16 January 2013

Namibia: Skepticism Over Practicalities of Free Education

The introduction of free primary education in public schools across the country has evoked mixed reactions, with some school authorities in the Karas Region calling on the Ministry of Education to expedite the disbursement of funds to schools.

Following the announcement to introduce free Universal Primary Education (UPE) by the Ministry of Education, many in the education sector have expressed mixed feelings, with some wondering aloud whether the decision calls for celebration or not, because there is reason to believe that allocating funds directly to schools could prove easier said than done.

Government undertook to take full responsibility to finance the operation of schools, which include the acquisition of textbooks and other learning materials, stationery, payment of teachers' salaries and the provision of additional classrooms and furniture.

An initial amount of N$50 million was budgeted for the exercise only until March 31, 2013, while a further N$100 million has been budgeted for the 2013 financial year.

Nevertheless, some educationists say the introduction of free education is an indication that the education sector is on the right path to revival. However, some of the school authorities approached by New Era say the implementation of the initiative could prove difficult and appealed to government to approach and deal with potential problems as a matter of utmost urgency.

The Principal of the Keetmanshoop Primary School, Pieter Zulch, said unless the Ministry of Education covers all the needs of schools, extreme difficulties could not be ruled out.

Zulch added that the ministry should also expedite the disbursement of funds to cover running expenses. "We use the School Development Fund for most activities, including auditors, buying equipment, photo copying papers, maintenance of the machine and for administrative expenses. However, these funds are now depleted," said Zulch.

"There is still a lot of work to be done. For example, who will now cover the cost of the insurance if we run out of cash? If those expenses are not dealt with now the school will struggle," he cautioned.

"The Ministry of Education will have to cater for those expenses," he said. He warned that if government does not undertake to pay for equipment ordered already many schools would be compelled to cancel orders.

According to him when the school term started yesterday close to 700 primary school-age learners were registered at his school yesterday as a result of the free education initiative. "Compared to the previous years there has been a dramatic increase in enrollment at our school. But this means that we need to employ additional teachers and build more classrooms as a matter of urgency," he added.

He urged the ministry to do everything in its power to ensure that the promised funding is made available as soon as possible so that the operations of schools are not hampered in any way.

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