By Wezi Tjaronda
UNICEF has proposed that the Government abolishes the School Development Fund (SDF) (school fees) to ensure that children access and remain in school.
The UN agency said the elimination of fees should go hand in hand with adjustments to the operational budget of schools and the Education Development Fund (EDF) to focus on other costs relating to hostel fees and transport.
The EDF was established in 2006 to ensure access to education for OVC (orphans and vulnerable children). It compensates schools for waiving payment of SDF fees.
The proposal comes in the wake of fears that the reversals seen in infant, under-fives and maternal health may also be seen in the education sector.
Data being analysed by the Ministry of Education points to the fact that the sector may see reversals as well. At the moment, Namibia is only seven percent away from achieving the Millennium Development Goal 2 of achieving universal access to primary education by 2015.
While this goal is nearly achieved, due to poverty, orphans and children made vulnerable because of HIV/Aids are finding it increasingly difficult to pay SDF.
This information is contained in the Education Policy Paper titled “Stemming the Tide: Can Namibia pre-empt the reversal in Primary Education achievements?” which is authored by UNICEF Representative, Khin-Sandi Lwin.
Studies have shown that inability to pay school fees set by each school is becoming a major constraint. While Namibia has an SDF waiver, the provision is cumbersome, unknown and costly especially for grandparents taking care of children. Statistics indicate that the number of orphans under the care of grandmothers has increased from 44 percent in 1992 to 61 percent in 2000.
Lwin said orphans are likely to drop out of school because their grandparents and caregivers struggle to cope financially, there is lower demand for education for extra children, they take care of their sick parents and younger siblings and they may go out to work to bring an income to the family.
Some countries in sub-Saharan Africa such as Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania and Uganda have abolished primary school fees. In these countries, experience has shown that enrolment has shot up.
“While the SDF elimination may not show a major uptake of primary school enrolment given its already high level in Namibia, it would prevent drop-outs and would have greater effect in the transition period from primary to secondary school as found in the cash transfer programme linked to education in Mexico,” said the paper. Although the enrolment rate in primary schools is high at 93 percent, half of these children do not continue after Grade 10.
Education Minister, Nangolo Mbumba, said given funding, the Ministry would subsidise certain schools in rural areas to ensure that no child is prevented from attending school.
Mbumba said the policy paper addressed an issue that was not so visible and not widely known because most urban area dwellers do not see grandmothers struggling to take care of grandchildren of school-going age.
“What we do not see is the children who have been orphaned and can no longer attend school because they have to take care of younger brothers and sisters,” he said, adding that with the growth of numbers of children becoming orphaned by HIV/Aids, the concern was their ability to stay in school and progress to other grades.
He acknowledged that the policy paper offered options that the Ministry needed to look into more seriously.
Meanwhile, the Government has allocated N$2 million for the roll out of the EDF to five regions. The fund was in 17 schools in three regions.
If fees cost N$400 per child per year for example, it would cost the Government between N$8.7 million and N$70.6 million per year depending on the way beneficiaries are targeted and selected.