Albertina Nakale and Emmency Nuukala
Windhoek – Despite a government directive to public schools not to charge parents school development funds (SDF), Jan Mohr Secondary School has withheld learners’ academic reports on grounds that the learners had failed to pay their school fees.
In 2012, late Dr Abraham Iyambo, then minister of education, announced that as from 2013 primary education would be free, meaning government abolished SDF and schools have been receiving grants instead from the Ministry of Education.
In 2014, then president Hifikepunye Pohamba announced that government would offer free secondary education in public schools by the year 2016.
However, many parents were caught off guard by Jan Mohr school management this week, who refused to hand out learners’ academic reports yesterday.
Schools close today for the 2017 academic year. The affected grades are 8, 9 and 11, but does not include Grade 10 and 12 learners, who sat for external examinations.
Most parents who dropped their children off in the morning had to return from work to attend to the issue of withheld reports at the school due to outstanding fees.
One parent, who preferred anonymity for fear of victimisation of her child, was surprised that her child was given a letter with school debt of N$5,000.
One letter seen by New Era showed another learner apparently owed the school N$4,500.
The sum total includes a balance brought forwarded since 2016 of N$1,800, N$200 for duplicating fees, N$500 for smart board fees, N$1,500 for voluntary contribution and N$300 for keyboard word processing and computer studies, which brings the total due to the school to N$4,500.
Many desperate and furious parents lined up to make arrangement to settle the arrears yesterday, but some refused to pay, saying government had done away with SDF and that any fees offered should be voluntary.
Acting school principal Gordon Goeieman, who was attending to parents who showed signs of agitation, tried to explain that the school had been facing financial difficulties since government introduced free education.
He said government has since reduced funding per learner from N$500 to about N$200 each, which he said was too little to cater for the children’s needs. According to him, parents had agreed during a parents’ meeting in 2016 that a contribution of N$1,500 per child is due at registration every year.
Some parents refuted this, saying they never agreed to pay such an amount, arguing that they can’t be held hostage at the last minute and have their children’s academic reports withheld.
Some parents, who explained their financial difficulties and those who made arrangements to pay next year, were given their children’s reports, while other simply refused to pay, citing the policy of free education.
Contacted for comment, Education, Arts and Culture Minister Katrina Hanse-Himarwa warned schools to refrain from withholding school reports and punishing children, because of non-contribution by parents.
She said contributions must be voluntary, but appealed to parents to be responsible and to help the schools during these trying times when they are facing financial challenges.
“It’s important that schools should be assisted. Those who can should come and help. They must not sit there and expect that everything will be provided free for them. We cannot provide education alone while they are sitting and enjoying their money without helping build this nation,” she remarked.
The Namibia National Students Organisation (Nanso)’s newly elected secretary general, Simon Taapopi, said no child should be prevented from accessing education and that school reports of learners should not be withheld due to non-payment of SDF.
“We do acknowledge the current funding of education might have compromised on the quality of education, since some schools have big infrastructure. We will take up this matter with government,” Taapopi said.