UNICEF education officer Jessica Brown says the Namibian government is not prioritising primary education, leading to an unstable foundation for pupils.
She was speaking at the Economic Association of Namibia's conference that focused on inequality held in Windhoek last week.
"We have discovered through our research that the foundation years are not being prioritised. Just 2% of the education ministry's N$12 billion budget was allocated to pre-primary education," said Brown.
According to her, the government spent N$57 000 per tertiary student per year, N$15 000 on secondary level pupils, and only N$4 200 per primary school child. This inequality, she said, affected the quality of education at this level.
She stressed that the elementary level of education is significant in ensuring better preparation of pupils for the higher grades.
Brown added that while dropouts from Grade 8 to Grade 10 are alarming, Grade 1 also faces worrying repetition rates of 20% and grade promotions of 78% in 2016 and 2017.
"The primary grade repetition and promotion of pupils at primary level is relatively high, which goes to show a shaky foundation," she lamented.
She added that enrolment rates at pre-primary level are low (31,4% in 2017), and from Grade 1, there is an alarming rate of dropouts, which spike in Grade 8 and Grade 10.
Speaking at the same event, education strategist Angelica Amporo said early intervention in education is crucial to the success of students at tertiary level.
"While I am a big believer in public education, I think public schools in Namibia are not meeting the needs of children, considering the budget allocated to the primary level learner," she observed.
Education permanent secretary Sanet Steenkamp disputed Brown's claims, saying they have made enough effort to ensure quality education to children from primary level.
"In an effort to ensure a quality, solid and robust education foundation for the Namibian child, our education system has undergone reforms to provide equitable quality education for all," she explained.
These changes, amongst others, involved changing basic education structures, reviewing basic education curricula, and an introduction to technical subjects.
Asked if the quality of primary education has affected the dropout rate at secondary level, Steenkamp said those dropouts could be attributed to other factors.
"The number of school dropouts in the country can certainly not be attributed to the government's perceived spending on primary and secondary education, but on factors such as pregnancies, indiscipline and distances to schools," the permanent secretary said.
"The ministry has taken steps to transform the system of education in the country, but it cannot be denied that inequalities and challenges still persist," she added.