THE Ministry of Education appears to be backtracking on its decision to supply stationery to primary schools free of charge from this year.
On Tuesday last week, David Namwandi, the deputy minister of education, announced that the government would be providing free preprimary and primary education. This, he said, would include stationery.
Days later, on Friday, the permanent secretary, Alfred Ilukena, issued a statement, saying: "As from 2014, the Ministry of Education will take full responsibility of the provision and procurement of stationery to all primary schools."
Ilukena said the statement was issued "to clarify the provision of stationery in relation to the implementation of universal primary education".
According to him, parents who have an agreement with schools to buy stationery should honour such agreement for the 2013 academic year. Next year, parents should not enter into an agreement with schools.
Romeo Muyunda, the spokesperson of the ministry, yesterday denied that they are backtracking on their earlier announcement. "There are schools who have arrangements with parents and we don't want to affect that arrangement for now."
He said the ministry already supplies stationery to schools but that some schools rely on parents to supplement that stationery. It is this agreement that the ministry wants to keep the way it is for 2013, he said. "Next year, we will provide everything."
Friday's statement reiterated that parents should not pay school development funds for this year and that they ought to be refunded if they paid upfront last year. However, Ilukena cautioned parents to be patient, as "schools will require time to make the necessary arrangements for refunds".
Shortly after the ministry's announcement last week, chaos erupted when parents who had bought stationery from stationers wanted to return it.
About this, Ilukena said: "Parents and guardians who have already procured stationery for their children in Grade 0-7 for the year 2013 should not return them to the suppliers but [it] should be used for the purpose it was procured for."
Stationery shops were 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 had bought stationery wanted to return the goods and demanded 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.
She wanted to know whether Government would reimburse them if they refunded parents. "It is very, very bad."
She said she had not refunded any customers yet and was awaiting feedback from Government.
Muyunda last week maintained that they would not refund stationery shops. "We don't have an agreement with them. We cannot refund them." He said the ministry had not advised parents to return stationery.
At last Tuesday's press conference, Namwandi announced that the ministry had decided to provide free education to pre-primary and primary learners because this is a requirement of the Constitution.
He said 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 Cabinet had 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 for financing the operations of primary schools. "This will include textbooks and other learning materials, stationery, payment of teachers' salaries and the provision of additional classrooms and furniture."
So far, Cabinet has made N$50 million available for the financial year ending March 31. This, Namwandi said, would help finance 458 933 children in Grades 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 free.
For the next financial year, N$110 million has been set aside. "The grant shall supplement the day-to-day operations of schools."