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Covid-19: Private institutions in great stress

2020-07-24  Staff Reporter

Covid-19: Private institutions in great stress
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The negative impact of the ravaging Covid-19 pandemic has been felt in every sector of the economy and every sphere of life in Namibia. Families have been emotionally drained because either they have lost their loved ones, or their breadwinners have lost their jobs due to the pandemic. Local authorities are struggling to contain the ravaging pandemic. No one can deny that the situation is topsy-turvy in the country and in the whole world because of this pandemic. Put simply, the world is in a state of confusion, utter disarray. Although health personnel are working round the clock in order to bring relief to a nation in danger and panic, the pandemic is inexorably spreading and causing more deaths, suffering and infecting more people.  

As this sorry state of affairs continues, private institutions are feeling the pinch and are struggling to survive. Most private schools have witnessed a significant drop in their enrolments due to the effects of the coronavirus. During the lockdown, not all parents kept paying school fees for their children. Some parents did not see the point of paying full school fees as their children were at home. This is despite the fact that private schools continued to use meagre resources to provide online teaching or e-learning with little in return in terms of school fees. With teachers’ salaries, rent, electricity and other bills to pay, schools were forced to either retrench staff or pay them a certain percentage of their salaries as a compromise. A short survey has revealed that parents and guardians owe private schools millions of dollars in unpaid school fees. 

Parents and guardians have not just chosen not to pay fees. The effects of the coronavirus have genuinely affected some; their financial capabilities have been eroded. Companies have closed due to the coronavirus. Shops, restaurants and other businesses have closed shop. Both the formal and informal sectors have been affected. All these are some of the businesses that have been employing parents and guardians. 

Many parents and guardians have pulled their children from private schools since they are no loner able to pay schools fees. In most cases, parents who withdraw their children fail to settle their school fees areas.  In such cases, the burden is passed on to the school. It is the school that suffers in the end.

Since private schools do not receive subsidies or grants from government, their survival during this coronavirus period can be described as hand to mouth. Affected private schools are in a dilemma; they are in a quandary. The reopening of schools has not greatly improved the situation in most schools. Revenue is still low against the huge sums of money needed to effectively run these schools. As a result, some private schools owe their creditors and landlords millions of dollars in unpaid rentals and other services. It has become a vicious circle. No schools, no money for staff salaries, no money creditors – the chain goes on.  Some owners of these schools I talked to this week are contemplating winding up business as it is no longer viable to operate this business. 

As I see it, government and some financial sectors should bail out private schools in order for them to come out of their doldrums. Once the schools receive funds to meet their dire straits, they have the potential of reinvesting the money wisely and come back to their glorious statuses. The funds may be in the form of soft loans and grants payable over a period of time. In some countries, private schools are partially funded and regulated by governments. There are state-aided private schools and public 

The argument here is, without planned financial assistance, I see most private schools heading for a downfall. This downfall is not heathy since private schools play a significant role in providing quality education to the nation. As I see it, government alone cannot provide quality education to all children in Namibia. Literature reveals that in any country, there is room for non-state schools operated by church organisations, entrepreneurs, agencies, non-governmental organisations, trusts and charities. With the expansion in the education sector in Namibia, and the introduction of free primary education, the role private schools play in this sector is crucial.  

The private school sector, which is currently under stress, should be allowed to flourish again by injecting the much needed funds into it. This coronavirus is an act of God which caught the world unaware. Private colleges and universities has also been affected by this virus. There is need to have financial bailout schemes for most of these institutions for them to meet all their operations and obligations.

2020-07-24  Staff Reporter

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