Namibia: Attitudes, Skills in Conflict in Education

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Sat May 10 12:22:58 UTC 2008

     Attitudes, Skills in Conflict in Education

New Era (Windhoek)

7 May 2008
Posted to the web 7 May 2008

By Chief Ankama

Language research is many times conducted and recommendations made
without critically looking at the implementation of such
Also, very often these recommendations and implementations do not come
without conflict. In many instances, such changes are disruptive,
costly and cause strain on resources. If we are to be effective
managers of conflict we need to develop certain attitudes and
skills.This paper discusses how innovational conflict can arise and
how certain attitudes and skills can help resolve it. What features in
this discussion as an example is a conflict and preventative measures
taken during the implementation of the English National Language
Policy that Namibia adopted in 1992.


To effect any type of organized innovation, effective management
requires positive attitudes, involvement of others and constant
reflection to make innovation successful. Many times we fail to
execute our day-to-day plans and blame others instead. This happens
because we cannot properly plan and manage our time, prioritize the
items on our personal agenda and to an extent because of unplanned,
interruptive items which pop in and out of our programmes. Whether at
personal, group or company level, management has an important role to
play in the execution of programmes.From the organization point of
view in the modern world, innovation is inevitable.

It is with us at all times, it is challenging and demands those in
authority to be pro-active and change-ready as per Bennet et al (1994,
P.11) that:

"There is the realisation that organisational change is here to stay.
We must stop opposing it and, like a judo expert, turn it to our

Innovation sometimes causes tension, conflict and instability in
organizations. Whereas innovations inevitably bring with them levels
of uncertainty, they also energize those involved in their development
and implementation (Christison & Stoller 1997, p.33).

At various occasions many people in managerial positions find it not
only disturbing but also difficult to handle.Out of frustration
resulting from the said, some managers respond narrow-mindedly and
cause more harm to the organizational output. Failure to implement
successful innovations, according to Nicholls (1983, p. 1), is
attributed to some of the following factors, e.g.,participants'
limited knowledge about the planned innovation, limited knowledge of
the process of implementation of innovation or lack of attention to
the process of innovation.

In this paper, I use change and innovation interchangeably, although
Christison & Stoller (1997, p.34), make a distinction between the two,
thatchange is predictable and inevitable and that it always results
from an alteration in the status quo but not necessarily improvement.

Contrary to change, they say innovation results from a deliberate and
conscious effort that is perceived as new and is intended to bring
about improvement. This paper refreshes our minds on what innovation
is all about, about managerial principles and attitudes of managers
during innovation, causes of conflict during innovation and possible
solutions in diffusing innovational conflicts. Examples of typical
innovational conflicts will be part of the causes of conflict

Managerial Principles and Attitudes of Managers

There seem to be varying definitions of what different writers think
about educational management. (Everard & Morris 1990, p. 4).Dean
(1985, p. 1) explains that being a manager in any context means
getting things done through other people, and that one criterion by
which a manager might be judged is his effectiveness in delegating
tasks and enabling others to take them to a successful conclusion.

Everard and Morris (1990) rather summed it up differently by saying:

'What management is not is carrying out a prescribed task in a
prescribed way'. (Ibid.).

I cited these definitions with a purpose to facilitate understanding
on how sometimes conflict can arise during innovation.Management and
innovation are inseparable, however, and this means the two supplement
each other in their existence.

Each manager at the institution/department level does not only need to
know the set goals or objectives of the institution/department which
are sometimes general and practically inapplicable, but also the state
of affairs concerning the real world and operational techniques in the
fast changing environment.

Thus, as per Nicholls (1983, p. 2), good management involves working
with people and resources as they are and helping them to work
together to achieve agreed ends. In other words, it should not be
taken for granted that holding a managerial position makes one to take
unilateral organisational decisions that will affect change without
the involvement of other people who might be affected by the same

While those in managerial positions tend to forget that the
organisation they are leading is in existence because of the clients'
interests, they are also ignorant to the fact that clients' interests
are quality products driven.

