Research demonstrates that the quality of early childhood development (ECD) services is largely determined by the quality of the workforce.1 When educators and care providers are knowledgeable and skilled, they facilitate timely and adequate health, nutrition and protection, and engage in caring, stimulating and responsive interactions with young children. In doing so, they are laying a strong foundation for lifelong well-being and learning. The significant role of the ECD workforce in seizing and maximizing opportunities in the most sensitive developmental period of life cannot be overstated. Furthermore, quality care and education from the early years is a right, as stipulated in the Convention on the Rights of the Child.2 To fulfil this right, efforts are needed to ensure that every child . regardless of her or his background, culture, ability and family circumstance . is served by caring and competent teachers and educators.

Unfortunately, however, around the world poor and rural children are less likely to benefit from the presence of such a workforce compared to their more advantaged peers.3 Namibia is no exception. Situated in southern Africa with a population of 2.5 million,4 Namibia is classified by the World Bank as an upper-middle income country. Nevertheless the country has high levels of poverty and income inequality: in 2009, nearly 30% of the population was living below the national poverty line, and the Gini coefficient of income inequality was 61 (on a scale of 0 to 100, with 0 representing perfect equality).5 The present case study focuses on issues related to equity and quality in ECD in Namibia. It first presents background on the country’s ECD system and describes the key challenges facing the ECD workforce, then goes on to highlight the main national efforts to address these challenges in recent years.

Photo: Gertie Steukers/UNESCO

Background and Context


Primary school is compulsory in Namibia and starts at the age of 6. The country uses the term ‘integrated early childhood development’ (IECD) to refer to services for children from birth to age 8. The overall leadership for IECD resides with the Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare (MGECW), which oversees policies and programmes for children from birth to age 18 and their families. However, the transfer of IECD leadership to the Ministry of Education, Arts and Culture (MoEAC) ― currently responsible for pre-primary education for children aged 5 to 6 ― is now underway. The Ministry of Health and Social Services (MoHSS) oversees health and nutrition-related aspects of IECD.

The country has made significant progress in ECD over the last two decades. Following its first comprehensive ECD policy in 1996, Namibia adopted the National IECD Policy in 2007 that encompasses health, nutrition, early learning, psychological development, water and sanitation, and protection. As part of this policy, the government introduced a one-year pre-primary grade, which has been rapidly expanding in enrolments. Implemented in a pro-poor sequence starting with disadvantaged communities, the pre-primary grade has increased enrolment from 1,080 children in 2006 to 17,572 in 2012, according to data from the country’s Education Management Information System (EMIS).6 The government aims to increase that number to 31,970 by 2017.7 The subsequent adoption of the Fourth National Development Plan (NDP4) in 2012, the Sector Policy on Inclusive Education in 2013, and the Child Care and Protection Act No. 3 in 2015 have further strengthened the policy and legal foundations for equitable and high-quality ECD. However, access to ECD services remains limited and unequal: the 2011 census found that only about 13% of children between birth and age 4 were attending formal ECD programmes.8


Stark differences exist with regard to training levels, curricular content and working conditions between pre-primary teachers working with children ages 5 to 6 and educators and care providers (sometimes called ‘educarers’) serving children under the age of 5. Educarers in Namibia work in a variety of settings (e.g. private homes, centres, faith-based or community facilities, informal backyard structures, garages, under trees), but the most common are home-based creche facilities for children from birth to age 2, and centre-based ECD facilities for children ages 2 to 4 (and sometimes older). The minimum initial training of educarers may include a Basic Childcare and Development Course (14 weeks); an Advanced Course in Educare (12 weeks); a Certificate in Early Childhood Education (ECE) (18 months); a Diploma in ECE (24 months) from the Namibia College of Open Learning (NAMCOL) or the Institute for Open Learning (IOL); or a Montessori training programme. The overall responsibility for in-service training for educarers lies with the MGECW. The contents of in-service training range from child development and learning and teaching methodology to nutrition, health and environmental education. Educarers are not government employees, lack recognition as ‘professionals’, and are generally paid poorly compared to pre-primary teachers.9 Financed most often by parents, educarers’ salaries vary widely, from N$700 (around US$46) to N$2,500 (US$164) per month.

