Creating prospects in Namibia

By Erich Kunderer, Christian Bosse, March 2016

In Namibia more than a third of school leavers become unemployed. In order not to abandon them in this situation, the Windhoek Waldorf School has since 2013 offered its pupils vocational training alongside the general schooling. As a result its graduates obtain a dual qualification. It means that on successful completion they can choose either to go to university or move directly into a job or attend further training.

Arts and Crafts Building, Namibia

Vocational training at the Windhoek Waldorf School

Originally the Namibian school curriculum contained the provision of practical subjects such as metal and wood working and agriculture. There was a comprehensive educational provision until early 2000. Subsequently the emphasis was placed on the purely academically oriented Cambridge system and the practical part of education was increasingly done away with. Since then the attempt is being made to re-establish vocational education in state schools; it is, however, difficult to define vocational education from a purely academic starting point.

With its wide range of artistic and practical subjects, the Waldorf school is recognised as being some way ahead of everyone else. As early as lower school the different skills of the pupils are supported and cultivated. What in the lower classes is initially given a practical form in discovery through play is then in middle and upper school transferred to the practice level through understanding.

The pupils here receive a practical training in parallel to their Waldorf education in the following four fields of work: agriculture/horticulture, tourism/hospitality, electrics/solar energy as well as office skills/retailing. The training is certified by the National Qualification Authority (NQA) and corresponds to the training standards in force in Namibia. It is subdivided into qualification levels which are recognised in all businesses and training establishments in southern Africa.

The vocational training in the Windhoek Waldorf School is divided into two parts. In classes 8 and 9 the young people start by being given a comprehensive overview of all four occupational fields. They then choose one of them in which they are then trained on four afternoons per week in classes 10 and 11. Professional trainers from the trades, commerce and industry ensure a close link between theory and practice. This form of vocational training is also welcomed by industry and commerce because it is very much focused on practice. The combination with elements of business studies is intended to give a common basis to the different specialist fields. Business studies are currently offered in Namibia in isolation from any real occupational context in a purely academic form.

Project-related practical training

A significant difference to the modularised curriculum of the Namibia Training Authority (NTA) is that the learning content is applied in a project-related way. The aim is to let the pupils experience the connection between goods procurement, production and sales as a complete process.

In a concrete example this might look as follows: the muesli bar sold to pupils as a break time snack starts with the cultivation of plant cuttings in the greenhouse, processed with additional ingredients, whose production can also be followed. These processes lead to further questions from the pupils: how can we handle the scarce resources of water and humus soil? How can we use the plentiful resources of sun and wind in a sensible way? New fields of action open up for the young people through the inclusion of sustainable ideas. A next step might then be the collaboration between “horticulturist” and “solar engineer”.

More independent initiative required

Can we contribute to reducing youth unemployment with our model? In order to create prospects for the young people it is not enough to call the government and public authorities to account. We want to promote independent initiative and self-organisation with our project as well as motivate responsible action.

Together with the teachers, trainers and all those parents who are interested we want to investigate the potential which lies in this country and its people. The aim is to help the young people discover through independent practice how the path into the future might be developed.

Establishment of a business run by pupils

A lot of preparation was required to set up vocational training at the Windhoek Waldorf School. Questions of adaptation to the Namibian modular system were looked at, compromises worked out. When should training start? Might a much greater and earlier practical orientation be required here in Namibia where the pupils find little by way of practice in their surroundings in this field? Remarks by Rudolf Steiner on strengthening the will, on how to provide instruction for activities, on self-determination finally made us find an appropriate form of learning in which all these things had their place: a business run by pupils as early as class 6. With everything that this involves: finding and procuring materials, calculating prices, drafting order and sales letters, contacts with suppliers and sales companies and many other things. This gives the theoretical content of the lessons a practical basis.

We started with the production of table brushes which were so beautifully made that initially they came to the attention of parents and then tourism businesses which sold them in the souvenir shops of their lodges.

The artistically designed functional form is the actual subject of craft lessons in class 6. Understanding the purpose is an intellectual question, the question of form largely one of the imagination. Here our pupils showed themselves to be particularly talented. They come to the workshop on two afternoons in the week and work for two hours on each occasion.

At the end there is a brief reflection on what has been done and learnt. Attendance is voluntary but not arbitrary. Once someone has decided to take part, they have to do so regularly. The overall responsibility lies with the teacher but the pupils experience that their own trust in themselves and the teacher’s trust in them grows the more reliably they perform their tasks. The net proceeds go pupil-linked into the respective class account to help finance class trips. The pupils have meanwhile developed many other ideas which they want to put into practice in the near future.

Our project, particularly the building for the vocational training, was financed through generous donations from the Mahle Foundation, the Software AG Foundation and the city of Schwäbisch Hall. In future, financial support from the Namibia Training Authority is planned. We will nevertheless also continue to be dependent on donations.

About the authors: Christian Bosse has lived with his family in Namibia since 2014 and works there as CEO of the Windhoek Waldorf School. Erich Kunderer is a class and craft teacher at the Windhoek Waldorf School.