What is free education in Namibia?

By Nkrumah Mushelenga

The burning question is to what extent is free education free, in the context of the Government of the Republic of Namibia? Another question is what is free and what is not free? Since education is a humanitarian constitutional mandate under Chapter 3 article 20 of the Constitution of the Land of the Brave, kindly permit me to quote Article 5:  ‘Protection of human rights and freedom’.

“The fundamental rights and freedoms enshrined in Chapter 3 shall be respected and upheld by the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary and all organs of the Government and its agencies and, where applicable to them, by all natural and legal persons in Namibia, and shall be enforceable by the courts in the manner hereinafter prescribed.”

For the readers to comprehend the nobility value of Chapter 3, Article 5, of the Constitution of this country, permit me once more to quote Article 20 on ‘education’ for comparative analysis. According to Chapter 3, Article 20 of the Supreme Law of the Land of the Brave;

All persons shall have the right to education.

Primary education shall be compulsory and the State shall provide reasonable facilities to render effective this right for every resident within Namibia, by establishing and maintaining State schools at which primary education will be provided ‘free of charge’.

Children shall not be allowed to leave school until they have completed their primary education or have attained the age of sixteen (16) years, whichever is the sooner, save in so far as this may be authorised by Act of Parliament on grounds of health or other considerations pertaining to the public interest.

According to Article 20 (2) All persons shall have the right, at their own expense, to establish and to maintain private schools, or colleges or other institutions of tertiary education: provided that:

(a) Such schools, colleges or institutions of tertiary education are registered with a Government department in accordance with any law authorising and regulating such registration;

(b) The standards maintained by such schools, colleges or institutions of tertiary education are not inferior to the standards maintained in comparable schools, colleges or institutions of tertiary education funded by the State.

(c) No restrictions of whatever nature are imposed with respect to the administration of pupils based on race, colour or creed;

(d) No restrictions of whatever nature are imposed with respect to the recruitment of staff based on race or colour.

Although education is a public private shared national responsibility, the underlining facts are reflected under Article 20 (2) that;

Primary education shall be compulsory and the State shall provide reasonable facilities to render effective this right for every resident within Namibia;

by establishing and maintaining State Schools at which primary education will be provided ‘free of charge’.

Currently there are no sufficient school facilities to render effective the right to education for every resident within Namibia.

First the system is vulnerable to abuse because those who are supposed to perform oversight responsibilities are sleeping on duty because they are not being held accountable.

Instead of free education, the education system is currently extensively commercialised through the country.

There are unconfirmed reports that most if not all principals and teachers are shareholders in private schools, colleges or institutions of tertiary education, which is an act of conflict of interest.

It is also said that school uniforms are a lucrative business among school principals and teachers throughout the country.

Since private schools use their own expenses to establish and maintain the school facilities and other expenditures, they charge exorbitant school fees.

Public opinion:

School uniforms are unaffordable.

Stationary prizes are excessive.

Exercise books are beyond reach.

Registration fees are extraordinarily high.

Recommendations

Since education is key to livelihoods (falling under Chapter 3, of the Constitution of Namibia) some parents are of the opinion that for free education to prevail in this country;

Government should adopt a two school uniforms colour system; alternatively school uniform prizes should be unified countrywide because the value of education is the output and not the type of uniform a learner wears.

All school uniforms countrywide should be produced per region at fixed prizes.

School exercise books and other stationary should have fixed prizes and acquired per region.

Registration fees should be standardised, as currently, each institution charges its own registration fees.

School fees for private schools must be regulated as currently they are beyond affordable.

NANTU, Immigration and labour inspectors should monitor, assess and evaluate private schools’ performance and teaching staff recruitment standards.

Portfolio ministry PROs should frequently portray a positive image of the Ministry of Education and the educational system.

Compatriots, according to Article 21 ‘fundamental freedoms’ – all persons shall have the right to:

(a) Freedom of speech and expression, which shall include freedom of the press and other media;

(b) Freedom of thought, conscience and belief, which shall include academic freedom in institutions of higher learning.

Key education oversight institutions:

According to Chapter 6 Article 41, “All Ministers shall be accountable individually for the administration of their own ministries and collectively for the administration of the work of the Cabinet, both to the President and to Parliament”.

Meanwhile, Article 42 is about the issue of “outside employment”,

During their tenure of office as members of the Cabinet, Ministers may not take up any other paid employment or engage in activities inconsistent with their positions as Ministers, or expose themselves to any situation which carries with it the risk of a conflict developing between their interests as Ministers and their private interests.

No members of the Cabinet shall use their position as such or use information entrusted to them confidentially as such members of the Cabinet, directly or indirectly to enrich themselves.

The public is yearning for clarity of the term ‘free education’ because currently the education system is the most expensive commodity in this country.

* Nkrumah Mushelenga is a Rt. Commissioner for Refugees, a former Namibia National Veterans Association National Coordinator and the founder, trustee and chairperson of Peter Nanyemba Ex-PLAN Combatant Veterans Trust (p.n.p.c.v.t.)