Suiderhof parents unhappy with enforced fees

By Shallot Mohutege

PARENTS of children at Suiderhof Primary School in Windhoek are unhappy with the school’s decision to enforce a N$1 000 compulsory fee for the year despite the scrapping of school fees for all government schools five years ago.

The parents lodged multiple complaints to the school by means of emails, phone calls and some even went to the school in person proceeding to the Ministry of Education to try and reverse this decision, but to no avail.   

Confidente understands that the fee was enforced during the lockdown period when children had to learn from home. Parents were instructed to pay the said amount first before collecting booklets for their children and were ultimately refused learning material when they could not pay.

“Since the lockdown in March there was a stage where the children got booklets from the school. Parents had to collect the booklets but before we could have the booklets we first had to visit the principal’s office as teachers refused to give parents booklets unless they pay or make arrangements to pay school fees,” said an aggrieved parent.

“My husband went to collect books and was sent back. He was told to make a plan if he doesn’t have any money, now if I say I don’t have money, where will I go make a plan (sic)?” questioned another parent.

The parents further questioned the education system, asking why they need to pay school fees when school was made free in 2015.

“When education became free we all understood that we have a responsibility towards the school, and we were willing to make contributions when necessary but many of us lost our jobs during lockdown, many got salaries cuts. So if you did not make an arrangement or pay school fees your child was left behind and could not get the booklets, is that fair?

“My child did not get one booklet during lockdown. My question is, is education free? If the school asks for money it should be voluntary contributions. We should not be forced to pay, what more if we can’t afford it? Should the children suffer because of it?” asked another irate parent.

Parents said they were alerted by teachers via Whatsapp class groups, that if they had not paid, they should not come to the class to collect booklets and were instructed to go to the office of the principal, to either pay or make other arrangements.

“I wonder if the Minister of Education is aware of this. And if she is what is being done in this regard or is it a question of I know but I don’t care,” exclaimed another parent.

School principal, Alna Similo however explained that this decision was made long before her time at the school and she therefore could not reverse the decision.

“The school adopted a position which was before my time, that parents would contribute financially to the coffers of the school in order to assist with some of the needs of our school. This is by the way not a new phenomenon in our country whereby parents and guardians agree to support financially the schools where their children are going to,” she explained.

“I conducted parent/ guardian face to face meetings for all grades, this is where the aspects of these voluntary contributions were discussed with all parents, aimed at making sure that we were all on the same wavelength,” further claimed Similo.

“For those parents and guardians who are not able to afford, we discussed and found means through which they can still contribute away from supporting us with funds.”

According to education Executive Director Sanet Steenkamp, her ministry received complaints from parents and they took up the issue.

“We listened to the parents and had long discussions with the principal. When we investigated the matter, we determined that what some of the parents presented to us was not correct,” said Steenkamp.

She further added that it is unacceptable that any child should be punished due the teachers and parents fighting.

“Our stance is very clear, irrespective of the needs of the school and all that they wish to do and as much as they would require assistance from the parents, our stance is that no child should be disadvantaged.”

The Namibian Constitution states that primary education shall be compulsory and provided free of charge at government schools (Article 20), however, under the Education Act 2001, parents are expected to contribute to the School Development Fund (SDF) in addition to paying for the other private costs of education.