9 January 2013

Namibia: Free Primary Education Starts

One book, ten children. Kids in class

Learners at public schools, from pre-primary to grade seven, do not have to pay school fees or buy textbooks and stationery and are not obliged to contribute to the School Development Funds (SDFs) anymore.

The regulation goes into effect immediately with the commencement of the 2013 school calendar year, as announced by government last year. The Ministry of Education has already sent out the guidelines for the implementation of the free primary education directive. Education inspectors will monitor the implementation to ensure that support is provided to schools that need it.

"With the implementation of Universal Primary Education, in line with Article 20 of the Namibian Constitution, Namibia is expected to meet its commitments to achieving UPE, including the UNESCO Education for All and the UN Millennium Development Goals by 2015," the Deputy Minister of Education, Dr David Namwandi, elaborated yesterday.

Cabinet has already made available N$50 million for the initial phase of the implementation of Universal Primary Education (UPE), and the money will cater for close to 460 000 public school learners from the pre-primary level to Grade 7. In addition, the government will spend approximately N$100 million during the 2013 academic year on textbooks, of which about 75 percent will go to primary education.

The N$50 million makes provision for an estimated 3.5 percent increase in school enrollment expected as a result of the decision to introduce free Universal Primary Education.

The resources provided by the government will be disbursed as part of the regional budgets and the accountability for the utilisation of the funds will remain the responsibility of the regional education directors.

Although the Education Act makes provision for school boards to levy an annual fee as a contribution to the School Development Fund (SDF), the education ministry has noted that in the past years this practice has been turned into an "inhibitive condition for admission into public schools by some of our school authorities."

Dr Namwandi emphasised that volunteerism has not been abandoned and he encouraged those parents who are willing and able to contribute to the SDFs to do so. However, households unable to make voluntary contributions should be exempted. The Act already makes provision for the exemption of orphans and other vulnerable children, as well as marginalised groups from contributing to SDFs.

Yesterday Dr Namwandi remarked that he trusts that the introduction of free primary education would attract excluded and unreachable children in addition to addressing the retention and completion rates in all public schools. Dr Namwandi also warned parents and guardians that failure to send children under the age of 16 to school is unconstitutional.

"Our clarion call goes to all farmers and farm labourers who have children at farms who do not attend school and are employed as labourers on farms to put an end to that practice. I call upon all parents to make sure that all children under the age of 16 leave home to attend school", said Dr Namwandi. He also advised parents and guardians who find it difficult to enroll their children in schools to contact their nearest school, circuit office or Regional Education Office for assistance in securing placement for their children.

Community and traditional leaders together with the law enforcement agencies are asked to ensure that no child under the age of 16 is found not attending school. Dr Namwandi noted that many children under the age of 16 are employed in businesses, including liquor stores, shebeens and cuca shops and called on all business owners, big or small, to refrain from employing under age children.

Said Dr Namwandi: "Namibia has ratified four international conventions and protocols that prohibit child labour. Let it be our obligation to ensure that the Namibian child enjoys the rights guaranteed by the Constitution." Article 20 of the Namibian Constitution mandates that: "All

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