying because this funding is insufficient for all of the College’s requirements. Increasing fees paid by learners is not an option because the majority of learners have severe financial constraints. Thus, increased fees may result in reduced enrolments. Furthermore the lack of development capital makes it impossible to pursue business opportunities quickly.
  • It is not cost effective for NAMCOL to develop distance learning materials for all subjects.
  • No systematic evaluation has been carried out of programmes and materials, and as a result the quality of distance learning materials is inconsistent.

NAMCOL is an established provider of distance education and has the approval and support of government. This means that a certain level of state funding is assured for existing programmes. There is a captive market for alternative secondary education and the dramatic increase in enrolments testifies to this need. The College has been fortunate to receive technical and training support from Bath University. This staff development project is funded by DifD and has resulted in intensive internal capacity building. The College is part of regional and international networks, and collaboration with a range of organizations enable it to carry out its work. An example of collaboration is the agreement that NAMCOL entered into in 1998 with the Adult Basic Education and Training (ABET) Institute at UNISA to offer their Certificate in Education for Development (CED) in Namibia. At the end of the two- year programme successful students will receive a certificate jointly accredited by UNISA and NAMCOL.

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