10 January 2013

Namibia: Free Education Hurts Stationery Stores

STATIONERY stores are up in arms over Government's announcement that it will provide free stationery.

According to an owner of a stationery shop in Windhoek, parents who bought stationery now want to return the goods and demand a refund. She said it was "a disaster for stationery businesses".

She said that Government "did not think about the consequences" when it decided to subsidise primary schools, including their stationery. "We are up in arms."

The woman wanted to know whether Government will reimburse them if they refund parents. "It is very, very bad."

She said she has not refunded any customer yet and is awaiting feedback from Government.

Victor Boshoff, the managing director of Waltons Stationery, yesterday said that they have received a number of enquiries from customers. "The fact of the matter is that we have a return policy and we will not prevent a customer from returning goods provided we are able to resell the goods."

He said there would "inevitably" be a financial impact if goods are returned. "But I cannot say how much it will be. We do however support the initiative of Government."

The spokesperson of the Ministry of Education, Romeo Muyunda, yesterday said that they will not refund stationery stores. "We don't have an agreement with them. We cannot refund them." He said that the ministry has furthermore not advised parents to return stationery."

According to him, "the issue has already reached the office of the Permanent Secretary".

At a press conference on Tuesday, David Namwandi, the Deputy Minister of Education, announced that the ministry has decided to provide free education to pre-primary and primary learners because this is a requirement of the Constitution.

He 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."

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