1.Welcome Erkkie, first of all please tell us how many languages do you speak?
Well, I speak only Oshiwambo (mainly Oshimbadja, Oshindonga, Oshikwanyama and Oshimbalanhu), English and I can understand Afrikaans though I only speak little. I am also busy learning Finnish, so I can have minor greeting conversations and ask for basic things.
2. What do you think will happen if there will be no nights in the world, the sun will just be bright 24 hours?
Is this a tricky question? Haha… It’s also funny you ask me that because in Finland where I am currently, like other countries close to the arctic circle, as summer approaches, sun light stays visible for longer, the sun setting late and rising early. I think that people will initially get really excited and do things they like doing for hours. But soon after they will get bored and long for darkness. I think that our whole socio-biological structure is regulated around the contrasts of night and day. So it will soon be hard to sleep, define when a day ends and be confusing. Simply too much of anything is undesirable.
3. Super! Please tell us now something about yourself?
What do you wanna know? Hmmm, where do I start? Well, I was born at Epoko, a little village in Ombalanhu that’s near Okalongo in Omusati Region. I am a teacher by profession, English teacher for secondary school level. I taught in a few secondary schools in the north. I also taught at Windhoek College of Education, teaching pedagogical integration of ICT in teaching and learning. So overall the field of education interests me. I like sports, especial football and Basketball, and I like gadgets.
4. Some people have been wondering whether Erkkie Quasha Quest is your really name or just a Facebook nickname? What is your comment on this and what do these names mean?
Does anyone use their real names on Facebook? I’m just kidding. When one looks at my Facebook profile address, you’ll notice that it says erkkie.haipinge. So that’s my real name, and more. In full my names are: Erkkie KwashaShilimkweni Haipinge. My Facebook names Quasha is just a play on Kwasha, while Quest was given to me by some of my students apparently because I liked asking questions and always asking them to be inquisitive.
4. Where did you go to school? Starting from your primary school till university?
I start preschool at Okanghavu at a village called Onandadi near Onawa in Omusati Region. My primary school was at Epoko Combined School in Epoko. I then continued with my grade 8 at Oshatotwa Combined School. Both are in Omusati Region. I completed my secondary education at Iipumbo Senior Secondary School at Oshakati. I then furthered my studies at the University of Namibia in the mid 1990s where I qualified as an English teacher at secondary school level. After teaching for 13 years, I decided to go back to school. That’s how I ended up here at the University of Oulu in Finland.
5. What are you studying in Finland and for how long?
I am doing a Master in education called Education and Globalisation. It deals with issues in education in the context of Globalisation, issues like relations between global north (“developed”, western nations) and global south (developing nations), issues of knowledge and whose knowledge is valued (indigenous knowledge versus Western), role of technology and media in fostering interconnectedness of the world and the pros and cons of Globalisation. My thesis focus is on technology and its role in learning. I’ll focus on the use of social media in collaborative learning. The master takes 2 – 4 years but I plan to complete next year (in 2 years), possibly proceed with a PHD in same area of learning and ICT.
6. You have read in the media that Namibia is lagging behind when it comes to the use of ICT? What do you make of this media reports. Do you think it could be true and if so what should be done?
In an effort to make an educated response to your question I went through the news reports on the issue, mainly published in the New Era newspaper’s online version. I also browsed through the World Economic Forum (WEF) report to get a first hand idea of what the news reports were quoting from. To be honest it is not surprising for me to come across a report like this. I am not sure how accurate the WEF’s report is in its accuracy regarding Namibia’s ICT usage status. But considering their sources of data that include International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the United Nations, and the World Bank, one has to acknowledge that the overall picture that the data paints should be reliable enough to consider the report as credible.
The reaction in the media so far has been that of disbelief, defensive or even dismissive by focusing on what Namibia is doing well (http://www.newera.com.na/articles/44246/Puzzled-by-Namibia-s–pathetic–ICT-usage; http://www.newera.com.na/articles/44723/Information-and-Communication-Technology–ICT–USAGE-IN-NAMIBIA). But I think that as Namibians, we should use this report to have a moment of introspection regarding the issue of ICT.
