The government has issued a directive that from next year secondary schooling will be offered completely free of charge in all public schools.
As per a Cabinet resolution, government abolished the compulsory payment of school development fund (SDF) fees in secondary schools starting next year.
This means all learners in public schools and at the Namibian College of Open Learning (Namcol) will not be required to pay SDF fees.
Some parents New Era spoke to expressed their dissatisfaction that some government schools charge as much as N$2 500 to have their children enrolled in Grade 8, without explaining what the funds would be used for.
The parents who refused to be identified said they were surprised to find out upon enrolling their children during July and September that some government schools around Windhoek required them to pay SDF fees ranging from N$1 000 to N$2 500.
Parents were told to cough up the fees or risk losing placement of their children.
“Since Grade 8 enrolment is a crisis in Windhoek, we were forced to pay the money to secure places for our children. The schools told us that we had to pay this year and not next year without proper explanation as to why, while government has made secondary education free. We want the minister of education to intervene as we feel robbed of our hard earned money. We want our refunds,” said one of the distressed parents who said he enrolled two children for next year.
In an exclusive interview with New Era yesterday, the Minister of Education, Arts and Culture condemned the practice and ordered such schools to stop, saying the government directive is clear that no parent is obliged to pay SDF fees for secondary education as of 2016, unless a parent does it voluntarily.
Government availed N$30 million for the 2016/17 financial year for the implementation of free secondary education from January to March next year.
The education minister said no government school must charge parents SDF and examination fees from next year.
“No one can force parents to pay especially if it’s a state school. That is the bottom line. No government school is mandated to charge parents. If parents have to contribute that should be voluntary. Government has made provision that secondary education is free. What other directive should I give on top of that constitutional provision we are honouring now? The parents can make voluntary contributions to schools, obviously, because there are so many programmes and so many activities for which we will need surplus money,” she emphasised.
She said in order to implement the free secondary education policy, the allocated grant has already been disbursed to the regional councils for the start of the 2016 academic year. Additionally, a further budgetary allocation of N$20 million is still requested from Treasury for the 2016/17 financial year.
During 2012, government directed that primary education be offered free of charge, but there were public schools at the time which defied the order by charging parents SDF fees.
At the time, the debate on parents buying stationery for their children attending public schools also resurfaced at the start of the school calendar when learners received their first list of stationery requirements.
With regard to free primary education, there are 467 748 learners enrolled in the primary phase (grades 4 to 7) in 1 723 primary and combined schools.
With the introduction of the primary education grant, the learner enrolment has increased by an average of three percent annually.