Owners of Learning. The Nyae Nyae Village Schools over Twenty-Five Years

  • Language: English
  • 280 pages
  • Illustrations, maps, tables, index
  • Vol. 16, 2016
  • ISSN: 2234-9561
  • ISBN:
  • Print: 978-3-905758-60-3
  • PDF: 978-3-905758-82-3
Jennifer Hays

Owners of Learning. The Nyae Nyae Village Schools over Twenty-Five Years


This book describes the Nyae Nyae Village Schools, an innovative and unique mother-tongue education initiative set in north-eastern Namibia. Inspired by the optimism of Independence, the project was designed in close consultation with the Ju|’hoansi community in the early 1990s. Drawing upon their traditional knowledge transmission strategies, and initiated in a supportive political environment, the project exemplified ‘best practice’. During the two decades that have followed, the Village Schools have transitioned from a donor-supported ‘project’ to government schools, and have received much attention and support from donors, civil society organisations, and individuals. However, the students still do not seem to succeed in the mainstream schools. Why is this? Based on long-term fieldwork in the region, including interviews with Nyae Nyae residents over several years and work with involved organizations, this book addresses this question. Contextualizing the Village Schools within post-independence Namibia, southern African history and the global indigenous rights movement, it examines the enormous paradoxes that schooling presents for the Nyae Nyae community. ‘Owners of Learning’ is the English translation of the Ju|’hoansi word for ‘teacher’ and it serves to highlight a fundamental question – to whom does education belong?

Anthropologist Jennifer Hays has conducted fieldwork on education for indigenous communities in southern Africa since 1998, as an academic researcher and a consultant for local and international organizations. She has written extensively on education and indigenous rights, and organized international conferences on these topics. Her PhD in Anthropology focuses on the Nyae Nyae Village Schools, and she continues to visit and work with community annually. She is currently based at the University of Tromsø in Norway.


Foreword by Willemien Le Roux

1 Background: a journey to Nyae Nyae

2 The Nyae Nyae Ju|’hoansi

3 Like they are in jail: global and local contexts of San education

4 The kids’ decision: socialization and education

5 We can start under the trees: the Village Schools over 25 years

6 The Ju|’hoansi language as a medium of instruction

7 Nharokxao: The teachers

8 Logistics: Transportation, accommodation and food

9 Every year there are problems: transition to the government schools

10 Community consultation and participation

Conclusion: Owners of learning


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