AN ambiguous statement by the permanent secretary of education, Alfred Ilukena, has resulted in much confusion among parents of primary school learners and the public alike.
In a recent press statement Ilukena said the ministry would take full responsibility of the provision and procurement of stationery to all pre-primary and primary schools from next year. This statement contradicted the ministry's earlier directive that free stationery would be made available to these schools from yesterday.
When approached for comment, the deputy minister of education, David Namwandi, said that Ilukena was "misquoted".
"I clearly stated it on television. I made it very clear. We [the ministry] have made a commitment. Do not listen to anyone saying the contrary. As from 2013, parents who have already paid for stationery should not go back asking for a refund, because it does not look nice," said Namwandi.
Ilukena, who spoke to the newspaper from the Caprivi Region, said that his statement had been taken out of context.
"I was misquoted because I was out on the field when I heard the news that we made a U-turn on our decision. There is no U-turn, we are providing the stationery, all we are advising parents is not to go back for refunds. As they have already spent the money, they should give the stationery to the child. Now that everyone is aware - as from 2014, they should not repeat the same action of buying stationery because Government will stand for the costs," said Ilukena.
Ilukena said this is what his earlier press statement implied.
"We must know that this is only the transitional phase and there is bound to be misinterpretations and misunderstandings," he said.
He said the government was capable of meeting the demand of providing free stationery, as it had already done so in the past when it provided stationery to several regions.
"We have provided to over 90% of the schools. We are now just increasing our numbers, as free stationery will now be distributed to all government primary schools countrywide," he said.
Ilukena could not say when the stationery would be distributed to all schools, as many schools still need to place their orders with the ministry. He added that stationery would be ordered from the government stores and there is a possibility of other distributors as well.
Namwandi further urged principals and teachers not to go against the government's directive.
"No principal or teacher should force learners to pay for stationery if they have not done so already. This will be contradictory to the directive given by the ministry and cabinet," said Namwandi. The deputy minister could not say what consequences principals and teachers might face if they fail to adhere to the directive.
Ilukena further stated that schools are obligated to refund parents who have already paid school development funds for this academic year.
According to same press release, Ilukena stated that free primary education has no bearing on hostel fees, which must still be paid.