Q. Please tell us about yourself and the career path you have chosen.
Beukes-Amiss: Born and bred in Rehoboth, about 90 kilometers south of the Namibian capital, Windhoek, I’m the last in the queue with five siblings. A hard-worker, wife and mother of two beautiful off-springs - Chelsea Jade (CJ) and Cameron Claude Amiss, 13 and 8 years respectively. I am always eager to extract and illuminate the best from everything I do.
My dual role as wife and mother does not suffocate my aspirations to pursue my passion and industry knowledge to be a notable academic, with two decades of teaching experience. This was in no way a mean task – instead, it was a mission powered by important factors and values involving discipline with perseverance and dedication deeply entrenched in my upbringing.
Coming from the disadvantaged social classification, I developed special educational interest in information technology [IT] cracking a conservative and chauvinistic male dominated industry. I have mastered the MSc in Electronic Information Management at Robert Gordon University [RGU] in Scotland and later completed my PhD in Computer-integrated Education (CiE) through the University of Pretoria in South Africa. Other qualifications include a Higher Education Diploma [HED SEC] and BA in Library and Information Science from the University of Namibia.
Joined the University of Namibia [UNAM] in 1995; and is now commanding a reservoir of 20 years’ experience. I wore many hats such as senior lecturer and Head of Department, Department of Information and Communication Studies, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences. Currently heading the Centre for eLearning and Interactive Multimedia in the capacity as Director, at the University of Namibia. I can proudly testify that the use of ICTs in education and the telecommunication sector which could be regarded as my overall field of study, that I passionately fell in love with, opened doors for many career women; and I am a classic example as a direct beneficiary of a huge pool of women who have, through perseverance, reached the unimaginable.
In 2013 to date, through the Minister of Information and Communication Technology I was appointed to lead Telecom Namibia as Chairperson of the Board of Directors. I also served the Namibian Open Learning Network Trust [NOLNet] in excess of seven years as coordinator of eLearning activities countrywide up to 2011. I participated in a range of eLearning capacity building initiatives locally and abroad, i.e., in Africa, representing NOLNet, the German Development Cooperation on behalf of GIZ and GESCI. Furthermore, I also review conference papers for eLearning Africa [eLA] and Online Educa Berline [OEB] on behalf of ICWE, Germany from 2011 to 2015.
Q. Can you share a few words about your faculty position and your current research?
Beukes-Amiss: At Faculty level, I maintain the substantive position of Senior Lecturer within the Department of Information and Communication Studies, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, where I still participate in academic activities including supervision of Masters and PhD students. My current research interest lies within the bigger area/discipline of eLearning and various aspects such as “activities of champions implementing eLearning processes in higher education”.
Q. Can you please tell us a few words on why and how e-learning is utilized in Namibia?
Namibia is a large country with a small widely dispersed population, with several regions in need of e-services for all, while striving to avoid duplication of efforts. We have very diverse educational institutions consisting of primary, secondary, tertiary, private, vocational training institutions and governmental divisions. In Namibia the drive for eLearning is supported within the National ICT for Education Policy and its implantation plan, Tech Na! as well as through various initiatives between the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Information and Communication Technology and specific assistance from Office of the Prime Minister regarding eGovernance initiatives.
The Ministry joined hands with institutions such as the University of Namibia, The Polytechnic of Namibia, and The Namibian College of Open Learning (NAMCOL) etc. in order to support Open and Distance Learning students through a network of affiliated resource centres including eLearning. Namibia is no exception to the rule in realising the ample benefits of eLearning as a flexible mode or approach to learning, while particularly zooming in on a blended approach.
The advent of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has made learning easier and more convenient. Institutions such the University of Namibia, Polytechnic of Namibia, NAMCOL and others decided to go “e” using various approaches (blended and open educational resources). This means that certain courses at these institutions are being supported using Learning Management Platforms such as Moodle and Toastmaster. Through eLearning students are able to access study material and submit assignments directly via the platform and be in contact with their tutor/lecturers or fellow students.
Private Schools such as Amazing Kids Private School and Academy have introduced eEducation in their primary level: grade 1-6 and academy level (secondary): grade 7 -12. The learners are taught using computers, ipads or tablets in the labs. This is vital demonstration on how e-education is being embraced and incorporated at all levels of education, be it in primary, secondary or higher education.
The University of Namibia recognises that universities worldwide are harnessing Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) to improve efficiency and effectiveness in their teaching, learning and research activities. In any modern institution of higher learning, eLearning is a key contributor to enhancing the academic profile of the institution.
Q. Can you elaborate on the pros and cons of e-learning in the Namibian and African contexts?
· Technology is changing education, be it in Namibia, in Africa or the world. Namibia and other African countries are embracing technology from the understanding that technology is driving change in our continent. Education is the key to Africa’s future and integration of technology has to be seamless, while benefiting from the pedagogical benefits.
· Online learning tools can connect Africa’s students to online courses and several other initiatives. Educational platforms such as Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCS) provide free virtual courses from some of the world’s top universities to assist us staying abreast and no need to re-invent the wheel.
· Research has shown that, high dropout rates still plague virtual universities. It is my opinion that the best use of online learning is to pair it with some practical instruction and assessment. At the University of Namibia we use the Flipped classroom concept. This we do by allowing students to watch online lectures, collaborate in online discussions, or carry out research at home and engage in concepts in the classroom with the guidance of their lecturers
· As much as students have the ability to do the work at their own pace, eLearning requires students to work hard to follow the online curriculum. With the online environment, students are required to have discipline, make their own timetable to listen to the lectures, and submit the assignments online, while in a regular class the students have a lecturer who is in front of them guiding the learning process.
Other challenges associated with the take-up of various forms of eLearning:
· Top Management Buy in
· Scarce resources but willing to work with existing infrastructure
· Sharing of content – Open license agreement
· Quality Assurance at various levels
· Existing e-content evaluation
Q. In your opinion, what are the critical steps policymakers in Namibia and the other African countries should undertake to increase technological and scientific literacy (a) amongst girls and women; and (b) amongst rural populations?
· In general - there is need to start with the basics, introduce and develop curricula that promote technological and scientific literacy
· It must be regarded a shared responsibility among various key stakeholders
· Prioritise lifelong learning opportunities for girls and women
· Opening up Science and Engineering curricula to all, specifically girls and women
· Breakaway stereotypes of women in Science
· Form SMART partnerships for better connectivity within rural areas
· Embrace current initiatives such as TV Whitespaces to ensure affordable connectivity in rural areas
· Realization of a Universal Service Fund which can have a positive effect on the deployment and enhancement of the Internet