Free primary education, lower illiteracy rate

The Ministry of Education (MoE) last year announced that it would introduce the Universal Primary Education programme in which learners from pre-primary to Grade Seven would have access to free education starting this year.

This means, learners will no longer have to pay school fees or buy academic resources required by public schools under the School Development Fund (SDF) policy.

The regulation whose implementation commenced at the start of the 2013 school calendar year, will largely sail as a major milestone in the development of education in the country.

This is because it is intended to be in line with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco)’s ‘Education for All’ (EFA) programme and the United Nations Millennium Development Goals by 2015.

The education ministry has already sent out the guidelines for the implementation of the free primary education directives. Education inspectors will now monitor the implementation to ensure that support is provided to schools that need it.

“The Constitution of the Republic of Namibia, Article 20, states and mandates that all persons shall 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,” states the media statement from the education minister, Dr Abraham Iyambo’s office.

It adds that children shall not be allowed to leave school until they have completed their primary education or have attained the age of 16. Whichever comes sooner, save in so far as this may be authorised by an Act of Parliament on the grounds of health or other considerations pertaining to the public interest.

The implementation of the Universal Primary Education programme, according to the statement, was implemented upon the constitutional premise and the National Conference on Education Resolutions that called for Free Primary Education. In that regard, the MoE, in consultation with various stakeholders, has decided to make this constitutional provision a reality.

Additionally, Namibia has committed itself to the international initiative of the EFA that was first launched in Jomtien, Thailand, in 1990 and re-affirmed in Dakar, Senegal, in 2000. EFA’s core objective is to bring the benefits of education to every citizen in every country. Its Goal 2 stipulates that: “By 2015, all children, particularly girls, those in difficult circumstances and those belonging to ethnic minorities (including orphans and vulnerable children - OVCs, the marginalised and the disadvantaged), have access to and complete free and compulsory primary education of good quality.”

The Namibia Education Act, 2001 (Act No.16 of 2001), Section 5 and the associated regulations, made a provision that a school board may levy an annual fee on learners payable by their parents, guardians, or caregivers as a contribution to the SFD.

This was done with noble intentions of encouraging parental involvement in the education of their children. However, over the years, the practice has been turned into an inhibitive condition for admission into public schools by some of our school authorities. The noble intention has unfortunately been abused and led to exclusion of many children from education.

According to the statement, “The issue of providing free primary education was discussed extensively at the 2011 National Education Conference. Conference participants explored and integrated many aspects of free primary education and made a unanimous recommendation that free primary education should be introduced in Namibia in line with the Constitution of Namibia, Article 20. On 30 August 2011, Cabinet met to deliberate on the recommendations from the conference. Cabinet took a collective decision and agreed with all the 67 conference recommendations including the introduction of universal primary education.

“However, the Ministry of Education needed to fully study and understand how universal primary education will impact the education system more so the cost implications and implementation strategies.”

Citing the National Housing Income and Expenditure Survey (NHIES) 2009/10, which indicated that 11.6% of children aged six – 13 had never been to school, the ministry states that households were consuming much funds on education then.

“Some members of the population devote less than N$100 per person to education, while other households allocate over N$3 000 per person to educational consumption. It was also found that over 92% of State schools have a School Development Fund. The report revealed that school funds are used for a variety of activities from paying for relief teachers, photocopying, textbooks and stationery to cleaning and building maintenance. A percentage is also used for extra-curricular activities, travel and transport and curriculum development.

“The report found that Student Development Fund expenditure was skewed in favour of economically advantaged regions and areas, thus perpetuating inequalities between schools in different parts of the country. The report also concurred that by eliminating the existing system of Student Development Fund contributions and providing direct State grants to schools to compensate for income foregone is likely to have a very positive impact in redressing such embedded disparities. Even before the study was conducted the Ministry of Education had proactively requested the Ministry of Finance for funding of introduction of Universal Primary Education,” explains the NHIES report states in part.

Learners at public schools, from pre-primary to Grade Seven, will no longer be required to pay school fees or buy textbooks and stationery and are no longer obliged to contribute to the SDF.

“No child needs to be turned away from schools after this announcement. Regional education offices are directed to address the issue of an influx of learners seeking admission to public schools following the announcement of the Universal Primary Education, the best way they can,” advises the education ministry.

Cabinet has already availed N$50m for the 2012/13 financial year for the initial implementation of the programme. This will extensively cater for a total number of 458 933 learners from Grade 0 to 7. This figure includes an estimated 3.5% increase expected as a result of this announcement.

The ministry hopes that with the implementation of this programme, Namibia will meet its commitments towards achieving Unesco’s EFA programme and the UN Millennium Development Goals by the set deadline. PF