The management also forget thatany member of the organisation
contributes to whatever is delivered to the clients, and it is because
of the co-operation (team spirit) that exists between the management
and the rest of the entire workforce that the output of the
organisation is in progress and recognition.

Nicholls (1983, p. 3) underscores this idea that in most organizations
today, leadership is no longer an individual and perhaps an autocratic
matter, but it is to some extent a group activity, with the personal
qualities of individual members of the team complementing each other
and with some responsibilities delegated or shared.

In the case of education, particularly at school level, development
and progress can be attained better when innovation is accepted by
most of the stakeholders.Everard and Morris (1990, p. 16) say the best
known of the management models are based on the premise that every
manager has two main concerns:

1. A concern to achieve results - task oriented

2. A concern for relationships - people oriented

Any bias towards one of these concerns can cause substantial problems
and stagnation to the planned change.

The management in any setting should therefore realize that leadership
is more effective when it accommodates the combination of the
initiating structure and that of consideration, just as Christison &
Stoller suggest that we should analyze the underpinnings of our
programmes to determine whether or not faculties have been granted
enough freedom to innovate and whether or not there is sufficient
fluidity in the curriculum to allow for faculty experimentation (1997,
p. 38).

Even though their suggestion is aimed at institution-based innovation
such as universities or colleges, it is equally applicable in
centralized innovation such as the Ministry of Education and other
ministries, SOEs or entities in any form including schools.

By inviting views of the stakeholders on a particular change, they
also learn how to support such opinions both in words and deeds.
Innovation in some cases becomes a critical matter because managers
instead of involving others in it, they either consulted them, ordered
them to do or perform something or simply ignored them. In
circumstances where innovation failed or back-fired, the management is
there to defend what went wrong instead of looking to solutions. These
attitudes aggravate problems and spoil future cooperation among the
interested parties.

'An understanding of management style should re-open the options,
cause managers to challenge their assumptions and consequent behaviour
and, as a result, make them more effective leaders'. (Everard and
Morris 1990, p. 22)

Innovation in Practice: A Case in Memory close

If there is any organisation that wishes to remain static, then it is
likely to become counter-productive and lose fame as a result.Many
organizations and institutions would adopt a competitive approach,
selling themselves to the market. For genuine competitiveness,
innovation is unavoidable.

Innovation or change as sometimes referred to, is actually part of the
organisation and managerial practices.

It is deliberate, normal and specific, aimed to improve the planned
goals of the organisation or of the programme within the institution
(Nicholls 1983, pp. 2-3).

The innovation referred to here is not the spontaneous one, it is the
innovation that comes as a result of deliberate thinking and/or
wishful planning, i.e. to want to move from one point to another, to
want to change from one habit to a different practice and to want to
improve efficiency and productivity (seeNicholls 1983, p. 3).There are
normally three possible forces able to initiate innovation:

1. The management within the organisation using the top-down process.
These are people in the system and with authority who want to make
things happen. Once identified, innovation is then taken to the rest
below the managerial ladder in the manner they want the rest to do it.

2. The grassroots initiated innovation, the bottom-up process. This
type of change is sometimes possible on the mercy of those in
hierarchical positions or by the pressure and determination of the

3. Innovation by the external forces, in the school context, it could
be parents. They propose or press for change when they are convinced
the present system does not offer their children justifiable intended
goals. They also fall under the bottom-up process.

Further, Christison & Stoller (1997, p. 39) proposes five guidelines
to follow while promoting innovation. Among the five I chose to
highlight one that says we must take into account and deal with the
difficulties adopters are likely to experience, because if we do not,
those who initially endorse an innovation will become disillusioned
and join forces with the resisters, resorting to past practices,
similar to what the teachers have done as you will read later in this

Background Information

There are two main types of organisational change, the strategic and
the operational.Bennet et al (1994, p. 14) and Everard & Morris (1990,
p. 16) say the strategic change is long term, it can take months or
years and it deals with the organisational productivity and

Operational change can take days or weeks. It rises from daily
experience, experimentation of hypothesis of set goals and problems
encountered through the process. When innovation takes place in an
organisation/department no matter where it is invented, top-down,
bottom-up or external, it is met with suspicion by those who it will
affect within or outside the organisation.

