18 January 2013

Namibia: Schools Bypass Govt Directive

Photo: Alexandre Dulaunoy/Flickr
Knowledge is power.

THE government directive to principals and teachers not to insist that parents buy stationery for their primary school children has fallen on deaf ears, as some schools say they cannot wait on the government to distribute stationery to schools.

Some school principals The Namibian spoke to said that teaching must start and they cannot allow pupils to sit in class twiddling their thumbs without stationery.

Many schools have urged parents to pay stationery fees in order to get the ball rolling, despite an instruction from the Ministry of Education not to do so.

Josef Makomelo, the principal of the Otavi Primary School, told The Namibian that his school had made prior arrangements with suppliers last year for stationery.

He said Government's announcement came too late.

"The announcement came early this month. There is no way we can send the stationery back to the suppliers. As is common practice, parents pay N$60 for stationery so that we are able to cover that amount."

Makomelo said this amount covers 12 exercise books, which include six A5 books and a hardcover scribbler for upper primary pupils. First-graders receive pencils, crayons and books.

He said the school already had an agreement with parents and that this should be followed through.

"Those who cannot pay, we understand. However, we expect the parents that are capable to pay the amount to do so," said Makomelo.

He said Government was taking its time with delivering what it had promised. "All the things we were supposed to receive from the government we have not received yet."

He said having to wait on Government would only cause delays in the school's teaching curriculum.

Makomelo said the number of pupils at the school had increased by more than 100, resulting in some children sitting on the floor without desks or chairs.

Other schools find themselves in the same situation as the Otavi Primary School. Some have not made arrangements with suppliers and now have to wait on Government to deliver the free stationery.

Makomelo said Government had unrealistic expectations as to how schools should administer money given to them through the free universal primary education scheme. "They expect us to spend half of the money on textbooks and the other half on stationery and cleaning material."

He said that left about N$500 for buying cleaning material for the year. "Imagine that. We have to buy toilet paper and other cleaning material that should last throughout the year with that amount of money."

However, Makomelo said Government's decision to subsidise N$198 per child this year was a good boost for the school, as not all parents were able to pay the N$210 school fees in the past.

Most schools are unhappy with the stationery ordering system, saying that orders have to go through bureaucratic procedures which will ultimately delay the education process.

Elim Primary School principal Ursula Damens said her school had received a list of items that the government would supply, but this was less than half of what was needed.

"On the list we will receive two pencils instead of the usual six pencils we expected parents to buy, for example," she said.

Damens added that although she was in full support of the government directive, it was still necessary for parents to meet the school halfway. "It is a good thing to start with. I embrace it. However, we need to get a broader picture, we need the involvement of the parents," she said.

At Elim, some pupils are still without stationery, but the school has made provision for the distribution of books in the meantime.

Damens declined to comment on an SMS accusing the school of requiring parents to pay 'new' fees for things such as photocopying, maintenance and security.

"I will rectify that matter at the parents' meeting next week Monday. I will not do it through the newspaper," she said.

She said she expected parents to be cooperative and positive about the proposals to be made at the meeting.

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