Windhoek — Free or universal primary education will as of January 2013 become a reality following the Ministry of Education's directive that parents and guardians of learners in Grade 0 (pre-primary) to Grade 7 will no longer be required to contribute to the School Development Fund (SDF).
The Constitution of the Republic of Namibia, Article 20, Section 2 states and mandates that: "Primary education shall be compulsory and the State shall provide reasonable facilities to render effective this right for every resident within Namibia, by establishing and maintaining State schools at which primary education will be provided free of charge."
It is upon this constitutional premise and the resolutions of the National Conference on Education held last year, which called for, among others, free primary education, that the Ministry of Education in consultation with various stakeholders decided to make this constitutional provision a reality.
The Education Act, 2001 (Act No. 16 of 2001) Section 5 and the associated regulations make provision for school boards to levy an annual fee on learners payable by their parents, guardians, or caregivers as a contribution to the SDF.
However, over the years, Minister of Education Dr Abraham Iyambo said yesterday, the practice was turned into an "inhibitive condition for admission into public schools by some of our school authorities".
The minister said although the Education Act makes provision for exemption of contributing to the SDF by orphans and other vulnerable children, as well as marginalised groups, many schools in Namibia have unfortunately not encouraged exemptions for learners in need.
"In fact, many have been obstructing and frustrating such efforts. As a result, very few exemptions were ever granted," he noted.
Activities that exact payments from parents as practised in schools, Iyambo said, include withholding learners' reports, sending learners home, public display of names of those children who did not pay, compelling learners to buy their own stationery according to lists provided and unauthorised increase of SDF beyond the ceiling amount stipulated in the Education Act, without the minister's approval, among others.
However, the issue of providing free education was discussed extensively at the 2011 National Education Conference and on August 30, 2011, Cabinet met and deliberated on the recommendations from the conference. Cabinet took a collective decision and agreed with all the 67 conference recommendations, including the introduction of free primary education.
Iyambo said schools should reimburse those parents who may have paid SDF as part of their registration requirements for 2013.
"Education is made accessible to all. Parents are directed to enrol their children in any public school within the Republic of Namibia without fear of being requested or compelled to pay SDF as a condition," Iyambo indicated, adding that no children should be turned away from school after his announcement.
He also directed regional education offices to address the best way they can the issue of any influx of learners seeking admission to public schools following the announcement on universal primary education.
Cabinet has made available N$50 million for the 2012/13 financial year for the initial implementation of free primary education.
"This should cater for a total number of 458 933 learners between Grades 0 to 7. This figure includes an estimated 3.5 percent increase expected as a result of this announcement," he said.
Indicative costs over six years include grants to schools to replace SDF fees, textbooks and stationery, additional learners, additional teachers, classrooms and furniture and miscellaneous costs (information and training). However, Iyambo added that parents who wish to make individual voluntary contributions to schools as part of their parental roles are free to do so.