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Owners of Learning


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This book describes the Nyae Nyae Village Schools, an innovative and unique mother-tongue education initiative set in north-eastern Namibia. Inspired by the optimism of Independence, the project was designed in close consultation with the Ju|’hoansi community in the early 1990s. Drawing upon their traditional knowledge transmission strategies, and initiated in a supportive political environment, the project exemplified ‘best practice.’ During the following two decades, the Village Schools have transitioned from a donor-supported ‘project’ to government schools, and have received much attention and support from donors, civil society organisations, researchers, and others. However, the students still do not seem to succeed in the mainstream schools. Why is this? Based on long-term field-work in the region, including interviews with Nyae Nyae residents over several years and work with involved organisations, the book addresses this question. Contextualising the Village Schools within post-Independence Namibia, southern African history and the global indigenous rights movement, it examines the enormous paradoxes that schooling presents for the Nyae Nyae community. ‘Owners of Learning’ is the English translation of the Ju|’hoansi word for ‘teacher’ and it serves to highlight a fundamental question – to whom does education belong?



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Published 18 April 2016
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EAN13 9783905758825
Language English
Document size 37 MB

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Owners of Learning
Basel Namibia Studies Series
Zedekia NgaviruePoliticalPartiesandinterestGrouPsinsouthWestafrica(namibia) a studyofaPluralsociety(1972) (1997)
Wolfgang Werner‘nooneWillbecomerich’. economyandsocietyinthehererore-servesinnamibia, 1915–1946 (1998)
Lauren DobellSwapo̓SStruggleforNamibia, 1960–1991: warbyothermeaNS. (1998) nd(2editioN2000)
Tony EmmettPoPularresistanceandtherootsofnationalisminnamibia, 1915–1966 (1999)
James Suzman‘thinGsfromthebush’. a contemPoraryhistoryoftheomahekebush-meN(2000)
William HeuvamediaaNdreSiStaNcepoliticS. thealterNativepreSSiNNamibia, 1960– 1990 (2001)
Marion Wallacehealth, poweraNdpoliticSiNwiNdhoek, Namibia, 1915–1945 (2002)
8/9 Lovisa T. Nampala; Vilho ShigwedhaaaWambokinGdoms, historyandculturalchanGe. perSpectiveSfromNortherNNamibia(2006)
10 Bennett KangumucontestinGcaPrivi. a historyofcolonialisolationandreGionalNatioNaliSmiNNamibia(2011)
11 Inge Tvedten“aslonGastheydontburymehere”. socialrelationsofPovertyinaNamibiaNShaNtytowN(2011)
12Julie J. TaylornaminGtheland. sanidentityandcommunityconservationinnamibiasweStcaprivi(2012)
13 Martha AkawathegeNderpoliticSoftheNamibiaNliberatioNStruggle(2014)
14Lorena RizzoGenderandcolonialism. a historyofkaokoinnorth-Westernnamibia1870S–1950S(2012)
15Michael AkuupanaturalcultureinPost-aPartheidnamibia. state-sPonsoredculturalfeStivalSaNdtheirhiStorieS(2015)
Owners of Learning The Nyae Nyae Village Schools over Twenty-Five Years
Basel Namibia Studies Series 16
Basler Afrika Bibliographien 2016
©2016 The authors ©2016 The photographers
©2016 Basler Afrika Bibliographien
Basler Afrika Bibliographien Namibia Resource Centre & Southern Africa Library Klosterberg 23 PO Box 2037 CH-4051 Basel Switzerland www.baslerafrika.ch
All rights reserved.
Efforts were made to trace the copyright holders of illustrations and maps used in this publication. We apologise for any incomplete or incorrect acknowledgements.
Cover photograph: A student at //Xa/hoba school looks on as a fellow learner writes his name in the researchers notebook (photo by Jennifer Hays, 2014).
ISBN 978-3-905758-60-3
ISSN 2234-9561
Forewordby Willemienle Roux
Note on terminology and orthography
1 Background: a journey to Nyae Nyae A snapshot: ‡Aqbace location, January 28, 2002 Nyae Nyae Ju|’hoansi within the southern African context Background of this book Transitions Recent conferences The Nyae Nyae community
2 The Nyae Nyae Ju|’hoansi Change comes to the Ju|’hoansi of Nyae Nyae Subsistence options in Nyae Nyae Schools, language and education in Tsumkwe District A major transition Do you like the Bush?
3 Like they are in jail: global and local contexts of San education Indigenous peoples and education Indigenous resistance and rights Approaches to indigenous education Pedagogical approachesThey don’t like being punished
4 The kids’ decision: socialization and educationSocialization among the Ju|’hoansi Ju|’hoan pedagogy Hunter-gatherers in transition Ju|’hoan learning and formal schooling A rational response
1 1 4 7 16 19 21
22 24 34 38 40 46
48 49 52 54 62 65
68 68 77 78 79 89
5 We can start under the trees: the Village Schools over 25 yearsEstablishment of the Village Schools ProjectThe Namibia Association of Norway (NAMAS) Search for the root causes of ‘failure’ Dynamics among role-players Objects of research Indigenous education as a local and a global issue
6 The Ju|’hoansi language as a medium of instructionVillage Schools Objective 1StatisticsLanguage families and linguistic dynamics in southern AfricaEducation and language policies in southern AfricaSan language activism: the Penduka DeclarationsThe ⁞rst objective: implementationThe Ju|’hoan Transcription GroupEarly exit models – language, culture, and ‘walking in two worlds’“Bottom-up” language planning
