By Frederick Philander
“This IST-Africa conference provides a significant opportunity to jump start the EU-Africa Strategic Partnership on Science, Information Society and Space, which was agreed to at the EU-Africa Summit, held in Lisbon in December last year.”
So said the minister of Education Nangolo Mbumba yesterday when he officially opened the international conference in the capital. Some 400 delegates from around the world are attending the three-day conference.
“It is gratifying that so many ministers of science and technology have made the time to participate in IST-Africa 2008 and share their vision across the borders as well as with our European colleagues,” he said.
According to Mbumba, working together those present can successfully implement a plan that is both beneficial and sustainable for both continents.
“It is important that there is an alignment between the work undertaken at policy level and its implementation through the Action Plan for 2008-2010.
ICT innovation can be used to narrow the digital divide. We can achieve that by sharing knowledge, experience, lessons learnt and good practice,” he said.
However, although the digital divide is narrowing through the rapid penetration of ICT usage and adaptation, many governments and their respective private sectors in the SADC region are faced with a general lack of in-house expertise in diffusion, maintenance and further development.
“The lack of these technological assets has led to a problem of recruiting and retaining sufficiently qualified and competent specialists in the public service and private sector,” the minister said.
He went on: “It is true that the unstoppable quest for the search of new talent and knowledge in science, technology and innovation has helped many countries to solve their problems, being technical, economic, social and political. The tool used to overcome these problems is information communication technology (ICT).”
Mbumba also proudly referred to the Government’s Vision 2030.
“This is a vision in which the country aspires to become an industrialized, politically stable and prosperous nation driven by its human resources, enjoying peace and harmony. Within this strategic outlook, that is Vision 2030, Namibia shall be transformed into a healthy nation, where people enjoy high standards of living, having access to quality education and a resource-based industrialized economy driven by technology and innovation,” he said.
There is need for a strong national innovation system that focuses on the use of science, technology, knowledge and skills.
“Such an innovative system can be used to transform the primary resource-based economy into a knowledge-based economy with globally competitive and sustainable higher value added goods and services. Examples thereof are the countrywide coverage of cellphone networks, the 99% coverage of radio and 40% of television broadcasting, the quick processing of national documents using modern ICT equipment that include satellite enhanced mobile vehicles and a well functioning e-government system,” he said.
Currently, Namibia is in the process of starting the implementation of the Third National Development Plan (NDP3), which emphasizes the importance of technology and innovation in achieving the goals set out in it.
“This will require the strengthening of our national systems of innovation and a total paradigm shift of transforming our mindsets in order to transform our economy and society. Africa as a continent has also instituted forward-looking programmes in its Nepad Consolidated Plan of Action for Science and Technology. These programmes are aimed at enhancing knowledge leveraging and sharing through the application, adaptation and usage of new ICT programmes for sustainable socio-economic development.”
The Ministry of Education has embarked on a comprehensive ICT initiative popularly known as Tech/Na! aimed at integrating ICT in the education system.
“This initiative will be rolled out in two phases with phase one targeting pre-service and in-service teacher educators, secondary schools and vocational training centres, while the second phase will focus on libraries, adult and continuing education and primary schools,” he said of the programme, which has already won awards both internationally and locally as being a well developed enhanced ICT learning programme.