Free education: Steenkamp clears the air amid furore

05 January 2022 | Education

JEMIMA BEUKES

WINDHOEK

With parents complaining that the so-called free education in public schools is a farce, the education ministry has revealed it had already in March 2021 transferred N$51 million for schools across the country to procure stationery and educational material.

Many schools have issued parents with long lists of stationery and materials that they must buy for their children – including textbooks.

Some schools even include items that are needed for the school itself, essentially asking parents to bail them out.

Of this money, at least N$36.3 million has already been spent on supplies for schools. So far, Ohangwena is the only region that does central procurement and distributing material to schools, while in other regions the supplies are sent directly to schools.

Of the N$51.1 million, about N$3.5 million is earmarked for the Erongo region, N$2.4 million for the Hardap region, N$4 million for Kavango East, N$3.5 million for Kavango West and N$1.7 million for the //Karas region.

About N$4 million is earmarked for the Khomas region, N$2.3 million for the Kunene region, N$5 million for the Ohangwena region, and N$2.9 million for the Omaheke region.

Around N$4.7 million is earmarked for the Oshana region, N$5 million for the Oshikoto region, N$3.7 million for the Otjozondjupa region, N$3.2 million for the Zambezi region and N$5 million for the Omusati region.

Sanet Steenkamp, the executive director in the education ministry, yesterday ‘set the record straight’ on the ‘misconstrued’ stationery list that has gone viral over the holidays.

Steenkamp stressed that the list was only a guide for teachers and schools on what type of stationery learners in different grades need.

What is free education?

Steenkamp also dismissed claims that schools would turn away less privileged learners for not having these items or for being unable to make financial contributions.

In fact, it is her opinion that schools should go out of their way to accommodate learners who cannot afford financial contributions or stationery.

“If they cannot afford, we respect that 100%, we will supply. But free education is misconstrued and does not take in consideration the obligations of parents towards their children’s education. The same parents who are willing to pay hefty fees at private schools are demanding that government pays for everything,” she said.

According to her, free education means parents do not pay teachers’ salaries, utility bills and the upkeep of school facilities. By buying stationery, they make but a ‘minimal, feeble’ contribution to their children’s education.

“We have 30 995 teachers in the country and at least 27 000 are in employment of the state and government pays their salaries. At private schools, parents pay the salaries of the teachers.

“We have 822 574 learners in 2021 who stayed in hostels and of these 165 000 stayed in government hostels. The government spent more than half a billion on catering alone. We pay N$22 per child per day for hostels and we do not ask where this money goes.

“We feed 450 000 learners through the school feeding programme by providing fortified maize. Parents do not pay a single cent for examination fees. Parents have an obligation,” she said.

No to floor polish

She however emphasised that while the government will provide the bulk of stationery supplies, parents will be expected to ‘complement’ these resources, but should certainly not be obligated to provide schools with ‘Cobra polish’ or ‘toilet paper’ for the upkeep of schools.

In her view, basic stationery for junior primary to be expected from parents are only a ruler, three pencils, an eraser, scissors and the Mini Oxford dictionary.

For secondary learners, parents are expected to provide these basic items plus a scientific calculator, mathematics set and one or two hardcover exercise books.

The other hardcover books as stipulated in the stationery list should be provided by the schools.

‘We will not provide the math set and scientific calculator, those are one-off payments and an investment in your child’s education. Parents can buy these items on a monthly basis until they have everything.”

Bring copier paper

However, the demand for copier paper remains non-negotiable, because the copying of educational material takes up 65% of the Universal Primary Education (UPE) budget.

“Parents are not under any obligation to buy a flip file if the learner still has a book that is not full. A flip file of 50 to 70 pages costs around N$75 – do we really expect parents to buy this?”

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