'The natural tendency in people is to resist and even resent ideas
which are not their own. The tendency is even stronger if the change
is parachuted upon them'. (Everard & Morris 199, p. 6).

The analysis of Everard & Morris of how strategic decisions of change
affect others clearly shows how ignorant and egocentric people can be
when initiating change.Change in the top-down mode does not usually
take cognizance of other people's opinion and skills. Hence as
managers, we involve others in the change directly or otherwise.

Nichols (1983, p.12) discusses some major elements identified with the
implementation of education-based innovation; one, the innovation
itself with its own particular characteristics, second, the teachers
who are to be involved and affected and third, the particular setting
into which the innovation is to be introduced.

According to Nichols, the above require careful consideration when
bringing any change in the system in this particular case the English
language curriculum change (in Education). According to Nichols (1983,

"Teachers will have varying attitudes to innovation in general and to
the particular innovation, varying strengths and weaknesses and
perhaps also varying fears and doubts".

It should also be noted that the participation of all the relevant
stakeholders in the decision process pertaining to innovation does not
guarantee the automatic success, but, although exhaustive and time
consuming, it guarantees to an extent team work and continuity efforts
even if innovation derails from its planned track during
implementation.It is thought a democratic process, genuine and rather
a better approach than consultation which does not allow people to
make decisions.It makes people feel part of the change and equally
accountable almost like those in managerial positions.

Failing to involve other stakeholders in the change that affect them,
one is likely to pay a high price in return such as deliberate
antagonism, passiveness, and withdrawal in contribution, pretence and

Nichols (1983, p.12) is of the opinion that planning presents a means
of doing things systematically and that a systematic approach is more
likely to lead to successful innovation which has a significant impact
on learning.Even if it fails, stakeholders have reasons to agree and
recommit themselves again.

'The key to effective management is the ability to get results from
other people, through other people and in conjunction with other
people. If the underlying psychology is wrong, the most careful
constructed system and technique will fail' (Everard & Morris 1990, p.
35 ).

This approach however should not be regarded as the only 'saviour' in
such typical situations. It can be used when and where it is
practical. The rationale behind it could be that there is a tendency
among some managers to disregard other people's potentiality in
contributing to the change or ignoring the needs of other people for
consideration in the change.

Involving others in decisions which affect them is one way of meeting
all or most of their needs. This point is also underscored by Dean
(1993, p. 75) that change is not something that can be done to others.
They must become involved in the change and attach personal meanings
to it so that they make it their own.

Compatibility is another aspect in Nichols' view, in which an
innovation is perceived by potential users as being consistent with
their existing values, past experience and present needs and that an
idea that is not compatible with the significant characteristics is
less likely to be accepted (1983, p.24).

It is not just because I share similar sentiments as stressed by Dean
and Nichols, but the truth in Namibia soon after independence in 1990
is, many changes took place and generally speaking, inclusion of
stakeholders in decision-making has not been adequately considered
such as the case during the implementation process of the English
Language Policy in Education where the problem became challenging.

The medium of instruction in state schools before independence was
Afrikaans. Many Namibians for different reasons felt Afrikaans was not
an appropriate medium of instruction in schools, as this was imposed
by the colonial regime. When the country got independence people were
involved in making decisions affecting the future destiny of education
by determining the language policy. Where they were ignored and were
unhappy, they would rise and object. When English became the medium of
instruction in Namibian schools, admittedly it was not easy but
perhaps manageable and can be said successful. But frankly speaking,
the conflict was there:

1. There were some people who thought that the language policy would
ban the teaching of local languages in schools as mother tongues and
or as subjects. Others thought perhaps everyone would be compelled to
speak English. Such people strongly opposed the language policy on
that understanding. This group of people feared victimisation because
they were not English language versed as those who were promoting the
language policy, and their complaints were genuine, given their views.

