Four of Namibia's long-standing teacher training colleges merged with the University of Namibia last month, pushing the institution's enrolment to more than 14,000 students. It is hoped that incorporation of the colleges will lead to an improvement in educational standards.
The Windhoek, Ongwediva, Caprivi and Rundu colleges of education are now part of the university.
Windhoek College of Education is a former 'whites only' institution in the capital and offers a three-year basic education teaching diploma as well as specialised training in arts and human movement education.
Ongwediva college, located 700 kilometres north of Windhoek, is one of the country's biggest teacher training institutions, with 900 students and more than 70 lecturers.
Caprivi College of Education, in Katima Mulilo 1,200 kilometres from Windhoek in the country's populous north, has an enrolment of nearly 400 students and about 70 staff.
Rundu college is in far northern Namibia, in the capital of the Kavango region bordering Angola.
Jairos Kangira, an associate professor of English with years of experience in higher education, hailed the merger, saying it was long overdue.
"This merger is in tandem with contemporary trends in some parts of the world. In Zimbabwe, for example, all teacher training colleges, whether private or state-owned, fall under the jurisdiction of the department of education at the University of Zimbabwe, the country's leading institution of higher education," Kangira told University World News.
The former University of Zimbabwe lecturer used to be part of a team of external examiners and moderators of various subjects offered by that university's affiliate colleges. He said involving academics in teacher education helped uphold national and international standards.
Another academic, who preferred anonymity, said the merger - while showing the Namibian government's faith in the University of Namibia - meant greater responsibilities for an institution that recently added schools of engineering and medicine to its programmes.
"With this merger, UNAM's student enrolment will increase. That will obviously come with increased responsibilities of oversight, monitoring and evaluation. However, the merger presents exciting new challenges and opportunities."
First, according to the academic, the merger gives UNAM a greater say in the state of teacher education in Namibia. Prior to the mergers, the university was confined to senior secondary school teachers. Now it has an opportunity to make an impact on the whole education sector.
Another benefit would be harmonisation of approaches and strategies, unlike in the past when colleges would do their own thing.
For staff of the colleges, joining a university presents many benefits, including staff development and opportunities to join a larger academic fraternity.
But it is trainee teachers who stand to benefit the most from the mergers because they will obtain more prestigious university qualifications and will graduate with a bachelor of education degree.
It has been reported that plans are in place to help teachers who own basic education teacher diplomas to upgrade their qualifications. Students on the college campuses will also be able to access University of Namibia resources.
But harmonising institutional cultures and administrative systems will not be an easy task. Another challenge will be dealing with uncertainties among college staff who fear that their careers might be compromised.
Student leadership and governance issues will also have to be dealt with carefully as the various student representative councils work to fit into the bigger student leadership structure of the university. Yet another major challenge will be harmonising curricula.
The government has made a great change, but it should acknowledge that students at the colleges may not afford University of Namibia fees. It will be good if the government tops up the loans.
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