20 September 2018

Namibia: Bill to Ban Private Satellite Schools

EDUCATION permanent secretary Sanet Steenkamp says the government will no longer allow people to operate private satellite schools.

In an interview with The Namibian yesterday, Steenkamp said people who already own private schools and want to open or expand their operations would be required to apply and register such schools separately to avoid duplication and confusion.

She was motivating a clause on the regulation of private schools contained in the education bill tabled in the National Assembly by minister Katrina Hanse-Himarwa last week.

The recently introduced bill is aimed at promoting and regulating the free primary education system, while ensuring equitable, inclusive quality education and life-long learning, as well as protecting the rights of pupils to education.

The proposed legislation will replace the current Education Act of 2001.

The bill puts strict control over private education establishments, stating that all private schools providing primary education must be registered.

Private school owners, under the proposed legislation, will not be allowed to "open and operate a satellite school that is linked to a registered private school".

Those found contravening this act will be liable to a maximum fine of N$50 000 or imprisonment for a period not exceeding two years, or both.

The proposed legislation further gives the right to the ministry to close such schools, and institute legal action against the owners contravening the act to have the school closed.

"The provision refers to the fact that many people with registered private schools want to set up satellite schools of the same private school elsewhere. That is problematic, so you cannot duplicate.

If an owner wants to open a school in a different location, he or she still has to apply to the examination board, and provide the necessary documentation and details. Everything has to be investigated and registered separately," Steenkamp stressed.

Apart from the control over the setting-up of private schools, the proposed legislation also grants the ministry the right to expropriate privately owned "land or a real right in or over land" for any purpose relating to primary education in the country.

Such expropriation, the bill says, will be done in accordance with Article 16 of the Constitution, the Agricultural Land Reform Act of 1995, the Expropriation Ordinance of 1978, and any other law on the expropriation of private property.

Owners of land to be expropriated will, however, be allowed to negotiate the terms of their compensation with the ministry.

"Any expropriation may take effect immediately, even though compensation payable in respect of such land or a real right in or over such land has not been finally determined or paid," the bill explains.

The proposed law further states that the government will not allow the practice and display of political activities at state-owned schools. This includes political campaigning, the conducting of rallies, the distribution of fliers, and hanging or putting up of posters as well as wearing political attire, without the approval of the permanent secretary.

The display of political materials at school will only be allowed with the permission of the permanent secretary if such materials are "related to the curriculum at the school, which is not considered propaganda for political or religious agendas", and does not have commercial or self-interest objectives, or to exploit the pupils.

All schools, including home-based schools, hostel support centres and programmes will be subject to regular monitoring and evaluation to achieve compliance with the legislation.

According to the draft law, the health ministry will be required to carry out regular inspections and medical examinations in respect of pupils and staff members at any school.

The health ministry will also be required to carry out inspections and examinations of premises, buildings and accessories of any school or hostel regarding any health hazard for the promotion and preservation of hygienic conditions at schools.

Under the proposed law, people committing general offences such as disclosing pupils' health status or confidential information on any examination conducted on pupils will be subject to a fine of N$40 000 or imprisonment for four years, or both. People who falsify or tamper with certificates or diplomas purported to have been issued by the minister will also be punished similarly.

The draft law also states that a pupil will only be suspended from school if his or her behaviour "is of such nature that it is putting the lives of learners, teachers and other staff members at risk".

The expulsion of pupils from schools or hostels may be used as a last resort by the permanent secretary after a recommendation from the school board.

The proposed law furthermore allows pupils or teachers at any state school to practise any religion which is not against public order, and to manifest such practice "without fear or intimidation from anybody at the school".

Sunshine Private School director Nomakando Kangira yesterday said the bill will spoil brands.

"I do not see it working to have a Sunshine Private School in Windhoek and then a Greenfield Private School under the same owner at Walvis Bay, for example," she stated.

Kangira said the ministry should just assess and inspect the premises, as well as the standard of education a private school offers.

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