7 Nharokxao: The teachersVillage Schools Objective 2Teacher training Gender “We are a little bit out” – The Ju|’hoan teachers “With great su⁝ering” Payment of teachers The Village Schools Principal Quali⁞cations What kind of teachers?
8 Logistics: Transportation, accommodation and foodVillage Schools Objective 4Transportation Accommodation Food Komtsa’s story
91 93 105 109 111 111 113
115 115 116 119 124 127 129 133 135 137
139 139 140 142 144 147 154 157 161 162
164 164 168 174 176 179
9 Every year there are problems: transition to the government schoolsVillage Schools Objective 5: Original objectives “Every year there are problems” Relations between Village Schools and Tsumkwe schools Education – “Key to the future”? What can we do?
10 Community consultation and participationVillage Schools Objective 3 Community involvement in the Village Schools Consultation processes at Nyae Nyae “What can we do?” A consultancy report
Conclusion: Owners of learningJu|’hoansi approaches to formal education The role of outsiders Economic options at Nyae Nyae Who owns education?
List of abbreviations
182 182 183 185 193 194 196
198 198 199 202 210 214
222 223 226 228 234
Basel Namibia Studies Series
In 1997,PublishingP. Schlettwein (PSP) launched theBasel Namibia Studies Series. Its pri-mary aim was to lend support to a new generation of research, scholars and readers emerg-ing with the independence of Namibia in 1990. Initially, the book series published crucially important doctoral theses on Namibian his-tory. It soon expanded to include more recent political, anthropological, media and cultural history studies by Namibian scholars. P. Schlettwein Publishing,as an independent publishing house, maintained the series in collaboration with theBasler Afrika BibliographienNamibia Resource Centre and (BAB), Southern Africa Library in Switzerland. All share a commitment to encourage research on Africa in general and southern Africa in particular. Through the incorporation of PSP into theCarl Schlettwein Stiftung,the series, by then a consolidated platform for Namibian Stud-ies and beyond, was integrated into the publishing activities of the BAB. Academic publishing, whether from or about Namibia, remains limited. TheBasel Na-mibia Studies Seriescontinues to provide a forum for exciting scholarly work in the human and social sciences. The editors welcome contributions. For further information, or submission of manu-scripts, please contact theBasler Afrika Bibliographienat www.baslerafrika.ch.
Reading this wonderful re ection by Jennifer Hays on the obstacles that San children and their parents confront in their e⁝orts to achieve “a good education” has moved me in ways I did not expect. I time-travelled back over seventeen years to the discussions Jennifer and I had many times, always under the stars with glowing embers warming our winter-burnt faces, or summer thunderstorms chasing us into smoky grass and clay huts. All the while we were listening to the seemingly endless stories of San children who were being separated from their parents at a very young age and thrown into an alien culture and language envi-ronment. At night our thoughts would churn – is it right that children from communities like the San should be made to ⁞t into a foreign education system? Or should that system be preparing to meet their needs – linguistic, emotional, cultural or even socio-political? Sur-rounded by the soft clicking sounds of people preparing for sleep, as the ⁞res were burning low, we tried to imagine what good education would be like for people who still had one foot in their hunter-gatherer existence, while the other was trying not to slip on the unfamiliar ground of the modern world encroaching upon them from all directions. We have heard the same stories in all the areas and among all the language groups we have consulted, interviewed, observed and assessed over the years, in places such as Dobe, Qangwa, Ghanzi and Kaputura in Botswana, the Caprivi Strip in Namibia, and the many villages in Nyae Nyae, where Jennifer later did her doctoral research on the Nyae Nyae Con-cervancy’s Village Schools Project. Nyae Nyae is an important example for San education throughout southern Africa – it is the one place where a community has been trying to put into practice an education that could bridge this gap with the help of progressive thinkers, educationalists, linguists and anthropologists. The de⁞ciencies (as well as the advantages) of our own, western-based education sys-tems came into sharper focus there in the sand, among the San huts and ⁞re circles, as we observed a person sitting under a tree in the shade, surrounded by a small group of children of various ages. We imagined a school where the “blackboard” was the clean, soft sand they were sitting on; teaching aids would be manufactured there and then from dung and thorns and vines and seeds. The abacus would be made out of antelope droppings and berries strung together on a bow-string, or children would count pebbles, droppings or pods. The adult would have all the time in the world, therefore there was no competition to ⁞nish ⁞rst, or to win or lose. The “class” would be allowed to watch a bateleur eagle do its swerves in the sky above or to laugh at a beetle’s tiny tracks crossing the letters or symbols they had just written in the sand. If the class got drowsy in the midday heat, everyone would doze o⁝ for