Why it makes sense to harmonise SADC’s education system

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by Dr David Namwandi

The 1997 summit in Blantyre, Malawi, adopted a protocol on education and training that served as a framework for cooperation in the improvement of education within SADC.

The protocol was articulated based on the review and analysis of the human resources situation contained in the 1991 document, objectives of the movement for Education For All, and countries’ concerns for education after gaining independence.

Policy, goals, and priorities in the immediate post-independence years posed a dramatic challenge to the practices of colonial education. Consequently, there was a need to re-orient the values underpinning educational development.
In addition, education needed to expand and improve along with development challenges that we faced, because of the introduction of structural adjustment programmes during the 1980s. Indeed, the success of the structural adjustment programmes were related to capacity problems, which in turn, related to education and training.

Furthermore, shifts in the regional political arena in the early 1990s provided conditions of peace and stability, albeit within constrained circumstances, for renewed efforts to address educational challenges and priorities on a cooperative basis.

Accordingly, member-states agreed to act in concert, based on the following main principles:
Maximisation of the effective utilisation of existing regional expertise, institutions, and other resources for education and training in the region, to ensure long-term sustainability of the cooperative effort.
Reduction and eventual elimination of unnecessary and costly duplication of efforts in providing education and training, particularly at tertiary and professional training levels.

Establishment and promotion of regional centres of specialisation and centres of excellence as major instruments for providing efficient and effective education, training, and research in the region.

Active involvement and participation of all key stakeholders in education and training at the member-state level, at the regional level, and at the institutional level where regional education and training programmes are executed.
Guarantee academic freedom to institutions of higher learning and research, as it is the sine qua non for high quality education, training, and research, insofar as it ensures freedom of enquiry, experimentation, as well as critical and creative thinking.

Ensure that member-states take all possible steps to act together as a community, in the gradual implementation of equivalence, harmonisation, and standardisation of their education and training systems (SADC-PET, 1997).
Integration is one of the solutions for resource limitation, as different countries are endowed with different and limited resources that support and accommodate economic growth and development.

Resources are not limited to financial capital, or human skills, expertise, and knowledge. Rather, they refer to all input, practices, organisation, management, coordination, and cooperation needed to achieve overall development goals and objectives.

However, duplication of efforts, repetition of work, and doubling of commitments are counterproductive, because they exert pressure on limited resources and become expensive undertakings. This maximises the effective utilisation of existing regional expertise, institutions, and other resources meant for regional education and training–prerequisites in the long-term sustainability of the cooperative effort.

At the same time, unnecessary and costly duplication of efforts in providing education and training, particularly at the tertiary and professional training levels, can be reduced and eventually eliminated.

One of the long-term objectives of SADC is to establish a knowledge-driven economic entity with globally integrated industrialisation. Along with this would be the establishment and promotion of regional centres of specialisation and centres of excellence as major instruments for providing efficient and effective regional education, training, and research (SADC-PET, 1997).

These centres would support and facilitate the active involvement and participation of all key stakeholders in education and training at the regional and member-state levels, including in institutions executing regional education and training programmes.

In fact, centres of excellence and specialisation could even be considered knowledge hubs, as they create, support, and facilitate new knowledge.

In the context of long-term perspectives, the establishment of these two types of centres would pave the way for innovation and invention, which are integral to education and training, as they support the collection and dissemination of new knowledge, and the application of such knowledge in developmental efforts. Empirical research can then be undertaken on various aspects of education and training.

Gradual implementation of equivalence, harmonisation, and standardisation of education and training systems are essential ingredients to achieving a common future among SADC member-states.

Furthermore, the development of a common system of research, regular collection of information on development, determination of priorities, and analysis of education and training status among the principles of education and training, would be ideal.

It is therefore essential to ensure the effective provision of appropriate and well-articulated education and training, and subsequently make a progressive move to promote the need for member-states to take all possible steps to act together as a community with respect to higher education initiatives. This will include the adoption of a policy treating all SADC nationals as home students for the purpose of tuition and related fees.

* Dr David Namwandi is a PhD holder in Business Administration from Asia-e-University, Malaysia.

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