NSFAF is now cutting back from offering 32,000 laptops for tertiary education students to 10,000. The question begs about why a needs assessment was not done BEFORE the tender for the higher number of laptops was offered? Why did we need all of the noise about the needs of online education for students when the estimate of usage was a thumb suck?
We all recall that pandemic prevention rules made remote education a priority. We quickly realized our entire system was not suited for this reality. With little time to get things moving, the mandate for off campus classes became a reality. However, it was assumed that most students lacked internet access, computers or money for data. The plan went into motion to provide this. No one stopped to do the slightest bit of research or ask the students questions. Finding a round number of those without computer access or those without money for the data needed to ‘attend’ classes should have been done. Obviously, it wasn’t. NSFAF just rolled ahead based on pressure from above. They put the cart before the horse and assumed they would reach their destination.
Officials are singing a different song now. They are saying that most students have their own laptops or can access laptops for less than the N$6,000 per unit that NSFAF is offering. Why was this not known at the outset? NSFAF wasted time, energy and resources.
First, a huge N$180 million tender was offered to one company to provide all the laptops. Then, that tender was cancelled for ‘irregularities.’ Then the finance minister interfered and demanded that the tender be broken up amongst different companies. This means that technical information would have varied from computer to computer with no usage standard or baseline. But, the minister ordered this to be done.
Then the student unions and other interested parties hearing complaints from their constituents against the entire NSFAF laptop deal, became active in the struggle against the program. NSFAF planned to deduct from the non-tuition fees of the students, to cover the cost of the laptops that (as it turns out) many students didn’t need.
Is anyone interesting in thinking before running to advertise tenders? It makes a huge difference if you ascertain in advance that the need is 10,000 laptops rather than triple that number.
NSFAF is already in the middle of applying the program and the semester is nearly over, before we learned how many were needed. This fact does not reflect well on NSFAF. We cannot get out of the financial nightmare that exists for Namibia if we insist upon being so inefficient.
When money is scarce, what is available must be handled with care. Homework must be done before the first penny is spent. Decision-makers with political power must not force their officials to act so precipitously on a goal that information on how to reach that goal is not collected properly.
Namibia does not have a reading culture. We run off to get things done based on word of mouth or verbal orders. We get it wrong all too often. We do not have the money to make million dollar errors that could have been avoided if the students were ASKED at the outset about the laptops and a poll was taken about how many were needed.
We still have seen no security plan for the laptops, no software budget for the machines and no tech support and usage training. There may be those who have never had a laptop before who will need some level of support before using them for the purpose outlined. Expect software crashing errors and loss/theft of equipment if we do not take steps to secure the machines that are being given out.
Again, we run full steam ahead into a dark room never once thinking that we could turn on the overhead light switch and run safely. Let us read, plan and then act. In that order.