Figures revealed by the Ministry of Education, Arts and Culture this week indicate that government spends at least N$130 million annually to house and feed 330 000 primary school learners living in hostels countrywide under the Namibia School Feeding Programme (NSEP).
This revelation comes at a time when schools again are closing ahead of their scheduled dates due to shortage of food in hostels, both at primary and secondary school levels.
Earlier this year, The Patriot reported that the education ministry was not financially well-positioned to sustain hostel boarding learners throughout 2017 under its current N$11.97 billion budget allocation.
The ministry’s budget was cut from N$12.32 billion in 2016/17 to N$11.97 billion in the 2017/18 budget announced in March, about N$350 million less than the previous year.
The Namibian education sector is ailing, with some schools literally falling apart as they can no longer maintain their infrastructure which has led to calls by the public and politicians alike for Government to re-introduce school fees.
Responding to questions sent to her, Permanent Secretary in the education ministry, Sanet Steenkamp was evidently not in support of the idea to reintroduce school fees when asked whether it is one of the options being considered by government to improve the situation.
“The Ministry of Education, Arts and Culture’s objective is to ensure that every Namibian child receives quality education, for free, as mandated by Article 20 of the Namibian Constitution. The aim is further to reduce the financial burden of parents who otherwise cannot afford school fees in order to ensure that their children stay in school. Universal education is aimed at expanding the access to quality inclusive education for all, by eliminating barriers to accessing education through various interventions,” Steenkamp reiterated her stance on free education when quizzed.
She added: “Now, with the implementation of Universal Primary and Secondary Education, the state provides resources such as classroom, learning and resource materials including textbooks, stationery and access by the provision of fee-free education.”
Another challenge for the Ministry is the poor involvement of parents and stakeholders in school who have taken the backseat since the introduction of free education.
To this, Steenkamp universal education did not oust the “obligations and responsibilities of parents.
“Parents or guardians are still at liberty to contribute towards the upkeep, maintenance and improvement of the schools of their children (and by inference their own schools). Schools still welcome contributions in cash or kind by parents/guardians,” Steenkamp stressed.
The education PS added: “The parents or guardians still have a moral obligation that was not ousted by the introduction of the grants to provide inputs about the betterment of the schools relating to academic, cultural, and social performance and financial contributions remain one of the necessary contributions that they can and should make. With the ever-increasing prizes schools are not insulated against such economic adjustments.”
“So with the best of efforts, schools will find it difficult to only make ends meet on the bases of the grants. There remains definite room for parents or guardians to put the proverbial shoulders to the wheel and pull the wagon through the difficult terrain even with voluntary financial contributions.”
Furthermore, Steenkamp said the Ministry was able to become prudent with its fiscals, a lesson drawn from Namibia’s economic troubles.
“Well, all of us are affected. On the contrary, this really allowed the ministry to become very prudent and focus on sound financial management, cutting out any possible wastages and focused on improved efficiency gains. We make and are drawn to very difficult, yet decisive actions to operate and manage the aspects within the budget allocation,” Steenkamp noted.
She noted that the Ministry was still fulfilling its core mandate despite the difficult economic terrain.
“In light of the downward grading of our budget, the impact of budget cut is not unique to the Ministry of Education, Arts and Culture, however, the Ministry remains committed towards the provision of education to all Namibian children enrolled in our schools,” she maintained.
Since its introduction in 1994, the Namibia School Feeding Programme has proven to be a valuable scheme as some learners rely solely on the single meal provided per day under the programme, the Ministry says.
The feeding scheme has improved access and retention of learners at schools as well as the overall performance.
Significant progress is being made to diversify the food basket and to source commodities from small holder farms locally, including though “home-grown school feeding.
Considering the precarious financial situation that the country finds itself in, the education ministry is engaging the private sector, development partners, government line ministries and civil society on Public-Private Partnership for School Feeding (PPPSF) in order strengthen and contribute to nutritional and educational outcomes of the NSFP.