In contrast, pre-primary education for children aged 5 to 6 is generally provided on primary-school premises by teachers who are qualified to work with children aged 5 to 9. Their minimum initial training may include a Diploma in ECE (24 months) from NAMCOL or IOL; a Diploma in Early Childhood and Lower Primary Education (ECLPE) (36 months) provided at university, or a Bachelor of Education (B.Ed.) Degree in ECLPE (48 months). Universities in Namibia also offer a Master’s Degree in Literacy and Learning in ECD (24 months), although graduates tend not to take up teaching positions at the ECD level but rather work in more specialized advisory roles.

In-service training of pre-primary teachers is supervised by both MoEAC and the Ministry of Higher Education, Training and Innovation (MoHETI). In-service training subjects offered by the ministries include literacy and numeracy, early grades reading, classroom management, formative assessment and integration of ICT in teaching and learning. Pre-primary teachers are civil servants and, when fully qualified, are paid at the same level as primary-school teachers: between N$7,000 (US$450) and N$15,000 (US$985) monthly.10

Addressing Key ECD Workforce Challenges


One key workforce-related issue Namibia faces is the lack of trained ECD personnel, particularly those working with children under the age of 5. According to a 2005 survey, only 6% of educarers had a diploma and 22% had completed secondary school through Grade 12 (the highest secondary education grade before a learner can qualify for tertiary education); 70% reported that they not completed Grade 12.11 A study conducted in 2012 revealed that over one-third (35.5%) of the 2,044 ECD centres in Namibia had no trained educarers.12 Unqualified educarers are particularly common in ECD programmes operating in poor and rural areas. As ECD programmes are mushrooming today due to an increasing demand for such services, the shortage of trained personnel is becoming a more acute problem.

To tackle this issue, in 2008 the MGECW initiated a seven-week educarer in-service training course developed by MoEAC through the National Institute for Educational Development (NIED). Though not accredited by the National Qualifications Authority, the training is offered to unqualified educarers from ECD centres serving poor communities to provide them with basic knowledge and skills on how to care for children and prepare them for lifelong learning. In addition, certificate and diploma courses in ECE ― such as the distance-learning courses offered by NAMCOL since 2010 and 2013 respectively ― provide opportunities for a wider group of educarers to upgrade their knowledge and skills.


Another key challenge is high turnover and lack of motivation among educarers, due to the lack of incentives and benefits. While pre-primary teachers are paid through the Ministry of Finance and receive pensions and medical benefits, educarers are not government employees; instead their salaries are financed by parents and in some cases donors. Salaries therefore tend to be higher for those working in urban and privately funded programmes . which may charge parents around N$2,000 (US$131) per month . than for those serving community and rural ECD programmes, which may charge parents N$10 (US$0.65) per month.13 Sometimes educarers working in rural areas do not receive salaries for months at a time because of unpaid fees from poor parents, and many end up resigning and seeking employment elsewhere.

To address the inequitable working conditions among ECD educarers, in 2013 the MGECW began providing monthly subsidies of N$1,500 (US$98) to qualified ECD educarers, with priority attention given to those working in poor and rural communities. As a result, the number of qualified educarers has been increasing. In 2015, 1,005 educarers in 650 ECD centres (out of over 2,700 registered centres across the country) received the subsidy.14 The adoption of the Child Care and Protection Act No. 3 in 2015 ― which calls for adequate government funding for ECD programmes ― is expected to contribute to strengthening the resource base from which the subsidies can be financed.


Another critical issue is the low quality of teaching practices among the ECD workforce in Namibia, as identified in the Fourth National Development Plan of 2012. To confront this challenge, the UNESCO/China Funds-in-Trust (CFIT) project titled ‘Capacity Development for Quality in Pre- and Lower Primary Teacher Education in Namibia’ was implemented.15 Undertaken in 2014/15 by UNESCO in partnership with MoEAC, MoHETI and the University of Namibia (UNAM) Faculty of Education, this was an action research project that involved the collection of data from 56 teachers in 28 case-study schools from all regions of Namibia, with an equal mix of schools from urban and rural areas. The project established 28 research teams consisting of 4 to 6 members: one pre-primary teacher, one Grade 1 teacher, Ministry and UNESCO personnel, and at least one UNAM faculty member from the Early Childhood and Lower Primary Department, which played a central role in the project’s implementation.

