Monday 19 April 2021
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Mass school closures

…79 public schools could shut doors soon

About 79 of the 1700 public schools countrywide that have less than 35 learners could find themselves facing closure — or some other form of intervention — next year if learner numbers do not increase.
In a circular titled “PHASING OUT OF OVERSTAFFING FROM SCHOOLS AND PLAN OF ACTION ABOUT SCHOOLS WITH LESS THAN 35 LEARNERS”, Permanent Secretary (PS) in the education ministry Sanet Steenkamp has directed all regional education directorates to come up with a phase out plan.  An in-house compilation of regional statistics carried out by The Patriot has shown that the two Kavango regions will lose the most schools once the decision is implemented.  At present – there are at least 34 schools in Kavango West; 17 in Oshikoto; 13 in Kavango East; six in Hardap; six in Oshana and one in Kunene and Otjozondjupa respectively each with less than 35 learners per schools – as such, the schools face an impending closure should the circular be implemented.
Information obtained from regional education directors in Erongo, Zambezi, //Karas, Khomas and Ohangwena regions shows that there are no schools in those regions with less than 35 learners.   With regards to schools with less than 35 learners, Steenkamp states: “Besides being uneconomical, it is impossible to cover the full curriculum with only teacher unless it is class teaching, meaning quality is compromised. She goes on to say: “Maintaining a school for only a few[35] learners is uneconomical and much less economical it is having a teacher and/or a principal at such a school. Rather consider transfer learners to a nearby school with a hostel with the consent of the parents.” To remedy the situation whereby a school finds itself operating with only 35 learners, Steenkamp proposes that such a school becomes a satellite school of a nearby school that has a principal to supervise the teacher.  However, such an option will only be explored if the number of learners at that school is projected to increase due to developmental activities in the village or when the population census indicate possible growth, says Steenkamp.
For the 2017/18 financial year, the Ministry of Education, Arts and Culture received N$11,9 billion, compared to N$12,3 billion the previous year. The ministry seemingly wants to free up more funds from its operational budget and divert it towards the development budget. Currently the education ministry spends a huge chunk of its entire budget on remuneration of staff and has since earmarked ‘one man schools (schools with less than 35 learners) for closure as these schools are “uneconomical” for government. The worrisome part is, after spending N$10,2 billion (95%) of the ministry’s entire budget on operational expenditure, a meagre N$584 million (5%) is left for the capital projects.  Steenkamp noted that learners who are transferred from one school to another due to the economic reasons, ought to be exempted from hostel fees and may require transporting from home and school during the start and the end of a school term. Sharing similar sentiments with Steenkamp was Oshana education director Lamek Kafidi who said some schools in his region were not economically sustainable for government.  According to Kafidi, there are about 17 schools in Oshikoto with less than 80 learners each have a principal, which is “not economical” according to the director.  Kafidi attributed the lack of sufficient learners at certain schools to the way people in the regions have settled.  “The houses are quite far and under the constitution, we have an obligation to provide education to these people. But unfortunately, it is just not economical to run some of these schools. It is just too costly,” he said adding that some schools in the region averaged a mere 15 learners per teacher.

To Kafidi’s lament, Oshikoto region finds itself in a cache-22 situation as some of the school cannot be discontinued. “If you close them[schools], it is either you are saying that these learners must be without schools or you have nowhere to take them. All these are primary schools and we don’t have primary school hostels and these are the people that the constitution has covered,” added Kafidi.  Asked what the lasting solution would be to remedy Oshikoto’s education predicament, Kafidi retorted: “We have been proposing for the construction of two boarding schools for the primary learners.  Instead of having 17 principals for 640 learners, I would probably be taking 1000 learners (in one boarding school with one principal) and then that school will function proper. Constructing boarding primary schools is the lasting solution.”  The operation by the education ministry to close down “non-economical” schools will run for three years according to insiders.

Staff transfer
Steenkamp directed regional education directors should not fill the current vacant positions of principals at schools with less than 100 learners. This is inclusive of vacancies that were already advertised and or interviewed for but are yet to be filled.  Instead, the PS says education inspectors must negotiate and work on transferring principals from such schools to where vacancies are currently existing as opposed to advertising the posts.  A factor that might cause consternation during the teacher transfer process is that it will be done behind their back.  In the circular, Steenkamp states: “Schools that are overstaffed should identify staff that the school can do without for transfer to other schools in the same circuit or region or other region, this is a confidential and sensitive exercise.” A teacher’s qualification, field of expertise, area of competence, experience, age, type of accommodation, marital status, and appointment status will be used to filter which teacher stays or is transferred from a given overstaffed school to another school.  “Select staff members that are most suitable to effectively implement the curriculum offered by the school to remain and identify those that are least suitable for the school for possible transfer,” reads the circular.

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