Keetmanshoop — The introduction of Universal Primary Education (UPE) in public primary schools across the country had an insignificant impact on enrollment figures in the Karas Region.
UPE was introduced for the first time this week when schools re-opened to give effect to a long-standing constitutional provision, which provides for free and compulsory pre-primary and primary school education until the age of 16.
The directive to implement UPE is also a means to accelerate progress in the quest to meet the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) that calls for universal primary education for all children by 2015.
However, contrary to expectations, though, net enrollment in primary schools in the south appears not to have changed dramatically following the introduction of UPE, according to a cursory survey conducted by New Era at three out of five primary schools in Keetmanshoop.
The schools are Keetmanshoop Primary School, St Mathias and Krönlein primary schools. The principals of several schools in Keetmanshoop said they were pleased that no parent has returned to school to claim refunds of fees they paid prior to the introduction of free primary education.
According to them, some parents even approached the schools, saying they would not claim the fees they had paid already. School administrators say many parents are grateful and appreciative of the fact that they no longer have to pay school fees.
Yesterday Krönlein Primary School had already enrolled 1015 learners in Grades 0-7, compared to 1050 in 2012. Krönlein is the biggest primary school in the region. Reon van Wyk, the Head of Department (HOD) at the school says the projected enrolment for this year is 1127 compared to last year's 1063.
However, according to Van Wyk the figure may increase by next week when more parents bring their kids to enroll, and the school anticipates a final enrollment figure of 1127.
St Matthias Primary School enrolled 648 learners compared to the projected 720, according to the HOD, Anna Vries.
She added that all the classes from Grades 0-5 are full, except for Grades 6 and 7, where there is still space to accommodate 15 learners.
Vries welcomed the introduction of free education, saying it would mean a lot to poor families.
"We have no problem with the policy since it will empower the poor. She however added that adequate awareness campaigns need to be conducted involving all stakeholders, including parent-teacher associations, school administrators and communities on how the policy works," she said.
"The word 'free' must be well defined or interpreted to include the practical implications of the goals of the policy. Parents should also be more accountable and assist government in the implementation of the policy by making meaningful contributions," she added.
According to the Keetmanshoop Primary School principal, Pieter Zulch, the school enrolled 760 learners on the first day of school, adding that the number could rise to 1000 by next week. "This is normal by our standards and it has got nothing to do with the UPE policy," he stressed.