The education ministry is currently constructing 105 additional pre-primary classrooms across the country at a cost of N$53.6 million to accommodate the swelling numbers of learners being enrolled in schools each year.
The Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education, Arts and Culture, Sanet Steenkamp, told New Era the abolishment of the compulsory parental contribution to the school development fund has seen an increased intake of learners in pre-primary and primary grades at public schools. As a result the ministry finds itself without enough classrooms to accommodate all learners.
"There is still a significant number of non-permanent structures prevalent across the country," she noted.
The number of permanent classrooms has increased from 8,416 in 1992 to 25,050 in the 2017 academic year, representing a significant development.
With the introduction of the primary education grant by the ministry in 2013 and subsequently the introduction of the secondary education grant in 2016, the demand for places in government schools has drastically increased. Most of these learners are those that had dropped out of school due to financial obligations the school development fund had on parents and guardians.
According to the latest statistics by the education ministry, the total number of pre-primary and primary learners before the phasing out of the compulsory contribution to the school development fund, in 2012 was 443,414 which increased to 449,243 in 2013.
Comparison of learner numbers between the 2013 and 2016 academic years shows a substantial increase in intake from 449,243 learners in pre-primary and primary grades in 2013 to a total of 525,292 in 2017, which represents a 14.4 percent growth
Steenkamp said the implementation of "fee-free education" for primary learners in 2013 and improvement in access at this critical level of education are evident.
Further, she added that access to secondary education is also seen to have improved after the abolishment of school development fund fees in 2016.
According to her, more learners are transitioning from primary to secondary schools due to improved access in the primary phase, although the Grade 10 and Grade 12 completion rates are still very low.
But with an increase in enrolment comes challenges particularly in teacher recruitment. The appointment of teachers is guided by post provisioning norms of 2001, which are applied through the various ratios such as at special schools which stipulate 15 learners per teacher, pre-primary 25 learners for one teacher, primary 35 learners per teacher, while in secondary only 30 learners are allowed per teacher.
"The above ratios imply that an increase in the number of learners warrants a subsequent increase in the number of teachers. The 11.2 percent increase in the learner numbers at pre-primary and primary level between 2013 and 2016 academic years, resulted in a subsequent increase in the number of teachers and the same is true for secondary education," she explained.
The total number of teachers in public schools increased from 24,961 in 2015 to 25,833 in 2016, which translates to a 3 percent increase.
She said universal education is aimed at expanding the access to quality inclusive education for all, by eliminating barriers to accessing education through various interventions.
"Now, with the implementation of universal primary and secondary education, the ministry has various interventions to ensure all children access quality education at all levels through charge-free education, including policies, guidelines and programmes. The state provides resources such as classrooms, learning and resource materials, including textbooks, stationery and access, by budget provision through the universal primary education grant and universal secondary education grant for both primary and secondary schools, respectively," Steenkamp noted.