To offer an opinion on this I will focus more on the general, structural issues rather than specific policy and practice issues because I strongly believe that it is an enabling environment that matters first and foremost before all other things can happen. I think that the reason why we are not doing well in the usage of ICT is due to simple facts of cost and rhetoric policies. ICT use is mediated by access and access is only possible if one can afford the cost of such ICTs. Namibia is one of the top countries in the world where income disparity is most acute. We have a small percentage of well earning people and the majority who are simply surviving. In this kind of environment, access to ICT and its subsequent usage by the majority of the people can only be achieved through government intervention. Looking at the rankings of the WEF report (http://www3.weforum.org/docs/Global_IT_Report_2012.pdf), the top 10 includes all Nordic countries with Sweden ranked first, Finland a close third, while Denmark and Norway are all within top the 7. They have even beaten bigger economies like USA, Britain, China, Germany and France. How come? Well, Nordic countries are well known for their welfare state economic model where the state plays a very important role in taking care of citizens, especially ensuring that the most vulnerable sections of the population are well taken of. I believe this is one of the reasons why they continue to do well in ICT connectedness and usage. For example Finland where I am studying currently offers free education to all citizens and it was the first country to make broadband Internet access a legal right (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/10461048) for all citizens. Wireless Internet access is available in public places and in the city where I live (Oulu), wireless access is available throughout the city. This is not due to the country being wealthy. Many other countries are much wealthier but such policies are unheard of. It is simply due to a the redistribution of wealth, a culture of and a commitment to equality and equitable access of everyone to all basic services, and ICT has rightly been considered as a basic service and more, a basic legal right.
My point is that for Namibia to make a difference in the status of its ICT access and usage the state needs to play a leading role. The private sector can be a partner but not an equal partner. The majority of the people will never have access through their own affordances due to factors I alluded to earlier. So the rhetoric of ‘we have policies in place’ cannot continue. We have policies and structures in place like the ICT Alliance launched back in 2005 (http://www.newera.com.na/article.php?articleid=7617) to deal with exactly all issues that should have enabled progress in the areas of access and usage of ICT. How come we have not made much progress? It is the reality – we do not put our money where our mouths are. So we will continue to think that simply because our parliamentarians are using Apple iPads for their speeches delivery, Namibia has ICT usage? No ways! Without state intervention ICT will continue to be an avenue for the rich and privileged.
7. If community librares/centres/computer labs are made available for use by the community in all the 13 regions, do you think they will be used? And what actually will people do in those Centres? Will they go to facebook, skype, youtube e-mails or what?
I came across a recent report on the involvement of the University of Namibia in the establishment of technology centres that are to be rolled out countrywide (http://www.newera.com.na/articles/43591/UNAM-s-ambitious-national-ITC-roll-out). This is a good thing. But I think that what we keep missing the point is how decisions are made. How much consultations are made with communities before facilities such as that are established? Is that really what the communities need most? How well are the communities informed about the benefits of ICT even before such centres are rolled out? For me, community involvement in the whole process, starting from policy through planning to the implementation stages of any developmental activities are very crucial if we are to avoid creating white elephants.
So to answer your question on what such centres, libraries or computer labs can be used for, I would say, it will depend on the needs of the specific communities. Some communities will need training in ICT skills, some will possible prioritize communication, while others may prefer news access like reading online newspapers. I have seen a good trend lately with newspapers publishing reports in local languages as well. The point is we should abandon the idea that simply because we are in positions of authority and policymaking, we know what is best for all communities. We should involve them or face investing millions in ICT infrastructures that will end up gathering dust.
8. There is a perception that there is number of lazy people in Africa do you agree or disagree with this statement and why?
It is hard to agree or disagree when I am unfamiliar with the context where the statement was made or to whom it was directed.But what I would say is that one should be careful when using the term lazy because it has a rather tainted history. For example it was used way back in the colonial times when Westerners were coming in contact with colonies in Africa and the Americas. They started the discourse of ‘lazy’ to describe people’s relationship with to the land. Because they have a different economic engagement with land whereby they were perhaps nomads and did not settle in one place to engage in crop and stock farming, they were branded as lazy and do not even need the land.Thus land is taken away and the justification was that they were wasting it. The same usage of the term close to home is when for example the Aawambo people brand the San people as lazy simply because they have a different way of life, being hunters and gatherers instead of crop farmers. So I would be careful to distinguish between calling someone lazy for lack of willingness to work or simply to vilify a group that is culturally different from one’s own.
