Schools with few learners face the axe

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WINDHOEK, 05 July 2016 - The Permanent Secretary (PS) in the Ministry of Education, Arts and Culture Sanet Steenkamp shares her excitement when the Ohlthaver and List Group handed over of two container classrooms to the Monte Christo Project Primary School in Havana. (Photo by: Esme Konstantinus) NAMPA

Albertina Nakale

Windhoek-The Ministry of Education, Arts and Culture has directed that all small schools with less than 35 learners in a class, sometimes known as “one-man schools”, should be phased out because they are un-economical for government to run.

Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Education, Arts and Culture Sanet Steenkamp said the ministry currently spends about 85 percent of its budget on remuneration of staff.
This results in only a small proportion of the funds being available for spending on other areas that play a critical part in teaching and learning.

The ministry has identified overstaffing at some schools and appointment of staff at schools that are uneconomical due to their small size as two areas where the ministry could reduce its huge spending on remuneration.

It issued the directive about the phasing out of unviable schools in a recent circular sent out to all education stakeholders on 29 June 2017.

In the circular, Steenkamp requested each regional education directorate, in collaboration with the planners and inspectors, should propose a plan to phase out uneconomical schools.

Uneconomical schools are mainly found in rural areas where schools often have less than 35 learners in a class.

This circular is applicable to all government and private schools with staff on the government payroll as well as in areas where it is applicable in terms of their conditions of their registration.

The permanent secretary said that besides being un-economical, it also compromised quality because it was impossible to cover the full curriculum with only one teacher.
Having a principal at a “one-man-school” meant the principal had to teach 100 percent of the time, while the prescribed teaching load was 25 percent to also allow for the required administrative work.

Multi-grade teaching could be used only if the teacher had the necessary skills and competence needed for this approach.

This meant that even if the education department had placed only one teacher at the school, someone else had to supervise the teacher at the school.

In such a situation, she said, the school in question should rather become a satellite school of a nearby school that had a principal.

“This approach may only be entertained if this small school anticipates an increase in the number of learner and or projections due to the developmental activities in the village forecasts this, or the population census indicates possible growth,” she explained.

She reasoned that maintaining a ‘school’ for only a few learners was un-economical, and even more so having only one teacher and or a principal at such a school.

The ministry would rather consider transferring the learners at the school to a nearby school with a hostel, but with the consent of the parents.

In addition, she noted one needed to recognise that these learners might need exemption from hostel fees or fund payment and might require transportation between home and school at the start and end of a school trimester.

She also directed regional directors not to fill the current vacancies for principals at schools with less than 100 learners, and this included vacancies they had already advertised or interviewed someone for the position, but not yet filled it.

Steenkamp maintained inspectors must negotiate and work on transferring principals from small schools to where vacancies currently existed instead of advertising those positions.

“Please do not use this avenue to transfer what the region perceives to be problematic or incompetent principals to other schools, as this will not solve the problem but will transfer the problem to the next school,” she cautioned. Moreover, she said, regions should deal with specific problems or incompetency of the principals at their schools of origin in line with the Public Service Act (Act No 1 3 of 1995), before considering transferring them.

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