As another round of online learning comes into effect today, university students have expressed unhappiness over the delayed arrival of Namibia Students Financial Assistance Fund (NSFAF) laptops. On Tuesday, President Hage Geingob once again announced new measures to curb the spread of Covid-19, including suspending face-to-face learning.
Students funded by NSFAF complained that they applied for these laptops last August but no delivery has been made yet.
This, they say, has negatively affected their studies since universities have shifted to online learning for many modules and courses.
To make matters worse, some students have already been deducted the money for the laptops as per the agreement they entered with NSFAF.
The fund budgeted N$6 000 for each laptop when the initiative to procure 32 000 laptops was initially launched.
The controversial laptop contract initiative of N$180 million, to supply university students is part of the government’s support plan for higher education institutions and students to boost e-learning platforms, and ensure that remote teaching takes place during the Covid-19 pandemic, was met with derision and doubt. The government would subsidise the laptop cost by 50%, while the students were offered two options to finance the remaining 50%: through a NSFAF loan, or cash payment. As part of new measures to curtail the spread of the deadly Covid-19 pandemic, Geingob on Tuesday announced that face-to-face teaching and learning for primary, secondary schools and higher education institutions, including technical education, have been suspended until 30 June.
“NSFAF has already deducted for the laptops but up until now we only received internet devices but haven’t received the laptops and nothing has been communicated to us,” a student complained.
Contacted for comment, the ministry of higher education’s spokesperson Selma Ngola acknowledged that some students who have applied through NSFAF for these packages (laptops and internet devices) have not yet received their laptops. “Due to Covid-19, there has been a delay from the manufacturing companies. However, they promised to make their first delivery of laptops by the end of June 2021 and hopefully, the distribution will begin at the beginning of July. NSFAF students who were already deducted or who have financed for the laptops through their NSFAF loan will be given first priority when distributing,” she said. The Student Union of Namibia (SUN) from the onset contended the laptops initiative was an illegal and immoral exercise, adding NSFAF had no mandate to decide on whether their non-tuition fees should be spent on laptops or not.
SUN president Simon Amunime argues the contract entered into by NSFAF and students makes no provision for the fund to decide what to do with students’ money (non-tuition) without consulting students. “It was never up to the discretion of the fund to spend students’ money in whatever manner they deem fit. We warned that the forceful procuring of these overpriced laptops for students will mean that students’ non-tuition fees will be drastically cut. Those on the N$21 600 contracts will end up receiving only N$15 600, and those on the N$17 000 contracts will end up getting N$11 000,” he remarked.
Amunime said as per the current academic and economic climate, SUN oppose that it was much better and practical to give the students their full non-tuition directly so that they use the money on other tools of learning and to support themselves.
According to him, a significant majority of students already have laptops, and will just end up selling the NSFAF laptops for hard cash to survive.
“We knew the bidding process advertised by NSFAF on 1 September 2020, calling for business submission, until 7 September 2020 was never going to materialise and never going to benefit students but those with business interests.
“We have long rejected the laptop initiative and we made a clarion call to all students and peace-loving Namibians to equally object and reject this bogus initiative to avoid such crisis as we are experiencing now,” he said.
Namibia National Students Organisation (Nanso) admitted the delivery of the laptops remains a challenge. Nanso spokesperson Esther Shakela said they have been on all the necks of relevant stakeholders to ensure that delivery takes place.
“However, due to Covid-19, manufacturing in the concerned countries has slowed down and the demand could not be met. Hence, the delivery period took longer. Our ultimatum remains that the laptops should be delivered to students now and not later than the end of July,” she said. – firstname.lastname@example.org