Special school uniform a burden to parents

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Helvy Shaanika

Ongwediva-Special uniforms worn by learners at some government schools are said to be a luxury expense, depleting pockets of already struggling parents, especially in January.

With the government cutting the supply of school stationery to the bone, parents are already faced with thousands of dollars worth of bills in buying stationery that will not be provided at schools this year.

But some government schools stand accused of further draining parents’ pockets by opting for ‘different’ school uniforms that are only found at exclusive shops at exorbitant prices. Parents claim that such uniforms are only suitable for private schools where learners’ parents are often well off.

While common school uniforms are readily available at a number of local clothing stores, special school uniforms are bought from specialised outlets that have found a niche in designing and tailoring such uniforms.
Ndaambelela Asino, a mother of three junior graders, said schools, when choosing school uniforms, need to take into
account the amount of money that parents already have to spend on other school needs.
Asino, a single mother from Ongwediva, refused to divulge the name of the junior primary school which her children attend.

She however said her children’s school has already asked parents to buy stationery worth close to N$500 per child. She now has to spend N$958 on each of the three boys’ full school uniform, which includes shirts, trousers, jerseys, ties, shoes and socks for each child. In total she would spend a minimum of N$2,874 – and that is if she ignores some of the items such as sport clothes and shoes for now.

“I took my children to a government school because it is supposed to be affordable and cater for poor people like me. I don’t earn much,” she said.

A parent can spend a minimum of N$380 on a junior primary grader’s uniform and a maximum of N$755 on a top quality (branded) school uniform of a high school pupil at common outlets such as Pep Store, Jet or Ackerman’s.

Another parent Mathias Shikongo, who was purchasing a school uniform for his orphaned niece, said he spent N$280 on a skirt, N$50 on socks and N$70 on a tie that he bought from one of the exclusive outlets. Shikongo then bought a uniform shirt for N$120 from Jet. Shikongo’s niece will be attending a new school because the grandmother who was taking care of the niece at the village died in July last year.

“But she still needs a jersey which is N$280, and long pants for winter which are N$190. Luckily it is not winter yet. We will cross that bridge when we get there,” he said.

Shikongo, who is a construction worker, said he is the only breadwinner at home and the niece gets an allowance of N$250 per month from the Ministry of Gender and Child Welfare.

“From August last year I tried to save most of her allowance but it is still not enough to cover her needs, that include her books. I had to ask my boss for an advancement,” said Shikongo.

But the education deputy director for Oshana Region, Gerhard Ndafenongo, said school uniforms are not decided upon by the school management or the ministry, but by the school board in consultation with parents.
He said samples and prices are presented to the parents during parents’ meetings for them to make a final decision.

“And in terms of our (education ministry) guideline, children are allowed to come to school with their old uniform from their previous school, or any other similar outfit, until such time the parent gets money to buy the uniform. Parents only need to go to school and make arrangements with the school,” said Ndafenongo.

Ndafenongo added that it was the ministry’s directive to empower SMEs (small and medium enterprises) by schools acquiring school uniforms locally, but that does not mean schools are forced to procure uniforms from local shops.

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