Classroom Space a country Challenge

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By Frederick Philander WINDHOEK Bureaurocratic indecision, as well as the migratory patterns of parents are to a large extent responsible for the expected rush of primarily first-time enrolments in most Namibian schools today, the first day of the school year. These charges were yesterday made against the Ministry of Education and parents by the president of the Teachers Union of Namibia (TUN), Gert Jansen, when approached for comment on the chaotic accommodation problem among most schools in the country. Until yesterday, many Grade 1 and Grade 6 learners, specifically in the Khomas Region were summarily turned down as late entries at basically all schools in the capital. Angry parents were turned away at schools in both Katutura and Khomasdal. “It’s not uncommon for new learners to be turned down due to a dire lack of space and classrooms in schools in Windhoek and the rest of the country. This problem is made worse by urbanization and parents, who do not respond and react on time with the enrolment of their children. They normally wait until the last moment, causing bottlenecks at many centres of learning,” Jansen said. According to him, the Ministry of education’s late decisions on the appointment of school principals for the New Year is another problem contributing towards the present chaos at schools. “Until yesterday, many principals had not been officially notified whether they had been appointed or not, causing uncertainty in the school management structures and among learners. These appointments should have been finalised prior to school closure last year,” Jansen charged. “This can lead to disciplinary problems and in-fights among staff members. In many cases, the appointments of school principals also do not reflect the choices of school boards, which brings about more stress and frustration between the schools and the ministry as well as among staff,” he said. New Era yesterday visited Khomasdal Primary School, where the acting principal and his staff were at sixes and sevens regarding the authority at the institution. “I am not sure whether I am still the principal when the school reopens this morning. I couldn’t use my acting powers to ensure the smooth running of the school today because I was not given any indication by the Ministry of Education whether I was appointed or not,” said a very uncertain principal Theo Sawyer jr. According to ministerial directives, most schools should have finalised registration and enrolment of learners late last year already. “On Monday, I witnessed basically a stampede of parents trying to get late admission for their children at Pioniers Boys Secondary School, a tendency that occurred at most schools since the beginning of this week. Parents have been desperately trying to get their children enrolled, some with valid reasons and genuine explanations,” Jansen said. He stated that out of desperation, some parents went to the extreme, buying school uniforms for children without any guarantees that their children would be admitted to such schools. “This put schools in a very awkward position because once the uniforms have been purchased, parents feel schools are compelled to enrol such learners, irrespective of the consequences for their children. This is done by some parents in efforts to prevent their children being turned down,” Jansen asserted. With a shortage of accommodation at most Khomas schools, most are forced to enrol more than they can accommodate. “This brings about greater pressure onto the teachers, who have to cope with capacity classes of up to 50 learners at a time. It causes stress for both teachers and learners because very little individual attention can be given to such learners. Consequently the quality of education suffers,” Jansen warned. Another purported negative factor in the school shortage situation is the fact that many schools have to wait for months on end to get the necessary furniture for use by learners. “Schools have to wait very long before orders for benches, desks and tables are eventually responded to by the Ministry of Education. Notwithstanding all these problems, my union is confident that teachers will work hard to achieve overall success in the profession,” Jansen said. In a statement late yesterday afternoon, Minister of Education Nangolo Mbumba reiterated his ministry’s concerns about the accommodation problems in schools in the country. “I would like to re-emphasise certain issues that are of concern at the commencement of each school year. These issues are mainly the availability of spaces for Grades 1, 8 and 11, the School Development Fund and the Grade 10 repeaters,” the ministerial statement said. The minister called on parents to be patient as school managements try to resolve this problem. “Urban towns always experience the problem of high demand for school placements and overcrowding in schools, whilst rural towns experience the opposite. If your child’s school of choice is full, there will always be a place available at another school, whether it is one in another town or region, even if it is not your school of choice. In life we do not always get what we want,” the minister moralized. According to Mbumba, his ministry will continue to address the inequalities of distribution of resources in regions and improve education in all regions. “Principals of government schools should not turn away children whose parents are unable to pay school fees. Furthermore, a Grade 8 learner who has failed may be enrolled, school space permitting,” the minister, who urged Namibian learners also to enrol at NAMCOL as an alternative to further their studies, said. Yesterday morning Windhoek school principals assembled at Academia Secondary School to await formal placements of Grade 11s by the Ministry of Education. Grade 10s who passed last year need to be accommodated at mostly overcrowded schools in the capital.