TUN pessimistic about free education

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WINDHOEK – Despite the fact that government has since 2013 introduced free universal education as per the constitution, the Teachers Union of Namibia (TUN) feels in reality the spin-offs of free education never took effect in Namibia. 

The Constitution of the Republic of Namibia, Article 20 states that “All persons have the right to education. Primary education shall be compulsory and the state shall provide reasonable facilities to render effective this right for every resident within Namibia, by establishing and maintaining state schools at which primary education will be provided free of charge.”  

In line with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and in particular the Education for All Goal to achieve Universal Primary Education, a study was commissioned in 2011 by the ministry and recommendations obliged the ministry (being signatory to the Millennium Development Goals) to achieve Universal Primary Education by 2015. This meant the grants system was established and implemented in 2013 for the primary phase and was well aligned to the constitution.    

In 2014, discussions started that the same approach should be applied for the secondary phase. This discussion culminated in a government decision through its 9th Cabinet Resolution of 17.06.2014/001 that approved the “abolishment of examination fees in all public secondary schools” as from the 2016 academic year and furthermore approved “the abolishment of compulsory parental contributions to the school development fund”.

Although the government has made its stance clear on those schools still charging fees, despite this policy of free education, TUN is of a different opinion regarding the strategy.

TUN secretary general Mahongora Kavihuha claims “even government itself never understood the concept of free education. I think the government’s pronouncement was to confuse the masses, to get votes from the masses and even for them to be seen as having social progression and assistance to the poor. If you go to countries where free education is offered, for example Finland, free education means free. For government to come and say there is free education but parents should have an obligation towards their children’s education, then they are confused with the policy. So, it never started on our side.” Kavihuha made the remarks after he was asked to express his views on the issue regarding free education in Namibia. 

On the other hand, the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Education, Arts and Culture, Sanet Steenkamp, said the introduction of the primary and secondary education grant did not oust the obligations and responsibilities of parents or guardians towards their children that are attending schools. 

She said parents or guardians are still at liberty to contribute towards the upkeep, maintenance and improvement of the schools of their children (and by inference their own schools). 

According to her, schools still welcome contributions in cash or kind by parents or guardians.
Steenkamp noted the parents still have a moral obligation that was not ousted by the introduction of the grants, to provide inputs about the betterment of schools relating to academic, cultural, and social performance, and financial contributions remain one of the necessary contributions that they can and should make. 

She said with the ever-increasing prices, schools are not insulated against such economic adjustments, adding that with the best of efforts, schools will find it difficult to make ends meet only on the basis of the grants. 
“There remains definite room for parents or guardians to put the proverbial shoulder to the wheel and pull the wagon through the difficult terrain even with voluntary financial contributions,” she maintained. 

Equally, she said schools have not been precluded from raising funds through own initiatives. 
Hence, she added, a balance must be struck that the fundraising initiatives are not a measure of discrimination or exclusion. 

“A very delicate balance must be maintained here. The sourcing of voluntary contributions then become topical provided it has been elaborately discussed with the parent or guardian community and its implementation has been agreed with the majority of the school community in a well-documented and transparent process,” Steenkamp said.
She directed that all voluntary contributions in cash or kind must be documented and declared for future auditing purposes of the financial books of the school. 

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 grants for both primary and secondary schools respectively. 

During the 2017/2018 financial year, the ministry budgeted N$114 million towards Universal Primary Education and N$53 million towards Universal Secondary Education.