2. The other group that caused the conflict consisted of those who
before independence imposed Afrikaans to be the medium of instruction
in state schools.

Although they understood the rationale behind English as an education
language policy, they did not like it because they were suffering from
the hangover of the closed chapter.

The group described in no. 2 behaved similarly in a situation
discussed by Everard and Morris (1990, p. 96) who say that it often
happens that one party will deliberately block anything which appears
to be the initiative of, or have the backing of the other and progress
may be difficult.

They argued further that most conflicts have both rational and
emotional components and lie somewhere along a spectrum between
genuine conflict of interest on the one hand and personality clash on
the other.

Viewed under the microscope of the Education Language Policy example I
gave, one can clearly distinguish between genuine conflict of interest
and that of deliberate in nature.

The groups in no. 1and 2, for example, were not pretending. They
feared for suppression of local languages, disappearance of minority
languages and the loss of cultural identity at the expense of English
and their arguments might be logically justifiable.

They did not only probe the explicitness of the Education Language
Policy by the drafters but, they reassured themselves that matters of
their keen interest were considered and thereby become part of the
Education Language Policy.

Everard and Morris (1990, p. 97) write that conflict in the sense of
honest difference of opinion resulting from the availability of two or
more alternative causes of action, is not only unavoidable but, also a
valuable part of life. It helps to ensure that different possibilities
are properly considered, and further possible causes of action may be
generated from the discussion of the already recognised alternatives.

The bureaucratic innovation which is common in many organisations has
generally caused conflicts that could be avoided. It is prescriptive,
formal and technical in nature. In the school system for example,
teachers are accountable to the principal. Its implementation is
governed by rules and regulations rather than by personal initiative.
Inexperienced and narrow-minded bureaucrats clash with other people in
the system or with clients.

The clash can result from the impractical application of changes in
particular circumstances, it can be because it is only those in
managerial positions who understand the rationale behind the
particular change or because some of those in authority do not have
the necessary skills to implement the change.

On the other hand, Dean (1985, p. 13) states that autocracy is a very
effective form of government for getting things done, but that in the
long run the quality of what happens may be less good than in a
democracy because there is less commitments to decisions.

Although the case under discussion is far away from autocratic
governance earlier mentioned here, it is a reminder to
innovator-managers to review styles of approach before attempts to
implement any change.

Even though it cannot be all-season effective strategies, Nicholls
(1983, p. 29) suggests the empirical-rational strategies as probably
the easiest to use which involve the innovator in the least effort,
while considering his colleagues to be rational humans in bringing an
envisaged innovation to success. An example to this reference is the
introduction of the new admission regulations of grade 10 students
(Junior Secondary) into grade 11 (Senior Secondary) by the Ministry of
Education in Namibia in 1993.

The Rise of Conflict

The compatibility (by Nichols 1983, p. 24) mentioned earlier in this
paper and complexity among other characteristics of innovation such as
relative advantage, trialability and observability should be regarded
as a salient menu of the innovator, which if not fully exhausted, may
later rebound.

It is in this connection that Christison & Stoller (1997, p.42)
highlight that the more complicated an innovation is perceived to be,
the more resistance is exhibited by potential adopters and that
compatibility can either accelerate or retard the rate of adoption of
an innovation. These may be interpreted with what follows here;

a)Until Namibia's independence in 1990, schools were divided along
ethnic lines, e.g. there were education departments for Whites,
Coloureds and for each indigenous language groups.

There were few secondary schools in the northern regions where more
than half Namibia's population lives. In some regions particularly,
formerly only whites secondary schools were underutilized.

b) The year 1993 was the first time for grade 10 students to sit for
the new Cambridge curriculum, the Junior Secondary Certificate
examinations after the usual Standard Eight Certificate Examination
was phased out a year later.

c)Prior to the Examination:

The Ministry of Education and Culture sent out a circular to both
Junior and Senior Secondary schools. The circular announced the new
changes for the admission of grade 10 learners onto grade 11. Some of
the regulations contained in the circular stipulated that:

- A point system was introduced to determine which learners qualify
for admission and who not. 25 points with a pass in English was the

'Prior to the examination all learners should apply (forms were
provided) to any school of their choice anywhere in the country. Each
learner should choose three schools according to own priority.

