20 December 2012

Namibia: Ministry Abolishes Primary School Fees

One book, ten children. Kids in class

FREE primary education for children between the ages of six and thirteen will be introduced next year.

This spells the end of school development funds for primary schools, which have been a thorn in the flesh of parents and schools alike, with schools withholding children's reports because of unpaid school fees.

This was announced by Education Minister Abraham Iyambo yesterday. "No children should be turned away after this announcement," he said.

According to the National Housing Income and Expenditure Survey (NHIES) of 2009/10, about 11,6% of children under the age of 13 have never been to school.

Iyambo said the decision was made by Cabinet in the light of a study on free primary education in Namibia supported by Unesco and Unicef.

The government has therefore taken full responsibility of providing resources to ensure that all persons have the right to education.

N$50 million has already been directed towards the implementation of free primary education that would cater to at least 458 993 pupils in primary schools across Namibia. "This figure includes an estimated 3,5% increase following this announcement," said Iyambo.

Children will not be allowed to leave school until they have completed their primary education or reached the age of 16 years.

Furthermore, the report finds that great discrepancies exist between how much households pay for primary schooling. The fees vary between N$100 and more than N$3 000 per child. It was also reported that 92% of state schools have school development funds.

The report revealed that school development funds have provided for various school expenses such as the paying of relief teachers, administration, textbooks and stationery, cleaning and maintenance. A certain percentage is also directed towards extracurricular activities, travel and transport costs.

The same report highlighted that inequalities between schools in different parts of the country were perpetuated due to the amounts of money collected and spent by various schools.

"Therefore, eliminating the existing system of the student development fund and instead providing state grants to schools will have a positive impact in redressing such embedded disparities," said the minister.

Iyambo added that his ministry had earlier requested the Ministry of Finance to fund the introduction of free primary education.

The minister said in light of the Education Act, parents or guardians of pupils from pre-primary level to Grade 7 will no longer pay school fees.

"Schools will have to reimburse those parents or guardians who may have paid school fees as part of a registration requirement for 2013," said Iyambo.

The upkeep of the schools such as renovations and cleaning material will now be funded by government, instead of the school development funds that will be dissolved.

It remains to be seen if the government will deliver on their commitment as many State building under the watch of ministries have fallen into disrepair, because no maintenance is done on them.

Even the delivery of toilet paper and cleaning material to government offices in Windhoek, let alone in the regions, is not done regularly.

The minister requested regional offices to address the influx of pupils seeking admission the best way they can, as there is no limit set by the ministry on how many pupils will be admitted per school.

"Principals, school boards and teachers in all public primary schools are directed to adhere strictly to this directive," he said.

Namibia committed itself to the international initiative of Education for All (EFA) which was launched in Thailand in 1990 and reaffirmed in Senegal in 2000 and aims to bring the benefits of education to every citizen in every country.

One of the main aims is that "by 2015, all children, particularly girls, those in difficult circumstances as well as those belonging to ethnic minorities (including orphans and vulnerable children, the marginalised and disadvantaged) should have access to and complete free and compulsory primary education of good quality."

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