The Namibian (Windhoek)

Namibia: Coastal Schools Overcrowded

REGARDLESS of several new school classrooms being built by the private sector and the government at the coast, as well as the opening of a whole new school in Walvis Bay, pupils in grades one, eight and eleven are still battling for space.

Most of the primary and secondary schools yesterday, on the first day of the 2013 school term, already had notices at their entrances that there was no more place for "any of the grades". In fact, even on the door of Erongo's education inspector, Angeline Steenkamp, the same message was posted.

Preliminary figures indicate that over 710 grade ones and over 280 grade eights are still hoping to get place this year; and while all 934 grade eleven learners in the region that did apply for schools and subjects to continue their school careers were accommodated, there were still some "late cases" that will also have to be fitted in somewhere, according to Steenkamp.

"Walvis Bay and Swakopmund schools, preferred by folks from across Namibia, are over-full. Even with all the new classes and a new school having been built over the past two years to address the shortfall of space," she said.

She said it was the Erongo directorate's wish to make sure all the children have space - even if that means stuffing classes with up to 45 learners and offering afternoon sessions.

Steenkamp said said that those who do not have place, especially those who applied for a place last year already, as well as local learners from the coastal towns, will be helped as from next week after the figures are made available as to how much places are still available.

According to her, applications from outside these towns and the Erongo Region are still a challenge to the local directorate. Many parents look for or find work in the region, especially the mining and fishing sectors, hence the perpetual need for more space to accommodate more children. It was however the local learners that would be considered first.

"We appreciate all the support we've gotten so far from both the private sector and government in building classrooms, but our appeal remains. We need more. Please," she said.

The principal of Swakopmund Secondary School, Sinvula Sibanga, who is a member of the 'placement panel' in Erongo, told The Namibian that many pupils and parents had to be shown away because "there is just no more space - in any of the grades".

With regard to grade 11 placements, he explained that grade 10 learners at the end of their term are given application forms in which they indicate in which school they want to be placed for grade 11 and what subjects they intend to pursue.

"We worked according to those applications, and honoured the learners' intentions. All of the grade 11s in Erongo did find place. A problem is created however when the applicants - in the start of the new school year - decide contrary to their original application. They maybe want to go to another school where their friends are for instance. That's when one hears of grade 11s and their parents complaining that they cannot get space. The fact is, they did get space, but changed their minds as to where they wanted to go. They must realise that classes in schools where other applicants decided to go will be honoured and that the chances of there being extra space is limited," Sibanga said.

Swakopmund's Hanganeni Primary School's principal, Bertha Kadhila, said that all their new grade one classes were filled, but it may be that more children will have to be placed there.

"We still have the same problem of lack of space at the coast, but I believe we can make it in the end," she remarked.

A teacher at the Namib Primary School said all applications for grade one were finalised by the middle last year, and "that we tried our level best to make place for all", while others were put on a waiting list. She said the directorate of education in Erongo backed this school's and parents' wishes to keep German as mother tongue there. Namib Primary and the Delta school in Windhoek are the only two schools in Namibia that has German as mother tongue.

"We only have a handful of German children this year. The others were given the option to have Afrikaans or German as a second language," she said.

A mother, Ruth Smith, who was waiting to speak to the Erongo inspector yesterday about finding her grade one son a place, told the newspaper that she was at most of the primary schools to register, but was shown away.

Asked if she would move to another town in the region just so her son could start his school career, she said "no way".

"We are Swakopmunders and should get first option. I will never move, nor send my son away from home," she said, adding that she was assured that by next week a place could be found.

"The only sad thing is that he might miss a week or two of school which could set him back with schoolwork and making friends, but I guess that's just how the situation is at the moment. I hope he will find a place," she said.

Erongo, although being the most popular region for education and also being a top performer over the past few years on all academic levels, dropped to fourth place (from third last year) in the 2012 grade 10 results, while also dropping to second place (from first) in the Higher International General Certificate of Secondary Education (HIGCSE) category.

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