- Admission should be centrally conducted in each region under the
supervision of the education regional officers.

- Admission must be done by the principals of the senior secondary
schools, assisted by their deputies or heads of departments.

The conflict that arises from this scenario is twofold. The first is
connected to the results of the examination which were poor in
comparison with the pass of the past years. Interpreted in accordance
to the ministerial circular, many learners did not qualify for
admission to grade 11(previously Standard 9); they did not reach 25
points minimum entrance as expected.

This angered the learners and because parents either lacked
information regarding the new curriculum or did not understand how the
point system worked, they became infuriated too thereby blaming the
system as failing the children.

Teachers too who were not well prepared to handle the new curriculum,
became frustrated by the poor results.

They sided with the parents, the students' unions and the teachers'
unions allwho were blaming the Ministry of Education for having not
done the proper groundwork before the implementation of the new
curriculum and for having put the admission points high right at the
first trial phase of the curriculum.

The Ministry of Education was then summoned by the angry stakeholders
to lower the admission points.That is how the entrance points to Grade
11 were lowered from 25 to 19 in 1993. As a result, many more learners
then stood a chance for admission into grade 11.This was the birth of
the secondary conflict in this scenario; there was not sufficient
places for placement of learners into Grade 11. It was a kind of a
spill-over of problems.

Proposed Solutions Of Conflict

For some managers it has become a habit to run what is called 'crisis
management'. They do not bother to be pro-active, pre-determined and
'self-initiative'. These types of managers react as the conflict
occurs more specific if their personal interests are at stake.They
usually wait for symptoms so that they can react.Managers should
rather direct their institutions constantly based on the changing
needs and environment.A response to calm down the typical conflicts is

"Action should be focused on the factors that are causing the symptoms
rather than on responding to the immediate presents". (Bennet et al
1994. p. 199)

By lowering the points from 25 to 19, it could be that the Ministry of
Education did not foresee a problem of enabling too many learners to
qualify for admission while there were not sufficient schools for
placement of these learners.

During the admission, particularly in the northern regions where many
learners live, the situation got out of hand. A number of learners
were left without placement and they demanded for that.

It also happened that not many learners did apply for admission to
schools outside their regions, because this was not a usual
practice.It could also be because of transport costs or long distance.

Again, there was lack of motivation from the Ministry of Education for
learners to understand and make the call of the Ministry of Education
for integration of schools a success.

With the help of the students' unions, teachers' union and the
parents, the Ministry of Education was forced to find the qualified
learners after lowering of points from 25 to 19, and placement in
secondary schools in the south of the country.A bus to transport these
learners was also demanded and given.

This crisis was a creation of poor planning and management and perhaps
bad timing of change within the Ministry of Education.

Although the learners experienced further but not significant
problems, the Ministry of Education succeeded in calming down the

Dean (1983, p. 91) says it is important to involve older students
(even young ones as the case may be) in the change that affects them.
There should be plans to discuss change with them. Students tend to be
naïve and conservative about changes and may feel unhappy about
changes which affect them.

Some unhappiness can be avoided by discussing with them directly if it
is possible or using their representative bodies, e.g. Students'
Representative Councils (SRC) at school level or their unions'
structures at regional and national level - whichever is applicable.

The vast majority of parents in any school are concerned about their
children's education and many surveys suggest that they would like to
be more involved in major decisions, rather than being consulted, a
culture to do so in many schools.

Dean (1983, p. 184) in fact suggests the total involvement of the most
crucial stakeholders within the school.

Dean's views go beyond school based innovation and management, thereby
placing emphasis on the education system as whole, with the belief
that establishment of good working relations cements trust,
co-operation and optimum success for programmes being implemented and
those in the planning stage.

