There is a need for effective expenditure and improved financial allocations to improve equity based, quality education, UNICEF has found.
Namibia currently spends 10 % of its annual budget on education, but the desired results in terms of quality and equity are yet to be realized.
Speaking at an event earlier this week, UNICEF representative Micaela Marques de Sousa lauded government for implementing free universal education but cautioned that “often it is not how much we spend, but how well we spend it.”
“We are in agreement that expenditure on education is a vital investment for every country,” she said.
“We cannot afford to be complacent even within the constraint financial environments we are experiencing. We need to make the best use of what we have bearing in mind that every child counts, every dollar counts,” she noted. Namibia is one of the countries that spends the most on teacher salaries in southern Africa and the per capita spending on education also ranks highly.
De Sousa revealed that Namibia had the third highest public education expenditure to total government spending ration among 115 countries, and the seventh highest public education expenditure to GDP ratio.
De Sousa said: “In practice, government spending on education is closely linked to their levels of economic development- the more developed a country, the more the government is likely to spend on education.
She stressed the importance of having physical environments complimented by a “professional corpse of educators and auxiliary services such as school health and safety programmes that encourage and promote health, nutrition and protection from violence and abuse.”
De Sousa said if government wants a return on investment in education, a special focus on integrated early childhood development is key.
For this to be realized she listed five things that needs to be done.
This includes, improved coordination between ministries; increase the financial allocation to pre-primary education from 1.5% of the current budget to at 5% during the 2018/2019 financial year; quality mother tongue education in primary school; parental involvement and improved education planning.
Despite the challenges encountered since government introduced free education from pre-primary to secondary schools, De Sousa lauded the move.
“We at UNICEF are proud to witness the drive that led to the implementation of universal primary and secondary education in Namibia. We applaud the Ministry of Education, Arts and Culture under the leadership of my sister Katrina Hanse-Himarwa who have fought wholeheartedly to balance the right to education with the fiscal realities of a growing basic education sector,” a clearly delighted de Sousa said.
In addition, de Sousa further praised the Education Ministry for ensuring a fully “participatory” process in reviewing the Education Act of 2001.
Furthermore, de Sousa lauded the Ministry Education for the role it has played over the past two years in consultative meetings with the Ministry of Health and Social Services in working towards improved and quality early childhood development.
To the contrary, government has come under heavy criticism from various sectors of society over the timing and manner in which universal primary and secondary education was implemented.
Moreover, this publication contacted the Education Ministry to get its position on the allegations that the implementation of free education was more “political” than to provide quality education to Namibian children.
However, the questions did not yield any response before going to print.
Spending on secondary school per pupil has been reduced from N$500 to N$250. Similarly, spending on primary education per learner will be cut from N$350 to N$250.
On the spending cuts on free education, Rally for Democracy and Progress Secretary General (RDP) Mike Kavekotora said he was not surprised that government’s decision to offer free secondary education seem “unsustainable” barely a year in its implementation.
“One year into offering secondary education, we find ourselves cutting the education budget drastically to a level that it will have a detrimental effect on the future of education in this country.
“I urge the Honourable Minister of Education to go back to parents, apologize and request them to once again dig deeper in their largely empty pockets to fund the deficit,” Kavekotora said.
Speaking in the National Assembly last month, Kavekotora accused the government of using free education as a political tool rather than a well thought idea.
“When the incoming President (Hage Geingob) announced that secondary education was going to be offered for free, I knew it was more of a political pronouncement rather than a well thought idea.
“My suspicion was confirmed by the Honourable Minister of Education (Katrina Hanse-Himarwa) when her Deputy responded to my questions in the august house,” Kavekotora charged.
Kavekotora pointed out that the Ministry Education admitted “no study” was conducted to determine the viability of free secondary education but relied on “a research done on primary education”.