Storm over students’ hair

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Nuusita Ashipala

Ompunda-A decision to prevent learners from attending class unless they cut all their hair has come under criticism from the Ompunda community in the Oshana region, and they accuse the school principal of infringing on learners’ rights.

Parents lamented the fact that the local school turned learners away denying them their right to education, and that it also sent others home for not having birth certificates.
They also complained they were compelled to fork out N$25 as a contribution towards the school feeding programme.

On Monday several learners from Otala Combined School in Oshana Region were spotted shaving each other’s hair along the Ondangwa-Oshikango road, while some parents took their children to barber shops to have their hair cut.

Only a few learners could be seen around the school during the morning break-time. Learners said they were caught off-guard following the announcement of the new rules on hair length last Friday.

Learners whose hair measures between one to two centimetres long are among those removed from classrooms.

“We cut our hair as we were told on Friday. We were not even given a length but he still removed us today. We were told to cut our hair up to the skin,” said one of the learners.
In previous years, the school allowed learners to have their hair braided until it revoked the decision this year.

The disgruntled learners accused the principal of nepotism.
They claimed the principal’s sanction on hair apparently does not apply to children from his own homestead, whose hair was even longer than theirs.

One parent also said the school forces them to pay N$20 for a non-existent security guard at the school.

“It is one thing to have school rules, but the school should not make rules that prevent learners from attending class. Something needs to be done,” said a parent, who preferred to remain anonymous, lest the school victimises his or her child. School principal Kanisius Sheyanale denied having chased any learners away from the school because of long hair.

“You received wrong information from the wrong people. We have 500 learners who are all in school, and in fact all our learners are in class. Maybe the ones you saw are from other schools,” Sheyanale said.

Appearing to contradict himself, the principal said the school made the decision to force students to cut their hair three weeks ago.

He refused to speak to New Era about the amounts parents have to contribute for the salary of a security guard and towards the school feeding programme.

Deputy Education Director in Oshana Region Gerhard Ndafenongo said that a birth certificate was a requirement for attending school.

However, he suggested an alternative approach to barring learners from classes might be to engage parents or guardians about why a child does not possess national documents. Ndafenongo said his office would investigate the issue.

However, he could not specify whether the ministry has national guidelines on the length of learner’s hair. He pointed out that schools could only suspend learners from school for 14 days if they posed a threat to other learners.

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