There are evident causes of conflicts mentioned earlier. Having calmed
down the conflict does not mean that the problem is solved.Solving
problems half way is not the end; it is like a time bomb waiting to
explode when the time is appropriate.In essence, the root causes of
the conflict must be established and be dealt with accordingly.

Dean (1993, pages 78-79)on problem solving further writes that it
involves reviewing the context and then generating ideas and
considering them before deciding which to use as remedy, and it also
involves selecting a solution and evaluating the result.

The almost similar view is echoed by Bennet et al (1994, p. 317) that
some problems are best solved using a logical approach. Other problems
may be better tackled using creative techniques such as brainstorming.

Many complex problems require both logical and creative approaches to
be used at the appropriate stage in the problem solving process.

This requires us, therefore, to regard face-to-face meetings as a
means to tackle conflict better. This type of method to solve problems
as Everard and Morris (1990. pages 102-106) put it, has the following

- conflicting parties will talk to each other as openly as possible
and about real issues that concern them;

- they will listen to each other carefully and focus on future actions
rather than on the past events;

- they create an atmosphere of trusting each other, avoiding accusing
each other or defending themselves while putting together what they
think must be done, when it must be done, where, how and by whom.

In such type of meetings usually initiated by the managerial cadres of
an institution carrying out the innovation, the management if possible
should accept failure and be flexible in the spirit of give and take,
explain policies of the organisation to the other party and when
necessary, change policies to suit the operational circumstances.

An example: Learners from the northern regions, who got placement in
grade 11 in other regions south of the country through the effort of
the Ministry of Education, have to be given busses to transport them
there. It is not a policy of the Ministry of Education to transport
learners to schools, but the conflict necessitated it to do so.

The skills of being considerate, rational, flexible and compromising
are essential and a leader cannot effectively manage without these.

'If we are to be effective managers of conflict to which we are a
party, and of conflict between other members of staff, we need to
develop attitudes and skills.

The only way to develop these is by self control and practice'.
(Everard and Morris 199, p.106.)

If managers are able to present their ideas and feelings clearly,
concisely, calmly, honestly and have developed sound listening skills
to show understanding of others, then the solution to any conflict is
likely to be a success or reach a reasonable compromise. I must again
stress that it is better to avoid conflict than waiting to resolve it.


Effective management of education and any other organization plays a
remarkable role in the facilitation of both planned and spontaneous
innovation. However, caution must be taken during the assimilation
process of it, i.e. the type of change versus its output in view of
the institutional objectives and clients' interests, its cost
effectiveness, implementation time frame, practicality and

The evidence in some instances has shown that a particular conflict
has invaded the institution repeatedly.This is so because of lack of
managerial skills among those in authority, improper planning and
individualistic ideas, lack of involving of others, lack of
consultation and weak dissemination of information about the change.

Equally important is the fact that conflict is there to stay just as
innovation is there to be. Noteworthy is that some conflicts are
avoidable if managers are reflective and change ready, in terms of
their attitudes and their managerial styles.These can be done through
delegation of others, involving of others in decision-making,
consulting interested parties in the system, and constantly informing
them about progress.

I would like to conclude by borrowing a phrase from Dean (1985, p.218)
that no action is isolated, everything one does affects something else
and that in seeking to achieve a particular development, one may also
help to achieveor hinder another.


1. Christison, Mary Ann & Stoller L., Fredricka. (1997). A handbook
for Language Program Administrators. Alta Book Center Publishers:
Burlingame, California, USA.

2. Everard, B. & Morris, G. (1990). Effective School Management.

Paul Chapman Publishing Ltd.

3. Bennett, N. et al (1994). Improving Education Management.

Paul Chapman Ltd.

4. Dean, J (1985). Managing the Secondary School. Nichols Publishing
Company: New York

5. Namibia National Conference on the Implementation of the Language
Policy for Schools, June 1992.

6. Nicholls, A. (1983). Managing Educational Innovation.

George Allen & Unwin Publishers Ltd.

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