By Frederick Philander
In her view annual learner and development fees have become a lucrative moneymaking business scheme in government schools at the expense of school parents.
This is the opinion of Congress of Democrats MP Elma Dienda, whose motion on the much talked about School Development Fund caused quite a public stir when it was submitted and accepted in the National Assembly.
She was motivating her concerns yesterday as part of a Parliamentary Standing Committee that ordered principals, directors and inspectors in the Khomas Region to brief it about the workings and functions of the Government’s School Development Fund in their respective educational institutions.
“Because of the frustrations of not knowing what happens to the School Development Fund paid by parents and how the funds are spent, many parents are unhappy. Due to the fact that many parents cannot pay this fee, many children have been refused entry to schools,” Dienda said.
According to her there is a marked lack of uniformity in paying this particular annual fee.
“In some cases the fee varies between N$200 and N$800 per year at different schools. The question arises due to the differentiated fee, whether schools are allowing learners into school or chasing them away.
“There needs to be exemptions in cases where parents cannot pay these expensive fees. If principals do not adhere to the law they should be prosecuted,” she said adamantly.
The compulsory payment of School Development Fund fees is a definite burden to school parents said DTA MP, Fillemon Moongo, also a member of the standing committee.
“The differentiation in fees is clearly stipulated in the Education Act.
However, parents are eligible to negotiate an exemption for their child with school principals. Only the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Education can increase or decrease these fees.
“Through this process 95 percent of such requests have been rejected with 5 percent of schools’ requests for increases in the Khomas Region being accepted,” a senior regional education officer, Thea Seefeldt, told the committee.
Seefeldt confirmed that some schools are entitled to increase the funds due to historic reasons and the demands for quality education by parents.
“My school has a lot of facilities, which need to be maintained, a very costly exercise for the school because Windhoek High has never received any funding for maintaining facilities such as sport fields and computer centres.
Last year, we spent about N$600 000 on facilities. We just had to find the money,” said principal Frans van Zitter, whose learners pay a whopping N$1 650 fee per annum.
In his explanation of how the school development funds are used, principal John Titus of Van Rhyn Primary School told the committee that his school does exempt learners paying fees.
“With the fees paid by learners the school has already paid more than N$200 000 to maintain school facilities. We have also done our own repair work on desks and chairs at the school, in an effort to ease the burden on the Government,” said Titus, who confirmed that his learners pay N$600 per year.
“Parental involvement in the development of schools is a big problem. I know of senior government officials driving expensive cars, who refuse to pay their children’s school fees. We pay at least N$10 000 every month for water and electricity from such fees,” said Otilie Abrahams, principal of Jacob Morenga Secondary School.
She encouraged the Government to make parents more aware of their responsibilities to pay these annual fees ranging between N$1,10 and N$1,050 per annum.
The standing committee met under the chairmanship of Swapo MP, George Elia Kaiyamo.