Public schools are supposed to be free

22 November 2019
Author   Jackie Wilson Asheeke
The constitution of this country promises free basic education. The Cabinet and government officials over the years have demanded that no child shall be turned away from a public school because of money. And yet, schools continue to demand tuition fees disguised under different euphemisms. The extortion racket is the same in many schools.
If money is not paid over, the children are punished by withholding grades, banning participation in events, being sent home, and even blocking registration. This is wrong and must be stopped.
I suggest that parents with children being victimized by schools demanding money, consult a lawyer. They must consider suing the principal, the school and the Ministry of Education. The Ministry seems unable to enforce the law. They cannot control their employees who are squeezing parents and withholding government services. Therefore, the courts must step in.
Frustrated school administrators are dumping their financial crisis on parents. They threaten kids with retribution instead of applying their minds to find new ways to address underfunded schools. They want something ‘easy’ as a solution, whether it is legal or not. Parents must stop allowing school officials to dance on their heads.
There is a recently publicized case of a Windhoek school only re-registering students for the next grade level after a N$700 payment. This is one more example of school officials choosing to ignore the constitution.
You cannot break the law because your particular situation seems to show no other way out.  The jails are full of people who think like that.  School budgets have been cut. What else is new in an economically depressed Namibia? All budgets have been cut.
Consider this: What if the police say that their budget has been cut so anyone wanting their help must pay N$700?
We already have some cops taking bribes at roadblocks and asking for cash to ‘forget about’ speeding tickets. What if the police do that even more openly like the schools are doing when they blatantly demand money from parents?
What if all state hospitals have a booth at the doors not allowing anyone entry unless they pay N$10. Their budget has been cut too. The schools are charging money for services they are mandated to provide free, so why not the hospitals?
What if each city installed toll roads? All vehicles and individuals on foot must pay N$10 to enter and exit their town. Their budgets have been cut so the shortfall needs to be covered somehow. Isn’t that the excuse of the schools for hounding parents for money?
Public schools are free by law. A school cannot disguise an obligatory tuition bill by calling it a 'development charge', 'stationery costs', 'activities fees', or 'building funds'. Schools must not be allowed to blackmail parents into ‘donating’ funds! You cannot unilaterally make an optional fee, mandatory.
Schools must continually go to their communities and ask for specific support. Children in that area and those of their clients, parishioners, members, and customers attend schools that are in decline. All must come on board and help build future generations. Many in the community might do so if asked properly and there is accountability for the funds.
The school administrators and teachers have unions. They only use unions to scream for more salary. But, unions also are supposed to serve their members in other ways. They must be a tool to lobby the government for increases in education infrastructure, equipment and supplies.
There are international foundations/agencies/churches that might provide equipment, training, and books for schools that qualify. Have officials looked into these programs? Have Embassies been asked about possibilities? Are they sitting down with captains of industry for longer-term targeted support? (Not just caps, t-shirts and pens at sports events.) Are they approaching the better-funded private schools for possible avenues of cooperation? I am not talking about asking once and giving up. I am querying whether there is a regular, well-organized effort to approach a wide range of alternative funding sources?
Many of the parents being asked for school fees may not have the money. Then what? Shall we make paupers of their children too by robbing them of educational opportunities to break out of the cycle of poverty? Families are struggling, people are hurting. Must these grasping schools add to that?
Parents must organize not just to sue the schools that are damaging their kids, but they must roll up their sleeves as well. They must meet with the school officials, attend the parent meetings and get involved.
Parents can also help. They can attract sponsors, hold activities, approach businesses and churches in the area. They can also host events that raise funds for the school.
Even our cash-strapped government can be lobbied to help. Why not ask the Ministry of Finance to change its regulations and add a line for a voluntary school donation to be added to their income tax tally. Those willing can add any amount for a specific, ring-fenced fund only for the ministry of basic education, to support schools in need.
Parents…go to the courts and fight for the rights that are already yours. But, also get involved with the school and find a solution. Schools…stop stressing the parents with bills for services that are, by law, free. Children must be upbeat and ready to learn and not go to school worried about money.


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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