We cannot cut free education

18 August 2017
We reject the idea of cancelling free primary school education in Namibia.  In fact, we believe that the school feeding programme should be extended to all learners who need it. 
Education and training are not only the tickets out of poverty, but also the foundation for successful entrepreneurship, higher academic achievement, better policy planning and service delivery and the opening of a world of opportunities for Namibia’s future leaders.
Those considering reinstituting fees for primary education as a way to cut Government expenses, are missing the point. 
It is not the education of young Namibians that is the reason for the economic stress under which the country is now operating. The road to recession is not paved with books, stationery, classrooms, feeding programmes and the budding minds of our children. 
Rather, it is lined with years of inflated invoices, graft, waste, poor fiscal management, and politically guided budgetary decisions made by successive Namibian governments.
Economists tell us that Namibia’s problems have been exacerbated by negative events outside of our control, such as the decline in uranium prices, drought, disease outbreaks that affected agricultural exports, and declining SACU revenues.
It is in addressing the reason for Namibia’s current economic situation that a solution lies.  Scrambling around to find anything to cut from education just to make the numbers add up, may be tantamount to throwing the baby out with the bathwater. 
Education has always garnered the lion’s share of the Namibian budget and rightfully so.  Education is key to a brighter future for Namibia and it cannot be compromised.
Looking at the talented and skilled Namibians playing key roles in the economy and society who received basic education as well as their tertiary education inside the country suggests that money invested in education since Independence has been well spent and is delivering returns, albeit not without serious glitches.
Asking money for primary education means that there is no room in the Namibian house on the education floor for those without money.  We are once again widening the divide between the haves and the have-nots by saying that learners, whose parents have no money, do not deserve to learn how to read. 
In Namibia, construction workers are being retrenched in their tens of thousands, SOEs that have been unable to deliver financial returns as expected will be closed or trimmed beyond recognition causing major job losses, SMEs dependent on Government tenders have gone into insolvency, companies awaiting overdue Government invoices are laying off workers, and downstream agencies providing services to businesses with Government contracts are dismissing staff. 
While household disposable income for the mid-lower middle classes is under threat, the fact that Government would even discuss adding the burden of educating the children of the nation to households already worried about where tomorrow’s bread will come from, is unfathomable.
We understand that deep budget cuts must continue to be made. These are the realities that exist now and we all have to move away from our comfort zones to help Government manage this reality.  It is our opinion that our children’s education must remain above the fray. 
How can Government decision-makers sleep well at night with a clear conscience after having a discussion about cutting back on the education of children, when they pay million dollar A-Team advisors, increased the number of parliamentarians to unaffordable and unnecessary levels, have layers of upper management ‘fat’ in Government and have engaged in unbudgeted large scale financial projects (such as N$47 million for legal services abroad). 
What decisions are being made when we are paying nearly N$700,000 per month to 86 Zimbabwean professionals and yet discuss cutting out education for our own impoverished children?
In a perfect world we would keep the foreign expertise needed to help us run some of our technical Government services as well as give the highest level of education to our learners.  But, Namibia no longer faces such a perfect world and tough choices have to be made.
Educating Namibians must remain a top priority and we must not waver from this path – cut something else. Keep free education for our children.


The Windhoek Observer is an English-language weekly newspaper, published in Namibia by Paragon Investment Holding. It is the country's oldest and largest circulating weekly.

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