In the context of Africa, I believe that although there may be times and contexts when the term applies, most the time it has been used to justify either governments’ policies of abandonment, whereby governments abandon their people and leave them to scavenge for themselves and when they understandably fail, they are branded as lazy. And equally disturbing is the description of Africans as lazy by outsiders like Westerners but in the process ignoring the historical colonial legacy of dispossession whereby people were uprooted from the land and were forced into capitalist economies where they hardly had means to participate – access to education, resources and employment. So when they fail to get jobs and are wondering around, they are called ‘lazy’. It is totally unfair and ignorant of how the West is also implicated in creating that ‘lazy’ disposition in Africans. The same applies to us in Africa when those of us in privileged positions start justifying our positions of privilege as a result of hard work, while continually ignoring conditions that keep the rest of the people marginalised, so we call them lazy but the situations that created their realities are not of their own making.
9. What are you busy with at the moment that does not relate to you studies?
Currently I am involved in some university societies or guilds as they are sometimes called which deal with critical engagement with social and global issues. I have come to be fond of critical theories as a lens of analysing a lot that is happening globally and locally back in Africa. I also just like blogging through micro-blogging sites like Facebook, Twitter and I have a blog that I have rather been neglecting lately.
10. If you are given one billion Namibian dollars to improve ICT usage in Namibia how are you going to spend it in order to make the difference throughout the country?
One billion hey? Firstly I would sponsor research in and consultations with the communities, to develop an understanding of what their needs are or/and to the sell the vision of the benefits of using ICT to them so that they get on board in principle. I will then lobby politicians to create a legal framework that requires the state to take responsibility of the sustainable maintenance of ICT infrastructure and systems. Only then do I start investing in infrastructural development while at the same time investing in human skills development. I believe that using that approach will ensure not only usage of ICT by making services tailor-made for people’s needs but also by ensuring that the infrastructure has human support structures in place emanating from the very communities where they serve to ensure sustainability. Having a legal framework will ensure that the state continues to honour its responsibility thus serving as an incentive to not to neglect the provision of ICT as a service that it is legally bound and citizens are legally entitled to. So the one billion will be used for the whole process from policy development, through implementation and sustenance of infrastructures long term. I’ll then either give the remainder of the money to the state or create community trust funds (depending on the level of trust that I have in the government) for each community to take care of such tasks.
11. What have you observed during your stay in Finland that you have not experienced in Namibia?
The culture. Finns are committed to ideals of equality and equity and it reflects in many aspects of life. For example foreigners are offered exactly the same services that Finns have like free education, health care and affordable meals and transport. Students receive a 50% discount on their meals at the university and similar discounts for transport. All schools offer free meals to all children. Although there are rich and poor people just like anywhere in the world, the state takes such good care of everyone that it is hardly noticeable who is rich or poor, unlike in Namibia where the contrasts are so strikingly clear. Another aspect that impressed me as I hinted earlier is access to Internet. Every house, apartment and institution has access and domestic use is free. All one does is pay a connection fee of an equivalent of N$250 when one firstly moves into an accommodation place. So whether one stays in that place of accommodation for a month or ten years, that’s all one pays – initial connection fee. Other things that I have experienced that are different are the obvious ones – the weather. Winters are really cold and it never really gets hot. Usage of bicycles is also really popular and road infrastructures make it easier as there are roads specifically for bicycles while the motorists are also really respectful of bikers, such a contrast to Namibia. Finally it is also worth mentioning that the minimum teaching qualification for primary and secondary school teachers in Finland is a Masters degree. This is something that is totally different from Namibia.
12. What do you enjoy most about being a student? Are there many opportunities to learn and advance?
The best thing about being a full time student is the time I have to concentrate and focus on my studies. Another advantage I have here is the international and multicultural environment in which I study. My university has been putting in a lot of effort to attract international students to improve its international profile and that enriches the cultural, intellectual and social environment. Opportunities to advance are certainly here. Once one gets a Master degree, it is always possible to do doctorate studies. Another thing is that that it is easy to go on study exchange programs to other universities or take online courses for free offered by other universities just on the basis of being enrolled at a Finnish university.
13. If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go first and why?
I think I would go to Asia, either China or Japan just to experience a different worldview on things. Most of us in Africa, especially the so-called educated, have so much been immersed into the Western thinking and Western perspective that we too have become Westerners in thought and culture. Asia has embraced modernity without necessarily losing its cultural and philosophical heritage. I would like to experience that so that perhaps I can get inspired on how we can reinvigorate our African identity while modernizing. Modernization should not mean Westernization.
14. What are your favourite computer programme (s)?
I am not really into programmes but rather into web-based software tools, mainly Web 2.0. So I am really into social media because of the levels of engagement and social networking that it offers. I also like to express myself and social media like Facebook and Twitter really offers that opportunity. But one also needs to be aware that technology is not neutral, as it has commercial, cultural and ideological elements embedded in it. So I have learned to appreciate technology but use it critically too.
