THE Ministry of Education has decided to provide free education to preprimary and primary learners because this is a requirement of the Constitution.
David Namwandi, the Deputy Minister of Education, yesterday said that in terms of Article 20 of the Constitution, "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".
Moreover, Namibia remains committed to the internationally agreed goals of education for all (EFA) and the Millennium Development Goals. "The aim of these goals is to bring the benefits of education to every citizen of the country."
Namwandi said that Cabinet directed the ministry to introduce universal free primary education in compliance with the Constitution.
According to him, Government will from this year take full responsibility to finance the operation of schools. "This will include textbooks and other learning materials, stationery, payment of teacher salaries and the provision of additional classrooms and furniture."
So far, Cabinet has already made N$50 million available for the financial year ending March 31. This, Namwandi said, will help finance 458 933 learners in Grade 0 to 7.
The figure includes an estimated 3,5% increase in enrolment expected as a result of the announcement that primary education is now for free.
For the next financial year, N$110 million has been set aside. "The grant shall supplement the day to day operations of schools."
The money will be made available through the regional budget programme, he said. Equally, the regional education director will be held responsible to account for the money.
Namwandi said that parents who paid for 2013 upfront, need to be reimbursed. "While the State fulfils this obligation, it should be borne in mind that parents play the most important role in the lives and education of their children. Schools remain part of the community in which parental involvement is paramount. Children in school will need love, support and care from parents and the assurance that each parent sends his/ her child to school."
Meanwhile, the announcement was met with mixed reaction. One school principal yesterday said that unless the Ministry of Education covers all the needs of schools, she foresees extreme difficulty. "We use the School Development Fund for most activities, including transporting learners to sport activities, buying equipment and for administrative expenses."
If those expenses are not dealt with, "the schools will struggle", she said. "The Ministry [of Education] will have to cater for all those activities."
Another principal from a rural school in the south of the country welcomed the move. According to him, 95% of parents at his school have not been able to pay school fees. Government now subsidising primary schools will benefit his school, he said. "Especially the rural schools will benefit from this."
Namwandi said the ministry has put guidelines in place and sent these to schools to help guide the implementation of free primary education. "Inspectors are hereby called upon to exercise vigilance and ensure that schools that require support are duly supported. The Ministry of Education trusts that the introduction of universal primary education will attract the excluded and the unreachable children in addition to addressing the retention and completion rates."
He said schools are allowed to have fundraising events provided it is not a disguise for school fees and parents participate freely.
He said that parents and caregivers are responsible to see to it that children between seven and 16 attend school as it is compulsory. "The practice of children not attending school is unconstitutional. Thus, I call upon all parents and guardians not to have in their houses any child who does not attend school."
Namwandi also warned farmers who employ children "to put an end to that practice".
Should any parent or guardian experience difficulties in enrolling a child at a school, they must contact the circuit office or the regional education office.
He equally urged traditional and church leaders to help see to it that children attend school in their respective communities.
Businesspeople who employ children should also refrain from doing so. "Many children under the age of 16 are employed in businesses including liquor stores, shebeens, cuca shops, selling goods and so forth. I call upon all business owners not to employ children under the age of 16. Let these children attend school."