It appears as if the much-criticised free education policy is gasping for survival as calls widen for government to set its pride aside and remodel the free education policy. Education insiders have narrated how the introduction of the free education policy crippled the operations of the ministry, saying although it had a positive impact on quantity in terms of learner enrolment, the same cannot be said as far as quality is concerned. Last week, education minister Katrina Hanse-Himarwa was adamant that free education is here to stay for good. Hanse-Himarwa threw her weight behind government’s position to carry the burden of free primary and secondary education despite stern warnings that the practice is unsustainable and has compromised the quality of education in country. Government has spent over N$40 billion on the education sector over the last five years, however quality and passing rates remain questionable.
The worrisome part is that over 90% of the ministry’s budget caters for operational matters while only a small chunk is reserved for capital projects. But despite being one of the highest budget recipients, Hanse-Himarwa continues to cry foul saying the budgetary allocation from Treasury was a cause of concern. Hanse-Himarwa even went as far as saying that providing free education is a costly exercise for government and will only be sustained through collective efforts by parents and the private sector. “The universal secondary education (USE) and universal primary education has come to stay. We will just be improving on every time,” said Hanse-Himarwa. In addition, the minister said: “We can only improve it[free education] if parents and the private sector joins us, then only will be able to sustain free education. But it[free education] has come to stay, it is a constitutional provision.” Hanse-Himarwa made these remarks during the State of Education Address and launch of the Friends of Education Programme (FENSI).
FENSI is a non-bureaucratic and less cumbersome mechanism through which willing and able individuals and organisations can support the Ministry’s efforts in addressing the diverse challenges it is faced with in cash or in kind. In addition, through FENSI, the ministry calls for the provision of technical and financial support to various functional areas of basic education at regional and national levels. On the front of infrastructure development, the ministry seeks support for the provision of design services, engineering and architectural support to the construction and repair of education facilities. “We need more than N$3 billion to address our problems,” was Hanse-Himarwa’s response when asked how much the ministry intends to raise through the FENSI initiative. Hanse-Himarwa’s also blasted the public for apparently mocking government for the shortcomings brought by free education instead of providing support.
“It has become a mockery when schools do not have copy papers. People are making a mockery of this situation instead of supporting the government,” bemoaned the minister adding that parents ought to rally behind the government instead of ridiculing it. “We need to clear our minds from this thing of ‘free education’. Providing education comes at a cost, nothing is for free. There is no way government can do it on its own. It is time for parents to own-up[take charge] our education. No parent is exempted to stand up and support a school as a responsible parent,” she said. Hanse-Himarwa noted that education in Namibia has always been free as close to 90% of the education cost was covered for by the state.