15. What do you like doing in Namibia when you come for holiday?
Obviously I like visiting family and friends as I do miss them after long periods of time away from home. I also just like reconnecting with nature and visiting places. There is no place like home and one always appreciates home more after living elsewhere.
16. Give us three names of traditional villages that do have own website in Namibia?
What do you mean by ‘traditional villages’? As opposed to ‘modern villages’?Haha, I just joking. I really don’t know. But I have seen a few sites, I think through your website, showing websites for schools in remote areas of the country, but villages? Not yet. Please send me links. I hope to see working and up-to-date websites for places like Epoko, Onawa, Anamulenge, Ohangwena, Onekwaya, Omuthiya (not the town). [one village called Oshondo in Omusati: www.oshondoshetu.webs.com]
17. What are the popular internet based programs that are popular in Finland?
Social networks are popular. But it is hard for me to say how much and which other ones as sites mainly use Finnish. As my Finnish is still in an embryonic stage, I do not visit Finnish sites. But it is relevant to say that a lot of services are availed through the Internet. So paying for rent, booking laundry, renewing library book borrowing, checking bus times and routes, reporting faults to municipality, submitting assignments or organizing events are all done online. So Internet use has really penetrated all spheres of life, although it does limit human contact, which is not always a good thing.
18. Is there anything else that you would like to share with us?
I just want to thank you for such interesting questions. It was a pleasure doing this interview and I look forward to more, perhaps taking an in-depth approach to one of the issues raised here or new ones. I also want to commend you for this idea of connecting people through learning about their views on issues, sharing them with the public and initiating discussion and debate. I also want to state that although some of the views I have expressed may appear to be political, that was not my intention. My intention was to raise ideological and theoretical issues that influence the way we think and make decisions. Unless we openly discuss principles, value systems and ideologies that make us think the way we do, we will only deal with superficial issues and not address the real issues. Also my apologies for lengthy answers but that is my way of doing justice to the questions.
Thank you very much.
Additional question after the interview was posted:
In South African they are planning to ban the use of cell phones in schools and some people in Namibia welcomed such a move as a step in the right direction. What is your view on this issue given the fact that Finland is a birth place of one of the Mobile Phones Leading brand, Nokia. How do school deal with the issue of cell phones there?
Cell phone use by learners at school can really be distracting, affecting learners’ concentration and fuelling indiscipline. It doesn’t help that modern phones can do more and more as it’s no longer just texting but also internet and social networking. But regarding the banning of cell phones at schools as being debated in South Africa, I am of the opinion that banning is a rash action which is a result of lack of effort to do proper homework. In this case the report cites the lack of clear policy to deal with the issue as the reason for the idea of banning cell phones from schools. Why can’t policies simply be drafted to regulate behaviour how cell phones should be used?
For me, that is the answer, creating regulations to regulate learners’ use of cell phones. Deciding on a ban actually shows loss of control. It is like a panic reaction, which in itself also indicates lack of preparedness. But how can the possession of cell phones by learners catch schools off guard when they have been around for more than a decade and half now? I think one way that can work is whereby schools collaborate with parents, and student leaders to design mobile phone or technology use policies that regulate how they should be used. This can involve disallowing the use of phones during school hours and requiring them to be switched off. I prefer switching off because silence and vibration can still be distracting.
What Finnish schools do is simply disallow the the use of mobile phones during school hours. Learners and parents are informed of the policies at the start of the school year and parents are given the written guidelines in that regard. When a learner is caught using a cell phone in class or during school activities, the phone is confiscated and kept by the teacher until end of school day. It then returned to the learner, but the teacher immediately communicates the incident to the parent. Due to the advancement in technology, schools have web portals through which class teachers communicate directly with parents. That is the platform used to communicate anything of significance that happens at school regarding the learner, be it daily progress, disciplinary incidents or anything irregular like releasing a learner early from school or lack of homework fulfilment.
The best thing about this model is the parent-teacher collaborative relationship. They are partners and the child knows it. Any incident at school, the child knows that the parent will be informed immediately, so that facilitate discipline as the child cannot take advantage of pitying the two (teacher – parent) against the other.
So I would recommend that in terms of cell phone or video games or any technological gadgets that learners may bring to schools, schools and parents need to collaboratively formulate regulatory policies for their use. It is parents that provide children with such devices and it is their responsibility to collaborate with school to create best learning environment for their children. Learners may need the phones for emergencies ‘in transit’ – between school and home, so one has to be sensitive to that and not totally ban them.