The first phase of the project aimed to understand existing teachers’ practices and identify areas of practice that required reinforcement. The data collected revealed teachers’ commitment to children and passion for teaching, and pointed to the following five areas of particular challenge: 1) questioning strategies, 2) effective use of teaching aids in numeracy, 3) reading and storytelling, 4) management of the learning environment and 5) formative assessment.16

The second phase consisted of translating the research findings into a toolkit of practical strategies in relation to the five areas. The toolkit, developed by the project’s research teams, included teaching aids, guidelines, examples and ideas. After a training workshop, the toolkit was used in the same 28 case-study schools with positive results.17 Teachers became more confident in their ability to reach children with strategies that promoted a learner-centred environment. Their desire to provide stimulating learning opportunities was reinforced by increased responsiveness from children. By helping to shift teachers’ perception of children from passive to active learners, the project transformed their practice into one centred around children’s active involvement.

In addition to targeting the in-service training of pre-primary and Grade 1 teachers directly, the project also aimed to improve the ECD workforce on a more holistic level by enhancing the professional development of UNAM faculty who are training the next generation of pre-primary and early primary teachers. By spending a significant amount of time working collaboratively alongside teachers in the UNESCO/CFIT project, the teacher education faculty reconnected with classroom practices, increased their content knowledge and discovered ways to concretely apply that knowledge to support students in the university classroom.18 As a result of the project, faculty members’ own teaching practices became more evidence-based. The action research approach therefore proved powerful in affecting various layers of ECD stakeholders’ professional development.


As in many other countries, the ECD sector in Namibia is widely undervalued and not regarded as requiring a highly trained workforce. ECD work is strongly associated with motherhood, and most people believe it involves simply playing with and supervising young children in their parents’ absence ― skills that women are supposed to acquire ‘naturally’, without the need for training.

This image the ECD workforce makes it difficult to attract competent and high-achieving candidates: in 2013, only 14.2% of B.Ed. students opted for the ECLPE specialization.19 The intake of students to this specialization is increasing, but at a slower rate than the demand for teachers at these levels, which is growing rapidly due to the progressive
implementation of the 2007 policy to expand pre-primary education for children aged 5 to 6, and the abolishment of primary school fees in 2013. Compounding this shortage is the fact that when teachers do receive ECLPE qualifications, they are often placed in upper primary grades, due to the perception that pre-primary and lower-primary grades do not require qualified teachers.

Altering the overall image and status of the ECD workforce is critical for promoting equitable, high-quality ECD. Within the framework of the UNESCO/CFIT project, a national workshop was organized by UNESCO in cooperation with MoEAC and several partners (e.g. UNICEF and the EU Delegation) to strengthen the capacity of relevant government officials, UNAM and others to advocate for attracting competent people into the ECD profession . with the long-term goal of enhancing awareness of the fundamental importance of early childhood and lower primary education. The three-day workshop initiated the development of a national ECD advocacy strategy, with ten identified target groups and corresponding key messages and communication strategies. The outcome of this workshop is intended to be the starting point of a joint effort towards strengthening the ECD sector and its workforce in Namibia.

Lessons Learned

The Government of Namibia, in close collaboration with its stakeholders and partners, has taken a holistic approach towards improving ECD by investing in the ECD workforce and laying the policy foundations for equitable ECD. It has increased the amount and quality of offered training courses, and focused on in-service training for educarers and pre-primary teachers as well as the professional development of teacher educators. In doing so, it has given equal . and in some case specific . attention to those working in poor and rural communities. These investments in the workforce are gradually but firmly contributing towards improved ECD quality and equity in Namibia.

The Namibian experience has shown that workforce development is a multifaceted endeavour, involving interventions in a range of areas including policy, training and professional development, and advocacy work. Activities may include establishing policy frameworks, developing qualification and training systems, offering training and professional development opportunities, and improving the public image of ECD work and the ECD workforce. A wide variety of stakeholders . including policy-makers, teachers and educarers, teacher education faculty and researchers . must share the responsibility for creating a competent and motivated ECD workforce that can serve all children.

  1. UNESCO, 2014.
  2. United Nations, 1990.
  3. UNESCO, 2014.
  4. PRB, 2015.
  5. World Bank, 2016.
  6. UNESCO, 2013.
  7. EU and Republic of Namibia, 2015.
  8. UNESCO, 2013.
  9. Villet, 2015.
  10. Ibid.
  11. Naanda, 2005.
  12. RAISON, 2014.
  13. MGECW, personal communication, November 2015.
  14. Ibid.
  15. Steukers and Weiss, 2015.
  16. Ibid.
  17. Ibid.
  18. Ibid.
  19. UNESCO, 2013.


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