New Era journalist in Keetmanshoop, Matheus Hamutenya, had a one-on-one interview with Eckhart Mueller, the Executive Director of the Namibian Institute of Mining and Technology (NIMT) to gauge how far vocational training has come since independence and the challenges they face.
NE: How would you describe Namibia at 25 years in terms of people who have vocational skills?
EM: Twenty-five years after independence, we are actually a very fortunate nation because we have peace, we have stability, we have equality and we have overcome apartheid and I’m very thankful that we now have the responsibility for ourselves. But when we go to vocational skills, I think we have to get our priorities in our country right. We are looking at monuments and we are looking at buildings while here in my office I have plus minus 9 000 applications, which I have to return because I have no space to take these youngsters and this is a matter of great concern because NIMT is the last vocational centre to take in students and if I then can not take these children then they end up on the streets. We have to invest much more in additional vocational facilities in order to skill and empower more young people, we have synthetic young people, I have no problem with them not being in one of the campuses but we don’t cater for all.
NE: Are we, as a country, allocating enough financial resources for vocational training?
EM: If it comes to financial resources, that of course I will always say no. As long as we have to send away youngsters, who applied and want to be empowered, and we don’t have space, the means and equipment for them then our financial resources are somehow not enough.
NE: What is the quality of Namibia’s vocational training compared to similar institutions in southern Africa?
EM: I have just been a keynote speaker in Cape Town and we (NIMT) are labelled as the leading vocational educational centre in SADC because we have a unique approach where we do the college work and the vocational work every day. I think if we could have all over Namibia the NIMT standard, we will be a pacesetter not only in Africa, we are also supporting our government in their aims towards Vision 2030 by being there already.
NE: Are you satisfied with government’s support to privately owned vocational training institutions?
EM: No, for many many years we were underfunded, we had to rely on donations in materials and in kind from our many companies, we survived because we had to save enormously. Governmental institutions’ salaries are paid directly with all the benefits and they get the same amount that we do. We have to live with a loan and a subsidy that we pay our salaries and everything we have with it, but other centres have much more luxuries and they don’t actually have financial constraints. NIMT is fully accredited by the National Qualification Authority (NQA) and we try to do our best for our youth, when you have an accredited sector that is privately or semi-privately training and educating our youth, we should really be thankful and support them financially just as everybody else that is supported.
NE: How has NIMT evolved over the past 25 years? And what have been your major achievements regarding vocational training?
EM: NIMT started with 14 trainees at independence and as we had taken the trainees from the Rössing Technical Training Centre we then had first developed the institution with the facilities here in Arandis and that was paid for by the European Union (EU) in 1996 and 1997. In 1999, then Minister of Education Nahas Angula gave the training centre in Arandis to us where we are able to train civil trades and then, in 2007, we started with our training in Tsumeb because Ongopolo at that stage gave us a building and huge workshop in order to increase the number of skilled young Namibians because the mining sector needed them urgently. And then on behalf of our outgoing president, His Excellency Dr Pohamba, we started in Keetmanshoop a training centre with five trades and it’s our intention, and with the support of the National Training Authority (NTA), to add another seven trades to Keetmanshoop. So, NIMT is expanding, resulting in us now having this year plus or minus 4 000 young Namibians in education and training but we are also willing to do more but then the sustainability has to be guaranteed. We don’t want to have a situation again where we are wondering at the beginning of the month whether we can pay our salaries at the end of the month.
NE: What have been some of the major challenges that have faced NIMT as a training institution? And how has NIMT overcome these challenges?
EM: The challenges of NIMT have been to maintain standards, not to give in to mass qualifications but quality qualification. It is a normal situation that some of our trainees are not technical and they will through the selection process or assessment not make it. We had a lot of pressure that we should lower our standards but I’m a total enemy of paper qualification and non-employable young people with papers running around and they can’t do the things. Finances is a challenge, to get the right training officers and teachers especially with the right approach of attitude is a challenge and, of course, to keep stability in our own centres.
NE: What would you want the incoming government do in terms of policy that could take NIMT to excel and fulfil its obligations?
EM: We would like to have more money, we would like to teach our youngsters up to higher levels, that is, Level 4, 5 and 6 but then we need the lecturers, the money, the classrooms, lecture rooms, facilities, expand our assessment facilities and there is a lot that can be done if we are supported in doing that.
NE: Do you have any collaboration with public institutions such as Unam and Polytechnic?
EM: I have been Vice Chair of the Council for Higher Education, I have been chairing for 12 years at the council of the NQA, so we meet regularly and I have wondered sometimes whether we should not take over the diploma and certification of these two facilities but that depends on the government. But as colleagues and as professionals, we do respect each other and work closely together.
NE: Namibians usually look down upon students enrolled for vocational training calling them names? What do you think we should do to change this mind set?
EM: Well, our government is supporting us there by always emphasising that we need more skilled people. It’s fine to call them names but if I look back on the 25 years of training the NIMT has done and I see how many of our youngsters have started their own firms and they make good money and I see many other youngsters the so-called academic careers still working for an employer then I think we have passed the stage where we think if we have been at university we are better than the skilled person.
In the hold of reality, we need 24 artisans for one technician and seven technicians for one engineer and when it comes to the push the artisan can do the job but not every engineer can do the job and all our well-to-do countries all over the world have become rich countries because of their artisans that are skilled people and not because of the academics. Mr Benz, Mr Mercedes and Mr Ford were artisans and they started with that development and at that stage nobody knew even the name of the engineer that was much later when everything in technology was on the way already.
So, we should stop looking down on our vocational education and training because my idea is that every engineer should first have done artisan status and then he can do additional years to be an engineer because only then will he be able to value the work of an artisan.
NE: Since NIMT opened in the south what have been some of its major achievements?
EM: We inherited a vandalised, non-usable, not fit for human consumption hostel that was totally broken down and if you go down to the campus now it has developed nicely and we have gained our recognition in the community and we hope in the next three years, with the support of the NQA to double our numbers. We have succeeded at training young Namibians, it’s a national centre and I hope the example my colleagues at the south are setting will become a good example for our schools.
Our school results need to improve because of our need for Mathematics and Science and I have advised that we should, if we don’t have consider importing these types of teachers and see that we get quality teachers, see that we get more learners from Hardap and //Kharas to be trained. But the problem we have currently is that the //Kharas Region last year was 13th on the list of achievers and that means that many youngsters do not have the school qualification to really perform well and if we, as NIMT, could help there we will always be willing to help. The Southern campus is a young campus and it will gradually develop.